Understanding the fears our ancestors faced can help us understand their lives. That, in turn, can help us tell their stories. Although it’s hard to know from the meager records we unearth whether an ancestor was an introvert or adventurer, we can form some theories based on historical context. We can also get a better grasp on their everyday lives.
How do we avoid or minimize the risk of misrepresenting the past as we tell our own and family stories? What exactly is our burden of due diligence when it comes to determining the accuracy of our narratives?
This isn’t my normal soap box about truth versus accuracy. Or at least not entirely. The truth of our experience often comes down to our unique memory of it. Our memory is our truth whether or not a sibling thinks it was a Pepsi and not a Coke. We’re not talking about that type of accuracy.
Can we avoid misrepresenting the past?
We all knew that I think that stories of the heart are the future of family history, but I have some good company. Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International emphasized that in his opening keynote for Rootstech.
Serious genealogists made up the majority of the 12,000 in-person audience. (Estimates including online audience range up to 125,000.) “To get and keep non-genealogists’ attention,” Rockwell explained, “you have to focus on the person, not records.” He also emphasized that stories need to be short and meaningful–stories of the heart.
The day after Thanksgiving has its own traditions. Leftover day. Get out the Christmas Decorations Day (my house). The ironic Black Friday.
It’s also StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening. Unlike Black Friday, when we’re encouraged to eschew all our thankfulness and contentedness, the National Day of Listening nurtures the feelings of gratitude.
Suggestions for National Day of Listening
For StoryCorps, listening is only the first step of the National Day of Listening. They also encourage participants to record and upload interviews to share with family and friends and StoryCorps followers.
Visiting Lincoln (UK), I wanted an emotional bond with my 20th great grandmother. Foolish as it sounds, I wanted to get a feel for her life. I wanted to know her a little.
Unlike London, which has changed so much over the centuries, Lincoln felt like a place where my forbearers might materialize. As my son and I munched on sandwiches in Minster square, the echoes of centuries of footsteps were almost audible. I could imagine my 14th century relatives, walking through the gates and looking upon the Lincoln Cathedral’s already centuries-old beautiful façade.
A horse-drawn carriage pulled up, taking on a mother and son for a city tour. The boy was sporting a wooden shield and sword as well as an impish smile. I wondered how many times that scenario occurred in the 558 years between my 20th great grandmother’s death and my birth?
Can such basic human experiences roll the centuries away?
If you weren’t already planning to attend Rootstech 2016, today’s announcement of its keynote speakers might have you searching for flights to Salt Lake City. The world’s largest family history conference’s opening session on February 4, 2016 will start with New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler, award-winning journalist Paula Williams Madison, and the president and CEO of FamilySearch International, Stephen Rockwood.
There are apps that will compile your Facebook posts into a book—like a personal version of World book Encyclopedia’s Yearbooks. It’s an interesting idea, but does it make sense to use social media to tell your stories?
If I were to compile my posts into a story, I’m not even sure I’d be interested in it. Last summer, for instance, I posted various pictures of birds, frogs, and turtles distributed between public confessions about lame-brained things I’d done. If I bore myself, how would readers receive it?
But perhaps that’s my fault. I wonder if people would be more invested if I put myself more “out there.” On the other hand, even though I’m willing to wear my heart on my sleeve in speaking engagements, books, and this blog, something about social media makes me more emotionally reticent. Baring my soul isn’t quite like putting my life story on a bumper sticker, but it’s on that spectrum somewhere.
What would my ancestors think of me?
I had my doubts recently, as I traipsed around the UK, seeking out locations where my ancestors lived and died. As I visited Loseley Park in Surrey in England, the manor home where my ancestors enjoyed an aristocratic life-style in the 17th century. Family members not only hob-nobbed with royalty, but also acted as treasurer for Henry Frederick, the then Prince of Wales and served in Parliament under King James.
As I embarked on our trip, I planned to visit “ancestral sites” more in an effort to “feel the dust of my ancestors’ shoes,” rather than to research. (I was traveling with a son who is not into genealogy.) As we drove up the long winding road to the estate, I realize they my ancestors probably seldom felt the dust of their own shoes. They would have had staff to prevent most dust-ups, and were their footwear to acquire undesirable soil, said staff would have removed the dust or other offending matter.
Why was my cousin once removed? Maybe that’s why my family dispensed with the first cousin, second cousin, and once removed nomenclature when referring to cousins: They knew I’d ask a bunch of questions, most of which would begin with “Why…” Cousins were just “cousins.”
“Once removed” doesn’t sound anything like it means. Unlike its general use in the English vernacular, when it’s used to describe family relationships, removed simply means from a different generation. I now think of it as “more distant in age.” A first cousin once removed might be a first cousin of my parents’ generation or my children’s generation. (See Genealogy.com’s primer.)
Aside from the “cock” part and the inherent playground emotional trauma that comes with bearing it, the Hedgecock name has a lot to be proud of.
Since I only adopted that name after my marriage, I confess to letting a giggle of two escape at some of the Hedgecock name jokes. “Bush-chicken,” for instance. My husband and sons fail to see the humor.