Laura Hedgecock

Nov 202014
 
Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Source: Wikipedia.

Looking at Venus de Milo, do you marvel at her beauty or yearn to hear her story? Photo source: Wikipedia.

Traditionally, beauty is something flawless and unmarred. However, when it comes to writing your stories, such perfection is boring. (That’s why I avoid it at all costs!) Telling meaningful stories is a process of finding beauty in the scars and sharing it with others.

We have a natural tendency to cover our scars. Perhaps it comes from our need to protect what is precious to us. A scar on our child’s face reminds us of some harm that we failed to shield him from. A chip on the coffee mug that we got on our honeymoon serves as unwelcome reminder that we’re no longer young and unfettered. And, perhaps it’s because we’re hardwired to appreciate symmetry.[1]

However, it’s a curious double standard. We never look at an ancient, craggy tree and think, “Wow, that’s too bad. I bet it was beautiful when it was young.” We wonder about the scars and admire the tree’s survival. Continue reading »

Nov 172014
 
Conversations that matter

Family gatherings aren’t just great opportunities for bonding. It’s also a great time to have conversations that matter.

Family gatherings are the perfect time to start conversations that matter —and to collect stories. After the bird or ham has been carved and the casserole dishes scraped empty, we loosen our belts. And, often, we loosen our tongues.

This holiday, as Aunt Ida and Grandpa start to exchange familiar stories, make the most of the time with your loved ones. Jump (calmly and unobtrusively) into action.

Draw out New Information

Instead of simply laughing, nodding, and adding stories of your own, draw out new information by asking questions and listening carefully.

Getting the Details

Often, we know the gist of the stories. What we don’t know is the exactly where and the approximate when. As stories come out, ask follow-up questions. This isn’t just to nail down the story and convert an oral history into a somewhat more accurate written one. Those details often lead to new stories or sub-plots, and greater context.

Collect New Stories

The familiar stories cover a lot of ground, but not everything. Ask questions to ferret out new information and little known stories. Crestleaf.com’s 30 Family History Questions You Need to Ask Your Older Relatives is a great place to start.

Caveat: It always helps to go in with a plan. Jot yourself some notes so you know the questions you want to ask.

Take Notes

Pull that notepad out of your back pocket—or use the one on your smart phone, and record the details.

Start Conversations that Matter

Having meaningful conversations will allow you write stories that forge bonds. Go beyond the who, what, and where. Ask your loved ones deeper questions and start conversations that matter. Later, when you record their stories and memories, in addition to passing down information about relatives, you’ll be extending connections to those individuals.

For example, you could ask older relatives:

  • When you were a little girl/boy, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
  • When you look at your grandchildren (great-grandchildren), what are your hopes and dreams for them?
  • What worries you about youth in today’s society?
  • What do youth today have that you wish you’d had?
  • When you look back at your life, how do you think your values differed from those of your parents or grandparents?
  • When was the first time you knew you wanted to marry your future spouse?
  • If you had one do-over, what would you redo?
  • What was your proudest moment?

Keep it going:

Help for recording conversations that Matter

Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life has further tips and resources for preserving memories and stories that matter

Don’t limit these conversations to the dinner table. They can happen anytime you’re spending time with loved one–cooking, fishing, looking through old photos, or just watching TV.

Give a gift that gives back. Give your loved ones a fill-in book memory book or a guide to collecting memories like Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. (Hint: You can combine the guide book with a journal or inexpensive digital recorder.)

Nov 112014
 
Telling your family story

How do you tell your family story?

What is your family story? As much as we talk about the importance of  passing down family history, we seldom define what that a family story is. Is your family story a compilation of all the individuals’ on your family tree? Is a story that takes place under one roof? Alternatively, is it a story that took place over generations?

Your family story can be any or all of the above, or it could be something else entirely. Continue reading »

Nov 072014
 

band-aids Exploring the concept of retouching the past brought an odd memory of my paternal grandmother to mind. At the time, it seemed like a little thing. In retrospect, however, it was the spark that started conversations and led to the telling of less than flattering stories.

