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 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 »

Oct 022014
 

forgetful personal historian For someone who is all about preserving stories, my memory sucks.

Just the other week my mother-in-law told me a story about a family ring. Apparently, my husband found the ring in the summer cottage and, assuming it wasn’t valuable, gave it to me to wear. My mother-in-law had to have an awkward conversation with my then boyfriend, telling him that she wanted the ring back.

I was appalled at the fact that this episode rang zero bells of familiarity. However, it never occurred to me to doubt the veracity of her story. She simply wouldn’t make up that type of thing—especially as she was in the process of re-gifting the ring to me. Continue reading »

Aug 212014
 
Throw back Thursday

Throw back Thursday: My boys and I

I keep seeing my life—well at least the last eighteen to twenty years of it—flash before my eyes.

It’s probably because my nest is emptying next week, as my youngest heads off to college. Everywhere I go, sweet memories creep into my peripheral vision, denying me focus. Part of me is sad that they’re just memories, that times have changed and the kids are grown. Part of me is grateful for their presence, however ephemeral. I like playing the old filmstrips.

Passing a soccer field reminds me of all the practices and games. As I ride my bike through a park, I remember countless days on the hiking trails, looking at bugs, running from bees, and ending up on the play structures. I remember watching my kids and their playmates swing and slide while talking to the other moms. Continue reading »

Jul 152014
 
A typical day in your life

Describing a typical day can deepen connections.

Your story does not have to be extraordinary to be worthy of the written word. In fact, memorializing a typical day can be the key to connecting with loved ones.

I remember my younger son’s fourth grade teacher pulling me aside to describe my son’s “spacy” behavior. “Welcome to my world,” I told her. Although I sympathized with her, a part of me was grateful for someone who understood—viscerally understood—life with my son.

We hear “Walk a mile in my shoes!” with good reason. Experiencing the dust around another’s feet and the rhythms of their daily life promotes understanding and empathy. Continue reading »

Jul 102014
 

STrong family roots and ugly treeA strong family root system doesn’t always lead to a pretty tree.

It happens in nature too. Take my backyard willow tree for example. Its root system supposedly can spread over an acre. Despite its ability to efficiently retrieve nutrients and water from the soil, its limbs break off in every storm.

When that happens in families, it’s downright scary. There are times when love, faith, resources, and parents trying their absolute best aren’t enough. Children rebel and run away. Siblings become estranged. Mental illness or emotional scars reign over nurturing. Family members choose (or end up on) paths abhorrent to the rest of the clan—and society.

Usually we think of an imperfect family tree in terms of missing family members. It’s important to write about the parent that you never knew or cousins you never knew existed. Sharing how tangled roots lead to dysfunctional trees can jumpstart meaningful dialogues and conversations.

Unfortunately, dysfunction can also grow out of symmetrical, strong family roots. Continue reading »

Jul 022014
 

Craft Squad July 4 TraditionsIn my project for this month’s blog hop, I’ve tried to highlight my families 4th of July traditions. Welcome to my Treasure Chest of Memories blog. It’s all about preserving and sharing personal and family stories, whether you’re scrapbooking, writing, journaling, or augmenting your family tree. If you’re coming from The Crafty Neighbor, you’re in the right place. Continue reading »