More than a Photo Album: Sharing the World War II Legacies of Kelvin and Melvin Christopher
At genealogy conference a few years ago, I heard many participants express dismay that their family members’ eyes glaze over when they talk about their family history research. One highly-respected professional lamented that given her adult childrens’ views of family history and genealogy, decades of her work might go to the recycling bin after she’s gone.
My own tangible output at that time consisted of an enormous database, charts and files as well as some photos and memorabilia. Using family history tools and software, I have compiled a treasure trove of family artifacts like notes and vintage photographs. I vowed then to figure out how to make it interesting to my family. Taking it a step farther, my personal legacy will be leaving behind a compelling record of our family’s history for future generations. Lately, I have been assisting other families with their projects as well.
One successful personal undertaking involved recording my Dad and his twin brother recount their experiences in World War II. The end-product was intended as a gift for their 90th birthday, a few months away.
Though they were not engaged in combat, their contribution to the Navy’s war effort was important. Their time deployed in the South Pacific was the highlight of their lives, especially since they grew up in a tiny town (population 250) in rural Washington State. Both men love telling stories about the war, but I was concerned that they might not like being interviewed – au contraire!
Brother Chuck, owner of Advantage Advertising, agreed to ask a graphic artist on his staff to create the cover illustration. Tom, my other brother, and his wife Susie agreed to proof-read and give feedback on content. Sister Carey opted to use patriotic décor at the 90th birthday party where the book would be unveiled and shared with our family.
The narrative was chronological, starting with their first memory of hearing that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and continued through the remaining months of high school, their service in the South Pacific and returning home to start families and careers.
Over the years, Mom had accumulated several cardboard boxes of photos and memorabilia. I toted a portable scanner to their house and made copies of snapshots, documents, newspaper articles V-mail and even high-school athletic and music letters. Later I added maps and a timeline of the war in order to provide context. The final product is 25-pages with 65-illustrations.
The book was a huge hit with the entire extended family. A total of 15 copies have been printed so far. Though Dad has never read for pleasure, when I handed him the book on his 90th birthday, he read through it several times and seemed to glow the rest of the day. My sense from later conversations is that he is honored that his experience – and his twin brother’s experience – will live on for future generations, including his great-grandchildren who study WWII in school.
As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says so articulately, those who have gone before can live on if we pledge to tell and re-tell the stories of their lives.
About the Author:
Connie Christopher is a retired librarian with over 20 years experience as a family historian. Through her company, Family Matters, she takes pleasure in helping others connect with their personal histories. She participates in conferences and webinars to stay current with new products and developments in the genealogy field. She would love to help your family preserve stories for future generations! Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.