Music and Family History: In The Key of “Gee!”

JukeboxHave you ever considered the role that music played in your family’s history? Even if you haven’t found an ancestor or relative who played an instrument or had a “golden voice,” the mere presence of music as heard by your ancestors could have a bigger impact than you realize.

What Music Meant to Our Ancestors

For many, especially those of us with ancestors who were poor or at least not “well off,” listening to music was not the experience it is today. With many different devices available to hear a favorite tune in modern time, we’re spoiled when it comes to music access, at least compared to our ancestors.

Consider the fact that not everyone had a “Victrola” or a radio when these inventions came on the market. Just like televisions and some of today’s tech gadgets, these items were expensive and often out of the reach of some of our ancestors. The most prevalent exposure to music was in a house of worship, including synagogues or churches, or if a family member or neighbor played an instrument like a fiddle or accordion.

Learning To Play A Musical Instrument

Did you learn to play a musical instrument as a child? Perhaps being a musician eventually became your profession or a pastime. Either way, for many of us, our first exposure to music was in grade school when we learned to play the flute, the violin or even the tuba!

Schools offered a variety of music participation programs and you, your parents and even grandparents most likely took part. Being a part of a marching band, chamber orchestra and even a choir presented more than just an opportunity to learn how to read music: you learned how to work and collaborate with others and you may have made lifelong friends or even met your future spouse thanks to music.

Attending Concerts and Performances

Many of us have memories of going to various musical performances and concerts. From classical offerings such as the symphony or opera to the latest rock concert, these events were sure to generate memories! In fact, many of my relatives collected items such as concert tickets, programs and t-shirts to help them remember the concert. All of these things represent an opportunity for you the family historian to interview your relatives about the events and have them share what they remember.

Music Can Bring Back Memories

The next time you are interviewing family members or working on your family history, remember to incorporate music into your research! Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Interviews: Ask your interview subject about their favorite type of music. Another good question: What one song represented your teenage years? Did you and your spouse have a song you called “our song?” Also ask if they remember when important music figures died such as Buddy Holly, John Lennon or Elvis Presely. You might not realize it, but in addition to the questions that Saving Memories Forever supplies on its app, you  can also ask your own questions by going to the “Other” line under each group of questions.
  • Soundtracks: When creating videos or slide presentations, incorporate music soundtracks from specific time periods. Remember to observe copyright laws if you plan on publishing the content!
  • Memorabilia: Take time to review any “ephemera” related to concerts and performances such as newsclippings, ticket stubs, programs and similar items.
  • Reunions: How about a family reunion dance party? Organize music by era and get family members to dance to the music. Also take time to ask those at the interview about their favorite music.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community.Click here for more information.

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SavingMemoriesForever.com is an affordable online system that helps people record, share, and save their family stories. It combines a free app for iPhone/iPad devices and Android smartphones with a private website. You can join us as a Free Member to try out the system. Or you can join as a Premium Subscriber where you will have unlimited access to all of the features. Either way, Saving Memories Forever is an easy-to-use system that helps you build a collection of family stories and keeps those stories organized and accessible to family members. Our Blog is a celebration of family and life in general. Our posts offer helpful tips and insights that will help you on your way to preserving your family's oral tradition.