During a road trip up east last summer, I spent hours alongside my mother delving into crumbling file boxes filled with old photos, gala seating charts from the Plaza Hotel, caricatures, and restaurant menus from decades ago belonging to my great grandpa and grandma Gertz, who lived in New York. We imagined what life must have been like for them back then, and reminisced about more recent family gatherings.
This interest in the past is part of a wave of nostalgia that swept the country during COVID-19, with people digging up old family photos, films, and keepsakes as a way to cope with anxiety and uncertainty, and feel more connected to family and friends.
“We naturally use nostalgia as a way to comfort and energize ourselves,” says Clay Routledge, a leading expert in existential psychology, and a professor of management at North Dakota State University. “When there’s a collective threat, that pushes a lot more people in that direction.”
Researchers have found that nostalgia, or a sentimental longing for the past, can help counter feelings of loneliness, support psychological health and well-being, and even improve relationships. During the lockdown, sales at scrapbook supply company Creative Memories jumped 50%, while a study of 17 trillion songs played on Spotify showed people preferred songs from the 1980s and earlier. Ancestry.com posted a 37% increase in subscribers from March to July 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. At the same time, many people have also been creating new mementos for future generations, including COVID-19 road trip photo albums or pandemic time capsules stuffed with items like quarantine grocery lists and remote-learning classwork.
Whether you’re revitalizing old photographs or videos; revisiting special letters or invitations; or creating new items of significance, here are a few ideas on how to preserve family memories and gift new keepsakes your loved ones will cherish.
Digitize old photos and home movies
While stuck at home in New York during the height of COVID-19, Wendy Dykan spent months digitizing and organizing decades-old VHS movies of birthday parties, Passover meals at Grandma’s house, and trips to the beach. In one, her mother cradles Dykan’s newborn brother as beaming grandparents lovingly look on.
“It gave me something to do outside of just kids and work, which I badly needed,” she says. “Watching my grandparents on video felt very special.”