Until last weekend, I had forgotten how poignant reunions can be. Whether it’s family, school, or something else, reunions allow you to reconnect with the past. Not only are they great places to re-color some of those faded memories, they refresh the soul.
During RootsTech, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Paula Williams Madison, author of Finding Samuel Lowe: Harlem, Jamaica, China. Of course, there’s a lot more to Paula than authoring a bestselling memoir and a documentary by the same name. She’s the former top NBC executive for diversity. She’s the winner of many awards, such as being listed among the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” (Black Enterprise magazine) and one of “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” (Asian American Business Development Center).
Her long list of accomplishments don’t say it all. She’s also a warm and gracious woman—a pleasure to interview.
Here’s our interview. Paula had some helpful advice for family history writers. She talked about how to decide what to share and the meaning of family.
Where did the opportunity to tell all your peers “What I did on my Summer Vacation” go? Here in the USA, as September rolls around, it’s not just the kids that are in back-to-school mode. Everyone is looking forward. They’ll ask you, “How was your summer?” but it’s clear that a monosyllabic or few-syllabic response is preferred. “Fine.” “Hot.” “It went fast.”
When you do have an adventure to talk about, not many people are geared to listen.
That’s why you should be writing, not waiting for someone to ask!
Narrating—or the opportunity to narrate—“what I did on summer vacation” is a lost art.
Have you ever wondered why you remember some things but not others ? Have you ever wondered why some things come back to you seemingly out of the blue? You think to yourself, “That’s funny, I haven’t thought about that in years.”
Actually, it’s better than funny. The science behind how memory works is fascinating and cool.
Obviously, “How Memory Works” is a topic far beyond the scope of a single blog post. But it is fun to take a look at what scientists call episodic or autobiographical memories—the events of our pasts.
The memories we have and are able to recall are critical to how we think of ourselves. Researchers Martin A. Conway and Christophe Pleydell-Pearce explain, “autobiographical memory is of fundamental significance for the self, for emotions, and for the experience of personhood, that is the experience of enduring as an individual, in a culture, over time.”
Your hometown comes to represent much more than the place you grew up. It’s your version of your state and country.
When we write about family members, ancestors, or ourselves, it’s important to give readers a glimpse of that hometown context. It helps explain worldview, values, and traditions. It helps them understand the personalities involved in our stories.
For instance, my hometown still colors my perception and understanding of events, even though I’ve now lived away from South Carolina as long as I lived there. It’s part of me. Though I’ve lived in the mid-west for over twenty years, I still consider myself a southerner.
Have you ever said something and as soon as it left your lips, you would have given your eye-tooth (I don’t actually know which one that is) to have your words back again? Failing that, you’d like to dissolve into the woodwork and never be seen again?
I have. On more than one occasion.
We’ve all had moments when we’ve had to try to bandage our dignity as we extract our foot from our mouths. Share them! I’ll go first. (You’re next, though. Misery loves company.)
Today, I’m particularly pleased to present a guest post by Judith Fein and her concept of emotional genealogy.
When I gave my first talk about the power of Emotional Genealogy, I wondered if anyone would be able to connect to what I was speaking about. To my surprise, audience members asked questions for over an hour, and then they continued with personal questions for another half an hour.
You may be wondering what Emotional Genealogy is. Briefly, it involves examining how the behaviors of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents influenced who we are and how we are in the world. And it doesn’t matter if we knew them or not.
Remember (if you’re approximately my age) how we used to cross our hearts and “hope to die”? We’d earnestly pledge ourselves to some action or affection, pantomiming the heart crossing as if we (in my case, good Southern Baptist girls) were genuflecting.
Today, kids pinky swear. To me, pinky swearing doesn’t carry the same weight as our covenants made on the pain of a-needle-in our-eye injury. But what do I know? As much as I assuredly meant all those promises (unless, of course, I somehow managed to cross my fingers behind my back as I gesticulated the heart crossing on my front), I can’t remember many of my hope-to-dies. The one I do remember was to remain lifelong friends with Sally Moore. I lost touch with Sally a few years after she moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, which for my 12-year-old perspective. might as well have been Peru.
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.
When to let go
Connections to the past matter. A lot. But sometimes sadness, hurt, and anger about the past becomes baggage. Carrying those suitcases around make traveling forward more cumbersome and emotionally expensive. Sometimes we have to emotionally let go of past events to keep a healthy relationship with the present and future. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, writing about the past is a great strategy to keep our What-Could–Have-Been from overshadowing our What-Can-Still-Be.
Just so you know which body part I’m speaking from, I’ll confess up front. I’m not good at letting go.
Writing about the past doesn’t just prevent you from bottling up your feelings. Writing can help process the past, enabling us to embrace the present and future. That’s especially true when we combine writing about the past with solid advice from professionals. Although I’m normally all about sharing, these techniques are also helpful when you keep your writing private.