Jun 302017
 

Most of us believe that family stories matter, but we’re hard put to explain why. Here’s what I came up with.Why Family Stories Matter

Family is more than the DNA in our cells, more than our biological relatedness. Family is a story in itself—a tale of where we came from. It includes what roads we traveled, what obstacles we faced, and who kept us safe and sane along the way. Family is built on our common experiences, both those that transpired over centuries and those that took place during a singular hot, miserable fourteen-hour trip in the back of a unairconditioned station wagon. It’s the recipes we’ve learned, elbow to elbow as Stacy Troilo likes to say. The bumps, bruises, heartache, healing, and loving that we shared. Sometimes it’s even the what-might-have-been.

Knowing (and Understanding) Family Stories Matter

In his 2013 The Family Stories that Bind Us New York Times article, Bruce Feiler reported an astounding finding. Investigating how to raise happy children, he concluded, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” Research shows that children who know their family stories tended to have more resilience.

When you think about how the brain digests stories differently than it processes facts, it makes sense that family stories matter to a child’s development. Stories connect us to characters. That’s doubly powerful when the “characters” are family members. Though thinking of a little train saying, “I think I can, I think I can” is great, knowing Uncle Joe overcame incredible odds is more inspiring.

My maternal grandmother came from a background that could have easily produced a resentful, bitter person. That would have been a normal and sane response to poverty and abandonment. Knowing that and having known the depth of her generous, loving and positive personality through her stories, make the word inspiring seem like faint praise.

Her past—her story—shores me up when I feel slighted. I realize that I too can rise above ugliness and not let it change me. Not to mention that the slights I face don’t even compare to what she faced.  Perspective is a good thing.

I also think of my dear friend John. His grandparents raised him. He had little contact with his mother and never met his father. For him, “family history” is place of rootlessness. I’m not saying he’s not resilient. He is. However, I do think it’s come at a higher price for him.

I also think of hearing LeVar Burton speak at RootsTech last February. He stressed that everyone needs to know where they came from to make their own story complete.

The Telling of Family Stories Matters

A storyteller and an audience comprise a dialogue, a conversation. Family storytelling goes far beyond an entertaining rendition of past events, because our telling, like our stories, has a rich subtext.

Family storytellers aren’t motivated by a need to sit on center stage and enjoy the limelight. They have a need to connect. A desire to comfort and commiserate and celebrate when they’re not physically present.  The nurturing you tacitly express by storytelling is part of your story. Your listeners or readers get that. That’s part of a bond.

A story of getting in trouble for playing hooky from school, for example, tells your reader (or listener) that you didn’t start off perfect. That you’ve been in someone’s ill favor. Perhaps most importantly, you’re explaining that when it happens to them, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

Family Stories: Meant for Sharing

Paul Tritschler articulates it elegantly.

“We don’t become any less by sharing. Stories are part of the fabric of who we are, but only in sharing our life experiences do we develop a sense of self. … Stories cultivate the frequently forgotten yet uniquely human traits that are crucial in building solidarity.”

When I was expecting my second, I tried to stave off any growing feelings of resentment that might be stirring in my eldest son’s belly against the child growing in mine. My go-to exercise was what I called the “love candle.” The love candle was a glass dish filled with wax and three wicks.

Love candle illustrates sharing family stories After lighting the first wick, I’d turn of the lights and explain how lighting the other two wicks (him and his sibling-to-be) didn’t diminish the first flame. As three, they burned brighter. I hoped he’d get how our growing family would only brighten the light of love in our house.

At two, he may not have fully digested my metaphor. He could count to three and thought three people were enough of a family.

You, on the other hand, have realized that the love candle metaphor works for our family stories. Sharing them not only increases the illumination for the hearer. It spreads the connections, ones that can continue to burn even after our own flame is extinguished.

Jun 162017
 

In her ongoing Remember the Descendants blog party, Elizabeth O’Neal asks family historians how they plan to preserve genealogical research for future generations.

