Grandparents hold the keys to preserving family history

  • Here is my Grandparents Hicks wedding photo in Oklahoma, right, and Grandparents Anderson in Minnesota with my brother, Nic, and me.

    Here is my Grandparents Hicks wedding photo in Oklahoma, right, and Grandparents Anderson in Minnesota with my brother, Nic, and me. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted8/2/2022 7:56 AM

I wish I had learned more about family history from my grandparents, a real missed opportunity. But I didn't know better at the time.

And I didn't really get interested until I was about 25. And, of course, by then it was too late. I learned a lot from my parents, but not the same as hearing personal stories directly from grandparents and their memories of the generations before them. I was lucky that my Aunt Virginia, mother's eldest sister, had collected and researched family history on their side of the family, so I learned a lot from that. But she died several years ago. And that was about it. I could have learned a lot more from my own father about the Anderson side. So it is ... my experience, many children and young adults don't get really interested in the details of family history until their early- or mid-20s. Most have been asked to make a family tree as an exercise in school at some point, with some basic data, and a story or two, but that really just scratches the surface. And some family stories are not that accurate, they get changed after a couple generations of repetition!


Now the baby boom is in their own 60s and 70s, so what can be done about preserving family history for our own grandchildren and their children?

This got me thinking, and I concluded that it's up to the current generation of parents and grandparents to start building an archive of family information so when it's needed, it will be recorded and accessible. Otherwise it will get mostly lost.

For my generation it became almost impossible for most to trace back very far. And to sort out family myths from actual experiences and facts. It could be as simple as keeping a notebook or journal and a box of photos and documents with names and dates on the back.

The point is: If I had asked my grandparents Anderson more about their childhood growing up in Stillwater, Minnesota, with immigrant parents in the 1860-70s. One side Swedish, one side Irish, I'd know much more. Or asked my grandparents Hicks about growing up as the first generation of wheat farmers in the newly opened Oklahoma territory, when it was a frontier, the real wild West. My grandmother Hicks was a frontier teacher before marriage. Wish I knew more about that. Turns out both sides became successful, eventually living the American dream. Paved the way for my parents' generation, and mine.

I've already done quite a bit of collecting information but I need to take my own advice and get things more organized and accessible in some sort of archive. Now that I think about it, after Daddy died, my mother started writing a journal about growing up in Oklahoma in the 1920s and 30s. I'll have to ask my sister about that. She may have those journals, or perhaps my brother Nic's wife, my sister-in-law Joni, has them. Nic was a historian. The search begins.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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