Genealogy Tip: Document Your 4th of July Memories

Introduction: In this article – in honor of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday – Gena Philibert-Ortega reminds us that genealogy isn’t just recording your ancestors’ lives – it’s documenting your immediate family’s stories as well. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

What does your family do for the 4th of July? Do you have any Independence Day family traditions? How did July festivities look when you were a kid versus when you had kids? What will you be doing this 4th of July?

Photo: fireworks behind the Washington Monument
Photo: fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 4 July 1986. Credit: Lono Kollars; Wikimedia Commons.

When I was growing up, we would purchase fireworks, sold by groups as fundraisers, and then we’d go to my grandparents to enjoy sparklers and other “safe and sane” fireworks. Today, I live in an area prone to wildfires, so individual use of fireworks is illegal. Because of that we attend a local baseball team’s game and fireworks show. So, my childhood 4th of July experience is very different than the ones my kids remember.

An article about Fourth of July celebrations, Daytona Beach Morning Journal newspaper article 1 July 1986
Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Daytona Beach, Florida), 1 July 1986, page 38

As genealogists we know the importance of documenting our ancestors’ lives – but what about our more recent family? One way you can document your life is to write down memories of various holidays and celebrations, including the 4th of July. Once you’ve written those memories down, enhance them with home photos, recipes, and historical newspaper articles.

An article about Fourth of July celebrations, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 4 July 1984
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 July 1984, page 56G

4th of July Anytown, USA

To help you think about your Independence Day memories, here are some writing prompts that you and your family can answer:

  • What is the first 4th of July celebration you remember? How old were you? Where did you live? What did you do? Who was with you?
  • Do you or your family attend 4th of July parades? If so, where? What floats do you remember? Have you ever taken part in a 4th of July parade?
  • Do you purchase fireworks? What kind? What’s your favorite?
  • Do you attend a fireworks show? If so, who puts it on (city, local sport team, school, etc.). What memories do you have of those events? Who was with you?
  • Do you attend any special events for the 4th of July? What are they and where are they held? Why do you attend that event?
  • July is a summer month which means vacations. Did you ever spend the 4th of July away from home? If yes, where did you go? What did you do there?
  • What foods do you eat on the 4th of July? Do you have any food traditions for the holiday? What are the recipes? Who cooks? If several people cook, what are their specialties? Do you BBQ? Do you have a special dessert?
  • What was 4th of July like when you were in grade school? High school?
  • Do you remember the Bicentennial? What did you do for that 4th of July? (See this GenealogyBank blog article about 1976: A Look Back to 1976: Celebrating America’s Bicentennial.)
  • What is 4th of July like now that you are an adult?
  • What is a must-have for your 4th of July celebration?
  • Do you decorate for the 4th of July? How do you decorate?

Happy 4th of July 2021!

This year Independence Day may look very different from last year. Even that change is worth documenting in your family history.

However you plan on celebrating, I hope you have a safe and memorable 4th of July!

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