Remember the Descendants empty page

Don’t leave a blank page. Remember the descendants in your family tree by preserving genealogical information

The question is well-put for all memoirists and family storytellers. We’re creating a legacy. Even if you don’t know much about your family’s genealogy, preserving what you do know is important.

Preserving Roots, Not Just Branches

Knowing where you came from matters. We hear stories, again and again, about how knowing one’s roots has made a difference. LeVar Burton had a particularly poignant one. I have a couple of my own, which you’ll find peppered throughout this blog.

The Global Family Reunion party I hosted two years ago also brought this home. Though few of the attendees were hard core (or even light core, for that matter) family historians, most showed up with a precious stack of papers, notebook, or chart that Aunt So-and-so had put together years ago. My friend Judy had a single sheet of paper with what her father, then 93, could remember about family names and places.

These unremarkable-looking treasures were heirlooms which connected them to their roots.

Including Family History in Your Legacy of Stories

There are a multitude of ways to preserve that you know about your family’s genealogy. Below are just a few ideas.

Scrapbooking:

You can look at the tutorials on this site or create your own design. Almost every craft store has family tree or family history pages and layouts. When you need inspiration, Stacy Julian’s “a very fruitful tree” site is packed full of great ideas that merge scrapbooking and storytelling. I’ve also pinned quite a few layouts on my Scrapbooking Pinterest board.

Family Bible or Holy Book

Writing names and birth and death dates was a tradition born of necessity before the advent of hospital births and birth certificates. Wouldn’t continuing to honor this tradition make a wonderful gift? Whether it’s a new Bible you purchase for a young person or using your best penmanship (or even a calligraphy pen) to preserve information in your aunt’s dog-eared tome, loved ones will appreciate it.

Remember the Descendants by Writing a Family History Book

You don’t have to have a file cabinet full of genealogical information to start thinking about compiling a family history book. This allows you to combine the stories with the facts. (Hmm. I feel a blog series coming on.)

Digitizing Old Films so the Whole Family Can Enjoy Them

box of memories in the closetDisclosure: I represent Legacy Republic (affiliate link), a company that does just that. It’s not simply a matter of preserving old VHS tapes that are degrading to put them back in the same closet in another, albeit longer-lasting, format. You can remember the descendants by making your past accessible to them and sharing it with them. Those old photo albums and 8mm films can work as story prompts.

Journaling

Journaling isn’t what it used to be when I wrote in my diary in high school. Or at least, it’s not necessarily that.  Though it can be the portal through which you dump your deepest and most embarrassing thoughts, journals also make a great way to preserve memories, stories, and love for the next generation.  Pinterest, of course, makes a great source of inspiration.  But keep in mind, it doesn’t have to look like Martha Stewart’s staff put it together for it to connect.  My grandmother’s journal was barely legible (I’m not endorsing that, mind you), but we love it immensely.

Need more Ideas?

Below are just a few posts in which family history and storytelling intersect.

 Your Turn:

How do plan to preserve genealogical information for your descendants? Leave me a comment or join in Elizabeth’s Remember the Descendants Blog Party (open through June 2017).

 

May 102017
 

In the hyper-awareness that comes with loss, quite a few bittersweet moments have embossed themselves on my heart and memory. Snapshots of love, grief, and faith, gathered over the last two weeks.

Sacred Bittersweet Moments

Our minds record touching, bittersweet moments more vividly than a camera could.

I thought the dearly departed would have enjoyed some of them, were he watching. Perhaps he was. My insights aren’t unique, I’m sure. Such bittersweet moments happen in families all the time. But I found comfort in writing them down. Considering them together, I realize that they tell a story that is as much about the departed as those he left behind.

I hope that by my sharing them, you’ll record a few of your own. Continue reading »

Apr 122017
 

Though poignant, stories of forgiveness can be difficult to write. Stories of Forgiveness graphicThey call for us to reveal the dark times of our relationships with our family, friends, or even faith. Telling heartfelt stories of forgiveness push us even further than the proverbial long honest look in the mirror. They require us to admit to the world what the reflection revealed.

