Dear Myrtle, “Your friend in Genealogy since 1955,” was the would-be storyteller’s friend on her February 25, 2015 Wacky Wednesday show (embedded below). And, as the guest on her show, I got a great taste of community learning.
A new cousin discovered me recently–through Ancestry.com. We share the same great-great-grandfather. “Sounds like we’re cousins,” he wrote. “How cool is that?”
Very cool, in fact. Finding new cousins through family history research is an undeniable rush.
His contact once again brought home the value of a family “treasure chest.” Once again, the beauty of my grandmother’s “Treasure Chest of Memories” washed over me and amazed me.
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.
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.
There’s no question that grave markers are an invaluable resource for birth and death dates, full names, and family connections. However, when we try to tell a person’s story, we often over look them or give them only passing attention. We look for something more dynamic than a cold stone to illustrate someone’s personal history.
But grave markers are more than a resource. They’re a memorial to a life that has passed. And many times, if you listen and observe closely, they also tell a story.
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.
Historians at London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) are trying to preserve the stories of 8 million people. That’s how many World War I stories they estimate are in danger of being lost to “living” memory. And, that’s only counting those who served the British Commonwealth.
The “Great War” began on June 28, 1914. We’ve lost the lives of World War I–the veterans, survivors, nurses, and doctors of that war. In addition, the next generation—the children that knew their stories, are also aging. These stories are in danger of being lost to history.
In my family tree, there are huge gaping holes in our family stories. I have so many questions for ancestors. If I could go back in time with a little voice recorder, there are quite a few of my ancestors I would want to interview. I’d also have a few questions for my husband’s ancestors—after all, they, too, are my children’s progenitors.
Note: Keep in mind; stories don’t have to have happily-ever-after endings. Your questions for ancestors could lead to great stories about them!
Van Field Clark: “Are all Grandma’s war stories true?”
Van Field Clark was “Grandpa Clark” to my grandmother. As she collected her memories, she wrote down some of his Civil War stories, none of which I have been able to substantiate. Not only would I want to know if the stories are true, I would want to hear them first hand.
The fallibility of memory has been getting increased attention in the press lately. Eyewitness identifications, for example, have been found to be erroneous.
No doubt, the legal implications of imperfect memory are far-reaching. But how does our memory’s malleability impact the family storyteller? How does it affect the memories you preserve?
Telling the Stories with Inaccuracies
Family stories will no doubt have small inaccuracies. Over time, details may have been distorted or embellished.
I’m excited to introduce Valerie Hughes, today’s guest poster. Valerie, a professional genealogist, recently gained insight about what to do with slave information you encounter during your family tree research.
Will You Take The Challenge? Share Slave History from your Family Tree.
About two months ago, I joined a Black Ancestry Group on Facebook. You may think this is an odd thing to do considering I am not black. However, I did it for a specific reason, to ask a question that had been plaguing me for a long time. The following is the question that I finally asked.