Making a family time capsule

Imagine a scene 25 years from now. Or 50. Or even a hundred, at the start of the next century. A family time capsule is discovered. The dust is blown off, the seal broken. And inside, are the pictures and writing of your ancestors. Discover here how you can preserve your family history!

Time Capsule

Reaching Out to the Future

The concept of the time capsule as we know it was invented by G Edward Pendray of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Pendray’s capsule was buried at the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair on September 23, 1938, and is scheduled to be opened in 6939.


You can make a time capsule by using a kit, such as the Ark to the Future kit — which includes a metal capsule, memory album and scrapbook, family tree chart, decorative labels and an instruction book. Alternatively, buy something like a watertight cashbox and carefully place your memories inside! Actual burial isn’t recommended simply due to concerns about weather, exposure, construction, etc. But if you do keep it tucked away deep in a closet or the attic, be sure it’s sealed and the date to open is clearly marked on the outside!

It was the intention of the organizers to “represent all the enormous variety and vigor of life” and to deposit “information touching upon all the principal categories of our thought, activity, and accomplishment; sparing nothing, neither our wisdom nor our foolishness, our supreme achievements nor our recognized weaknesses.”


Since that time, numerous capsules have been buried, placed in the foundations of buildings, or catapulted into space. Now, at the turn of the millennium, it seems a particularly poignant time to speak to those who will inhabit the earth in the future.


What should go inside?

The variety of material that can be included in your time capsule is almost infinite. It includes:  


  • Copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, diplomas, report cards, college IDs, passports, deeds, mortgage papers, awards, certificates, military papers and other official documents. (Note: Unfortunately, you need to be careful about including documents that could potentially lead to identity theft if the capsule is “discovered” before its time.) 
  • Cards, letters, postcards, telegrams, stamps, envelopes and printed email.
  • Notes describing your take on current events.
  • Clean and dry packaging from your favorite products.
  • A pic of your computer setup.
  • A printed screenshot of your MySpace page.
  • Pressed flowers, leaves, feathers, and locks of hair.
  • Maps, ticket stubs, tour attraction brochures, travel itineraries and hotel stationery.
  • Wallpaper or fabric swatches.
  • Special scrapbook pages.
  • Menus, wine labels, matchbook covers and business cards.
  • Favorite quotes, song lyrics, poems, and prayers.
  • Heirloom or other favorite recipes.
  • Children’s drawings and other family artwork.
  • Tags, ribbons, and wrappings from gifts.
  • A DVD or flash drive with documents, photos and other scans.
  • Maps and house plans.
  • Photocopies of your hand or a group of hands; thumbprints or hand prints.
  • Political or current-events memorabilia, such as newspaper clippings.
  • Professional and candid portraits, vacation photos, pictures of the inside and outside of your home and your family members’ homes, reproductions of antique photos, and school or team photos.
  • Jewelry and other small items or family heirlooms.
  • Personal items that individuals might have carried with them, such as a wallet, medallion, religious object, key or keychain, lucky coin.
  • Household items such as pipe, pen, paperweight.
  • Small articles of clothing such as a scarf, tie or handkerchief.
  • Items that document an era — such as a fax, a computer mouse, train schedule, advertisements for clothes or cars, the cover of a contemporary magazine, paper money or coins (which some experts feel will be obsolete in the future).

The dedication ceremony

Usually, when community time capsules are dedicated, the mayor gives a speech, the local clergy recites an invocation, and a band plays the national anthem. The 1939 World’s Fair capsule was lowered into the ground at exactly noon, as a gong tolled.


You and your family will probably opt for a somewhat less elaborate ceremony, but it is an event that should be attended by all available family members. If there is a prayer, poem, or quotation that has personal meaning, you might have the oldest or youngest person recite it, and someone should read aloud the text of the dedication page.


When to close and open the capsule

You should select a day of significance, either universally or personally. Some obvious days are January 1, Christmas Day or another religious holiday, the vernal equinox, July 4, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or a day of historical importance.


How long you choose to keep the capsule closed is entirely up to you. We feel that twenty-five years is the minimum length of time. To a child, that will seem like an eternity, but most adults realize that it passes in a veritable blur.


Each year the time capsule is in transit will add to its power and mystery, as time and events reveal the secrets of the future. Today’s society craves instant gratification, and so this concept is entirely contradictory to our present way of life.

Be patient. It will be worth the wait.


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