Stories of Forgiveness

Perhaps because of forgiveness’ elusiveness or our own limited ability to harness its power, stories of forgiveness make for compelling reading.  If you doubt their popularity, just do a Google search.  Readers’ Digest, Real Simple, and The Huffington Post all offer compilations of stories of forgiveness, as does The Forgiveness Project. Continue reading »

Apr 042017
 

As a newly minted Legacy Republic consultant, I seized on the opportunity at RootsTech 2017 to get to know the company’s leadership better. Legacy Republic Logo (Disclosure: I’m a Legacy Maker or consultant. As such I receive financial compensation from orders placed through me or my personal Legacy Republic site. That said, I believe in Legacy Republic’s mission and services. They are the reason I joined.)

During Rootstech2016, Legacy Republic’s president Brian Knapp was busy unveiling their new Studio scanner, the 2nd place winner in the Innovator Summit.  This year, things were a little less hectic. However, Brian was no less enthusiastic about the company’s mission. In addition, he had time to explain Legacy Republic’s commitment to helping family historians tell stories.

View the interview below to hear more about how Legacy Republic helps family storytellers highlight the moments that matter.

Interview

Legacy Republic and Storytelling

Sharleen Reyes, the company’s VP of Marketing impressed me as well. She took time to sit with me and give me insight into how Legacy Republic translates their mission into a marketing strategy. Sharleen isn’t what my former life in international business would have lead me to expect out of a VP of Marketing.  She’s unpretentious, open to new ideas, and has a mile-wide creative streak.

She doesn’t believe in scare tactics.  Though it’s true that media is degrading, particularly VHS media, Legacy Republic frowns on scaring customers into getting every linear foot of video and film in the house digitized.  The mission is to get important memories out of closets and to share them with family.

Which is why, Sharleen explains, Legacy Republic prefers the person-to-person relationship model rather than a traditional sales force.  In fact, Legacy Republic trains their Legacy Makers to back away from “selling.” Instead, they are coached to simply help customers and trust that sales opportunities will develop organically—or not—out of trusted relationships.

Choosing the Moments that Matter

Which moments matter?

A case in point of posed versus un-posed photos. Of course, on the left is the question of why my mom would have cut my bangs so short before a formal portrait. However, the photo on the right portrays a more typical story of how my sister entertained herself sticking her finger in my ear. And why I didn’t seem to mind.

Sharleen and Brian gave a presentation at RootsTech on choosing those moments that matter.  In it, they stressed that the moments that matter are not necessarily the ones in which everyone wears in coordinated outfits and stands in front of an attractive backdrop. It might not even be the one with perfect focus and composition. Rather, they’re the ones that express a moment of personalities and relationships. The ones that give rise to stories. That’s a valuable takeaway for storytellers.

Your Turn:

There are stories lurking in your closets. Look back at media—still or film or video—and choose a couple of ones that have stories which flow from them.  Now go tell those stories!

Mar 102017
 

TapGenes, Tap Genes Logo an application that helps families compile their health information, won the 2016 RootsTech Innovator Summit. Last month, I caught up with CEO Heather Holmes to see what difference a year makes.

Our Interview


(In case you’re wondering, I am not affiliated with TapGenes. I just like the platform. Much of TapGenes is free to use.)

How TapGenes Helps Families Tell their Stories

TapGenes explains that they use “the idea of “crowdsourcing” to help “families create a more complete and accurate family medical history, together.” That little word “together” isn’t an after-thought. As families accumulate information, they have conversations about what they know.  Not only does this help inform all members of the family, it also fosters honest conversations, a key to preventing important health topics from getting swept under the rug. (See Why You Should Tell Health Stories)

Despite all the fanfare about genetic testing, the information already known to your family provides crucial information for doctors. Think about it, before you even see a doctor, you fill out forms about your own and family health history. Unfortunately, a lot of us can’t remember everything in that 10 minutes during which scribble on the forms as we wait to see the doctor. The website is HIPAA compliant so it’s a safe way to accumulate data

You can also fill out your own information, then opt to share it with family members. Perhaps knowing that you suffer from borderline-diabetes or anxiety and depression will make other family members more comfortable sharing their own or taking actions to treat those conditions.

