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Joy in the care home

(33 Posts)
grannyactivist Thu 19-Jul-18 01:35:58

I have always had an interest in genealogy, but recently I decided I would use the skills I've developed to create family histories for some of the care home residents I work with. Today I handed over two completed histories (in the style of This is Your Life) and it almost moved me to tears to see the total joy they brought to the recipients. In addition to the more mundane births and marriages I used plenty of old photographs and included lots of peripheral, but interesting details; photographs of houses where relatives had lived, further details about some of the jobs people did, newspaper articles, old maps etc. I even found a wonderful photograph of a 92 year old resident's grandmother, a photo of a very grand house where another resident's dad had been born and details of ancestors that had lived abroad; plus war records and some very detailed prison records from 1848. One resident had an ancestor who, when he died, had 100 coaches and 400 men in the funeral procession.
Almost all of the residents were engaged and asking questions as I shared the information from the files I'd compiled, and after they'd been handed over I was humbled to see their new owners poring over them. I have come away with requests from other residents asking me to do their families too and there is so much now that's online I've already found some treasures for my next family history.
So, if you're stuck for something interesting to do with an elderly relative I really do recommend you have a go at doing a family tree. smile

MeltingMacaron Thu 19-Jul-18 08:21:17

What a super idea. Nowadays, there is so much to be found both on Ancestry and other online resources. The ability to discover who else is researching a particular person and to be able to view their gallery has been a revelation to me, I have been able to see photos of direct ancestors who were hitherto only names and dates. You only have to watch WDYTYA? to see how a relatively ordinary story can be brought to life by photos and documentary evidence.

Do you go beyond online resources to draw up your residents' trees, visit libraries and country records offices, for example?

Have any of the people you have given your research to picked up the baton and gone on to expand their tree?

In the early days of my own interest in genealogy, long before the advent of Ancestry, freebmd and all the other online resources, I recall how much useful data and potential leads could be found simply by listening to an older person talk about their memories.

I recall there was a lot going on in 1999/2000 to do with recording oral histories as part of millennial projects but don't know to what extent that still goes on.

silverlining48 Thu 19-Jul-18 11:06:20

I have tried myself but not got very far so know it’s Hard work taking a lot of time, but what a a lovely thing to do for someone. I am sure they and their families will be very grateful.

grannyactivist Thu 19-Jul-18 11:56:46

It was only yesterday that I handed over the files and none of the residents has the capacity to engage in research for themselves, but I was taken by surprise at the gleeful elation of the recipients. As I was going through the information it sparked so many memories, not only in them, but in the other residents too. There was more conversation going on between residents yesterday than I have ever known before. One woman asked me yesterday if I would do her family history too, but confided that she has some Italian ancestry so thought that I would probably only be able to access her English forebears - little does she know that a distant relative has put online the whole Italian history, complete with photographs, translations of letters etc. I was so excited I got carried away with the compilation of her file and didn't get to bed until the early hours.
I'm taking great care with noting deaths though; one resident, aged over 90, never forgets that she's a widow, but often tells me that she'll tell her mum something because she phones her every week. Her mother's birth, christening and marriage were all duly noted, but I didn't put any information about her death in the folder.

MeltingMacaron Thu 19-Jul-18 15:22:49

Ah, yes, I can see how you have to be very careful not to cause distress to residents whose failing memories lead them to think certain loved ones are still alive.

I love the idea that this is animating and motivating people.
Maybe this is an idea you could be pitching as an activity to other care homes.

grannyactivist Thu 19-Jul-18 18:01:43

Melting I have done a lot of 'memory' work with residents, but never seen anything that's had such an exciting result as this, however I totted up the time it has taken me and each file has taken me a minimum of thirty hours to compile and one took almost fifty hours - so I don't think other homes will be taking it up as an activity unless they can find a volunteer who does it as a hobby and even then they would have to know the residents well enough to understand them and any potential triggers.

Jalima1108 Thu 19-Jul-18 20:47:18

Well done grannyactivist

It is difficult enough trying to compile a family history of one's own family without attempting to do someone else's.

Perhaps you should write a book now giving tips and hints on how to go about this daunting task (well, it seems daunting to me!).
I have all the information, now need to pull it all together in an interesting format.

