Ancestry Binders Bring Joy to Those with Memory Loss

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Ancestry Binders Bring Joy to Those with Memory Loss

Thanks to Susan Wallin Mosey for sharing this guest post.

I had an epiphany this week, with the help of my co-worker Robin.  Here it is:  Ancestry binders can be wonderful gifts for those who have the memory loss that old-age dementia brings.

It makes sense, really…  It’s common knowledge that, as a person loses his/her memory, it’s the short-term memory that goes first.  I saw this with my mother—first the 1990s faded out to black, then the 1980s, then the 1970s, then the 1960s, then the 1950s… and so it goes.  But her memories of her childhood remained much more intact.

I discussed this with Alzheimer’s expert Jo Huey via email this week.  She said this about memory loss: “It is as if one takes an eraser in 2010 and erases the information stored in the brain backwards towards 2000, then maybe even as far as 1980 or 1960 [or before]…  Because of this process, people often know a great deal about their past but know little about what happened today.  With that in mind, in order to have more enjoyable visits and to build rapport one can almost always discuss the past with them.”

My friend Robin said that the ancestry binder I did last year for her mother-in-law has become one of that lady’s greatest joys.  When she looks at the history of her parents and her grandparents from so long ago, she remembers those people!  And when reading the research I did on her ancestors, she has a framework for that new knowledge!  And when her siblings come to visit her, they look at the binder, and they share those common memories.  It gives Robin’s mother-in-law something to talk about with visitors—particularly older visitors such as her siblings—where she is on a level playing field with them.  Her memories of those early years, and the things she heard from her parents and grandparents so long ago, are still there, waiting to be reawakened—even though current events might confuse and frustrate her.

Wow!  What do you buy your aging parent or grandparent who sometimes doesn’t even remember who you are?  If their vision is good—you can give them the gift of their ancestry.


About Susan Wallin Mosey

Susan Wallin Mosey is the administrator at an elder law firm in Aurora, Illinois. When she’s not at work she likes to do genealogy for fun and profit. Storytelling is one of her favorite aspects of genealogy, as can be seen on her blog, Pages from the Ancestry Binders. Another special interest is Amish genealogy. Sue has been doing genealogy as a hobby for about 20 years and has been putting together ancestry binders for others since 2011. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the National Genealogical Society. Sue lives in Yorkville, Illinois with her husband Gary. Her website can be found at and she can be reached at

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  • Carolyn
    February 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

    A few years ago I copied my fraternal grandmother’s photo albums and gave each of her children a copy. They loved being able to go back and look at pictures from their childhood. My dad (who has since passed away) had dementia at the time and didn’t interact much with anyone, but he would sit and look at the pictures of his parents and I could tell he recognized who they were. It’s a time-consuming task – it took me a year to get four albums done – but well worth it when I saw the looks on the faces of my uncles.

  • Margaret
    February 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Wow! I have found this to be so true with my mother. Last summer I was left to entertain her while my brohter took DAd out for an outing. She brought up her grandfather and wondered what he looked like. I knew I had a photo on Ancestry and was able to log in on Dad’s computer. We had a great afternoon together looking at her ancestors and the data. She was so connected then and able to ask relevant questions. She has always enjoyed looking at songbirds. I found looking at photos of them very helpful too. So also suggest making booklets of photos of things they loved to see or do long ago.

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