Assessing your risk

In addition to assembling family health information, TapGenes wants to help “families connect the dots between their known risks and … discover where they can impact and influence better health. One way they do that is through questionnaires that assist with risk assessment. Throughout these Q&As, TapGenes weaves in advice regarding life-style choices, such as taking multi-vitamins, exercise, and alcohol consumption.

The ability to change the ending of your story

TapGenes Risk Assessment

Wow. Time for some better self-care and that check-up I’ve been putting off.

My colon cancer risk assessment surprised me.  It also forced me to be honest with myself.

I think of myself as active, but my exercise is on a weekly basis, not daily.  Clicking through the friendly interview, I had to admit the multi-vitamins are nearing their expiration date in the kitchen drawer and that the closest I come to taking a vitamin D supplement is using whole vitamin D enriched milk in my coffee. And it didn’t even ask me about that polyp they found at the last colonoscopy and how long it’s been since I had a follow-up.

By making me a little uncomfortable, TapGenes reminds me that I have an opportunity to influence how that story ends.

Upgraded Membership

All of the above is available under TapGenes free subscription. However, their upgraded membership includes unlimited documents and access to their genetic section and pharmacogenetics alerts.

If you’d like to join me in trying that out, Heather is offering TreasureChestofMemories.com readers a 50% discount on the upgraded membership (from $79 to $39 for a one year subscription).  After signing up for a free account, use the code (treasurechest50) to get the promotional discount for the premium account.

 

Mar 062017
 

When we’re writing our family’s history, we tend to skip over the family health stories.

EKG family health Stories

Have you written about your own or family health stories? Image adapted from “EKG Komplex” by Shizhao, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Germany

With the exceptions of gory accidents or war injuries, health—or lack of it—gets a subtle billing. It often only rates a simple note of what the attending physician scrawled on a death certificate.

I get it. War stories, including injuries, inspire the imagination. Plus, they possess a certain valor. We’re far removed from a society in which all able-bodied men were expected to serve. And, train-wreck stories rivet us. We’re wired that way. Maybe it’s so we have that “I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me” feeling. Continue reading »

Feb 212017
 

A keynote speaker at RootsTech’s first-ever African Heritage Day, LeVar Burton taught us about storytelling and reaching hearts and minds. By the end, he also had us all reaching for tissues.

LeVar Burton Taught Us about storytelling

During his keynote address at RootsTech, LeVar Burton taught us about storytelling. Photo courtesy of Edgar Gomez

This isn’t another report on my fabulous time at the RootsTech genealogy conference. It’s a testimony on how great storytelling can change perspectives. I just hope I can do it justice. Continue reading »

Feb 022017
 
Divided households picture of torn photo of house

Does your family story include issues which divided households?

Throughout time, people have disagreed with the people they love. Issues of childrearing, money, faith, culture, religious practices and politics have, on occasion, divided households and hardened hearts. You might immediately think of the present political environment, but this isn’t the first time in history that issues have created emotional schisms among family members and friends

Sometimes, if the animosity has been put to rest, it’s best to leave the story alone like the proverbial sleeping dog. There’s nothing to be gained from revisiting and possibly re-igniting tensions. Continue reading »

Nov 172016
 
Research and memoir

Whether it’s online or in the library stacks, research and memoir belong together.

Do research and memoir belong together? Counter intuitive as it sounds, the answer is yes.  Though it is true that memoir involves writing about the episodes of your past that already exist in your memory, research can enhance your story.  Adding researched details from the past can bring your story alive for your readers.

Working with family historians writing their ancestor’s stories brings this home. They not only provide the meticulously researched (and cited) facts for readers. When they write about their ancestors, they often include a rich background of historical and social context.  They don’t do this to fill in the gaps between facts. They use their research to help their readers visualize the events of the past. Continue reading »