MeltingMacaron Thu 19-Jul-18 20:54:10

Gosh, that's a tremendous amount of work and yes, I can see see how the researcher would have to have a good working relationship with the subject.

I was thinking back to that series that was on TV last year -
Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds - and how that interaction succeeded in animating so many of the residents who were otherwise rather lethargic, lonely and depressed.

Maybe this might be something suitable for Age UK befriending schemes for people living alone and suffering from loneliness and isolation if they could be matched with volunteers with a keen interest in genealogy.

Happychops Thu 19-Jul-18 23:15:31

What a lovely thing to do. Thank you for making lots of people happy.

grannyactivist Fri 20-Jul-18 01:38:46

Oh dear - I've done it again - I got so engrossed in the current life story that I lost track of the time, I honestly thought it must be nearing midnight so I've stopped and had a quick check on GN and now I've just spotted the actual time! shock Off to bed asap I think.

gmelon Fri 20-Jul-18 01:51:16

This is the nicest thing I have heard for a long time.
You are so thoughtful.

Noreen3 Sat 21-Jul-18 07:51:42


You have brought joy to these people,what a lovely thing to do.All too often,care home residents just sit around watching TV,not really speaking to each other.You gave them something to talk about and take an interest in.Well done.

Millbrook Sat 21-Jul-18 09:37:10

Fabulous idea grannyactivist - and definitely one that could be taken up (with care) in other places. What part of the country are you in?

BRedhead59 Sat 21-Jul-18 10:29:02

I did a life story for my Mum and Dad - my Dad died 7 months later and all he told me would have been largely lost.
I wrote to their friends and got some lovely stories back.
My mum proudly showed the book to all who came into contact with her. Much pleasure for them and us who follow. Now I'm writing my own - I'm a bit slow but I'll finish it sometime - hopefully.

Kate51 Sat 21-Jul-18 10:29:03

Such a lovely thing to have done. You are very kind

Elrel Sat 21-Jul-18 10:32:21

What a lovely thing to do! ?

4allweknow Sat 21-Jul-18 10:46:51

You are a marvel, committing so much of your time doing this for others and bringing so much obvious pleasure to them. You may well have sparked me into doing some searching on my own family history.

blueberry1 Sat 21-Jul-18 11:14:22

What a wonderful,selfless thing to do,giving up so much time to make your elderly residents happy.Thank goodness there are still people like you in the world!

Hm999 Sat 21-Jul-18 11:20:46


Jane43 Sat 21-Jul-18 11:21:25

How lovely to read such an uplifting post. Congratulations on your hard work and thoughtfulness and what a wonderful piece of history for the recipients to share with their families.

grannyactivist Sat 21-Jul-18 12:09:16

Thank you all for your comments, but I have to confess that I am getting tremendous pleasure out of doing this, so it's not an entirely altruistic activity. smile

Oopsadaisy53 Sat 21-Jul-18 12:24:02

That’s a lovely thing to have done for them, I love doing my own tree and those of friends, but it’s easier when you can double check that you are on the right lines.
However, 2 people I did trees for had a surprise, I told 1 person before I realised that he was totally unaware of a detail ( he checked with his brother and was told it was true) I was mortified that I had told him, and the 2nd person is elderly and I withheld the information from her as I knew that she wouldn’t be able to cope with it.

So I fudged certain dates and names.

What do you do in that situation?

Legs55 Sat 21-Jul-18 12:37:36

What a wonderful idea, my DM wrote out some of the family details that she could remember to assist me in tracing our family tree. Recently she rang me to ask if I had details of her Uncle who was killed in WWI, the village he lived in had no details & they wanted the information for the Roll of Honour, especially important as it will be 100 years since the end of WWI on Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day. I have managed to trace back to late 1700s on my Granddad's side & early 1800s on Granny's side. To do this for others is amazingflowers

sarahellenwhitney Sat 21-Jul-18 12:40:29

I attempted several years ago to research my family history when learning my great maternal and paternal grandparents had produced nineteen children between them.I found I had Dutch relatives another were New Zealanders. Disappointed I went no further when the Dutch side informed me they had no interest in their past. One wonders what could have been dug up?

B9exchange Sat 21-Jul-18 12:45:26

That is a truly lovely thing to do. Our local hospice has a volunteer who goes in and helps the patients build their own life stories to give to their relatives, it brings them such joy.