My sister and I were sitting on grandma’s front porch, helping her snap beans. Like most little kids, the big topic of conversation on my mind was my most recent boo-boo. I brought it up to her, showing her my finger with the flesh-colored latex badge of courage wrapped around it.

Grandma was nonplused by what she called my “boxed band-aid.” She thought using band-aids was wasteful. “In fact,” she told me “Jane [name has been changed because I can’t remember it] across the street is such a clever, ingenious child. Rather than using store-bought band-aids, when she has a cut, Jane uses a little piece of tissue and some scotch tape. That’s all you need.” Continue reading »

Nov 042014
 
Retouching the past

Retouching the past: Is it helping you tell your story or is it changing your story?

We’re in an age of retouched photos. We remove blemishes and correct lighting and exposure. We can even remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, and eliminate extra chins. We can… But should we?

Retouching the Past or Telling Who We Are?

When we write our memories and stories, retouching the past is tempting—maybe even necessary. Retouching stories, just like re-touching photos, can be a way of drawing attention to what really matters and eliminating extraneous details. Unless it’s integral to the story, maybe we can leave out that Miss May had three hairs growing out of the mole at the side of her nose and that each hair grew in a different direction. Continue reading »

Oct 282014
 
How family will react to your stories and generations

Predicting how family will react to your stories is crucial to making thoughtful decisions about sharing.

When you’re writing about your past, how do you predict how family will react to your stories? Anticipating loved ones reactions can help you decide what to share and with whom you want to share it.

Sunny Morton recently brought up this point as we were recording a podcast for Genealogy Gems (link coming soon). Some people write what they view as innocuous stories. They’re surprised to find their memories raise family members’ hackles. Continue reading »

Oct 202014
 
writing about personal facades and the secret centers

Writing about personal facades can give loved ones a taste of your “secret center.”

Writing about personal facades is a great way to connect with loved ones. Plus, it can be therapeutic.

When I lived in Europe and tromped around medieval cities, I marveled at the intact buildings. Buildings remained as beautiful in the 1980s as they had in the 1510s. Yet modern businesses and households were operating out of them. Their trick? Extensive renovations that didn’t touch the street side facade. The buildings themselves were nothing like the original structures, but through the centuries, the historic fronts were maintained.

Large or small, good or bad, we all have them. What’s your facade? How does it function in your world? Such introspective topics aren’t just good things to discuss with your best friend or therapist (assuming those are two distinct individuals). Your legacy of yourself and your past doesn’t have to be limited to narratives. Continue reading »

Oct 162014
 
man plans god laughs Laura Stay at home mom

I imagine God got quite a giggle from my plans, which didn’t include becoming a stay at home mom.

Recently, I published a post about writing about Things You Didn’t Know, particularly those things that you never dreamed of happening. You know, The Road Less Expected… Following my own advice, here’s my explanation of how I became a stay at home mom instead of a wildly successful female executive.

Up until I had my first child, I thought of myself as a career woman. I wanted to be a mom too, but I scoffed at the idea of becoming a stay at home mom. My dream was to have perfect kids who’d play contentedly while I clambered up the corporate ladder. However, I was unprepared for love and corporate politics. Continue reading »

Oct 132014
 
oral histories versus gossip

Are oral histories less reliable than playground gossip?

As much as we (okay, I) love technology, we sometimes wonder if it isn’t stabbing us in the back. Just as we wonder if access to calculators is undermining our math skills, a case can be made that technology is to blame for the decline of the art of oral histories.

Josh Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, doesn’t point a finger at the Internet. He argues that the Gutenberg Press bears responsibility for the decline of oral histories and the faculty of individual memory. As books became available, people didn’t have to remember everything. They no longer had to pass down stories with great attention to detail and nuance. Continue reading »

Oct 102014
 
Aiming and putting down roots

Putting down roots isn’t a random decision.

The place we choose to settle and put down roots has far reaching (no pun intended) consequences. It’s the community our children call home. It’s the environment in which they form their worldviews. Frequently, it becomes the place children and grandchildren choose to start putting down roots. In other words, it’s something that will matter to future generations. But it’s often a story left untold—especially when it comes to our ancestors. Continue reading »