Finding The Time To Record Family History

by Stories

Who Has Time To Record Family History?

Few of us believe we have time to record family history. Between family, school, work, and social obligations, and doctor, dentist, stylists, and auto shop appointments—how can we squeeze it in?

I once thought I’d have nothing but time following retirement, but that was a ridiculous notion. Now, I occasionally find myself thinking I’ll find the time to record family history once I’m quietly tucked away in a distraction-free retirement home. But that’s another ridiculous notion. Besides, I’ve already had one too many birthdays to leave things to chance.

If something is important to me, the time to do it is now.

Start Now

“Start now, start small” is the advice Cynthia offers in her writing workshops, and it is good advice.  I might add start with your oldest living family members. They have many stories worth remembering, and they usually don’t mind sharing them.

My aunt (Cynthia’s mother) often tells the story of traveling from Ohio to Pennsylvania to meet my mother for the 1954 Army-Navy Game. The timing was particularly memorable because my aunt was dating my mother’s brother, an Annapolis midshipman, and my mother was dating my father, a West Point cadet. The women would be rooting for opposing teams.

It’s a great story, and my aunt is a great storyteller.

So, with the epic game coming round once again,  I knew it was time to lock in the story’s details, and I wanted to use her own words.

The 111th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on December 11, 2010. Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USMA

Start Small

I arranged a mother-daughter lunch date between the four of us and asked each mother to begin thinking about that day in 1954 and any details that stood out. I didn’t mention we’d be recording using video, but I knew they would look their best for lunch regardless.

The only equipment we needed was my phone and a tripod, both easily accessible. Cynthia brought along audio recording equipment for backup, and that’s always an excellent idea. After five minutes of setup, we were ready. Cynthia prompted the ladies to start from the beginning and talk through the day.

That’s it. Easy, right?

The Results

The video turned out great. Both women quickly lapsed into their natural volley of conversation and seemed to forget they were being recorded. They even volunteered details Cynthia and I hadn’t heard before, one being that our great-uncle provided the 50-yard line tickets. (Don’t I wish I had that ticket—what an artifact!)

Cynthia and I wound up with far more than a play-by-play of the game. Actually, the game was the least of it. Neither woman remembered who won, only that they cheered for opposite sides.  But we now have, in our mothers’ own words, a few more details about their lives as single women, college parties, social expectations, and 1950s modes of travel.

For instance, Cynthia and I were reminded once again, that while “boys and girls” may have partied in one another’s hotel rooms after the game, they did NOT share rooms.

Transportation to the game was typically via public transportation because at the time it was more convenient than an automobile. 

Train Station at USMA, West Point
I’m not certain about Annapolis, but the USMA at West Point had its own train station. The cadets were not permitted to keep vehicles on campus.

Train schedules were modified to handle the influx of spectators, and in the confusion, my aunt missed her train back to Ohio. She arrived home early Monday morning, with barely enough time to make it to work from the train station.

By Griffith Teller - To The Game: A Pennsylvania Railroad Tradition, Public Domain. In 1936. when the game moved to Municipal Stadium, the Pennsylvania Railroad operated special game-day service with additional trains serving as many as 30,000 attendees.

Parsing It Out

I’ve backed up the video and logged it into my archive inventory. If I do nothing more, it stands alone as a piece of family history. It’s something the family can talk about, or watch, on the second Saturday of each December when the Army and the Navy meet once again on a football field.  

But I also envision parsing the video into pieces and using those pieces in a number of family history vignettes, all of which should engage descendants’ interest. Now that the recorded story is at my fingertips, it won’t be an overwhelming task.

Also, I had grabbed a family quilt of uncertain origin and took it with me that afternoon. Now I have five recorded minutes of speculation—by the two women who know best—on which great-grandmother stitched the quilt. That five minutes is a wonderful addition to the quilt’s story.

Final Thoughts

So I did find time to record family history, and it was fun! Actually, with the technology available today, the only tricky part was arranging a mutually acceptable date for lunch.


Featured Image: 1908 Army–Navy college football game at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, from Library of Congress collection, Public Domain,

The 111th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., on December 11, 2010.  Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USMA, Public Domain, via Image Inject

West Point train station – photo by author

“Game on Saturday”  Evening star. (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, November 30, 1950, from Library of Congress 

To The Game: A Pennsylvania Railroad Tradition, by Griffith Teller – Public Domain,   Beginning in 1936 when the game moved to Municipal Stadium, the Pennsylvania Railroad operated special game-day service to serve as many as 30,000 of the attendees, modifying their Delaware Extension and West Philadelphia Elevated Branch freight lines and installing massive temporary platforms at Greenwich Yard.