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.
I’m often asked, “Where do you recommend people start when they’re recording their memories.”
Sometimes, however, it’s not the starting that’s the issue. At the beginning, with a little brainstorming, ideas come down like the proverbial cats and dogs in a rainstorm. Then they don’t. That’s the problem. You encounter the “What do I write?” blues.
Breaking through writer’s block is important. Once coming up with ideas is difficult, it’s a slippery slope to procrastination.
My November was rudely interrupted by a hard drive crash. Luckily, I had backed up my laptop on a regular basis, but not quite regularly enough. Please, learn from my mistakes and luck. Whether you’re writing or researching your family tree, have a data backup plan and follow it religiously.
PC Magazine compares backing up data with flossing. And they’re right. Most of us agree that we should do it, but few of us actually have the discipline to do it like we should. Perhaps it’s because the term data backup doesn’t have the emotional overtones it deserves. Think of data backup as the preservation of your hard work, sweat, tears, proofreading, moments of inspiration, and good advice.
Tethers or connections? The past is an integral part of our future. When we write memoirs, memories, or histories that create a positive connection with the past, it grounds us. When the past colors our existence to the point that the present and future are drained of reason, it’s a tether to be broken–or at least loosened up a bit.
How are You Tethered to the Past?
There’s an apt German expressions for those times when you are torn about an event: “One eye laughs; the other cries.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.