Sunday, January 19, 2014

Will Your Family’s Story Become History or a Mystery?

When answering my phone early one morning, I was greeted with the sweet voice of a young woman who sounded as though she was weeping. She asked if I might be able to help her. Her husband’s 95-year-old grandmother had just passed away. She was so sad. But she was also overcome with fear. Her own dear 97-year-old grandmother was…old. This young woman was so worried that her children would never get to know this remarkable person she called “Grandma.

I asked her how old her children were. “Oh, I don’t have any children yet. I must preserve all the stories my grandma has told me so when I do have children, they can know her like I do. Can you help me with that?”

I described some of the many ways personal historians assist in recording family history: printed memoirs, narrated slide shows, video biographies. I will never forget her next sentence, not for what she said but for how she said it:

“I must have her on video. 
I must see her sweet face telling her stories.”

She proceeded to tell me a bit about her grandmother, stories that weren’t the makings of a great history book … but oh, the content was riveting: the everyday life of an everyday person who has seen the world change over the course of a very busy century.

As I listened to this young woman, I thought about what life must have been like the day her grandmother was born, and how different life is today, a world hardly a whisper of its former self, except for the people who live in it, people living their everyday lives, working hard to raise families, wondering what the future holds, one day rolling into the next, each day before now part of history.

As this young woman reminisced, I was reminded of my own grandmother, who passed away at age 97 on October 9, 2001. Through my grandmother’s stories, I learned not only about history, but of my own FAMILY history.

Grandma spoke of her life when she was a little girl and a young woman (she’s 23 in this photo -- above -- from the 1920s). She told about her aunt marching for women’s rights to vote, reciting her aunt’s speeches, describing the exact outfits her aunt wore. She talked about her dad competing in boxing matches that were very popular in the early 1900s. She would smile telling about the coin purse her grandmother kept hidden under the layers of her floor-length dress.

Through my personal history voyage working with individuals and families preserving their legacy, I have discovered that knowing about the family who has come before us is so much more important than simply the need to satisfy our curiosity. The older I get the more I recognize the remarkable traits of my grandmother that have been passed down to my mother. I wonder how many of those traits were passed down from my great grandmother and great-great grandmother? There’s so much we can learn from our ancestors’ triumphs and mistakes. We can follow in their knowing footsteps, or change direction if we must … but only if we know the path they took.

We can sit and stare at a family tree assembled with the aid of second-hand tales and research sites, wondering who these people were and how their lives affected ours. Or we can start today adding life to the names on that tree by recording their stories, our story, creating “present” history.

Personal historians are experts at drawing out the stories our descendants will want to hear. We’ll teach you how to “do it yourself,” or work with you using special techniques developed by members of the Association of Personal Historians.

I know it always seems too early to start recording your family and personal history…until it’s too late. So, please reach out today. I'm here to help guide you on your way to preserving your history. I look forward to working with you—as partners in time.

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