Homes are the settings for our stories. With the passing of years, we become emotionally attached to the building itself. The house itself is akin to a repository of the thing that happened within its walls. Years ago, I saw a van stop on my street to disgorge a group that stared wistfully at my house. Since my house is relatively unremarkable, I immediately knew they were former residents of my home. My husband and I went outside and heard stories come tumbling out of each of them. We received an education about things that happened in this house during the fifties and sixties.
About a year ago, I went back to the place where my mom grew up. Her childhood Virginian home is still standing, but has been abandoned. Climbing up the front stoop to peer inside (to the tune of my sister’s “Laura! No!”), I saw the remnants of years gone by. The living room stove that heated the room. The burgundy brocade couch that we squeezed onto for family photos. The mantel that was once decorated by photos of grandchildren.
Like the family that stopped in front on my house, my brain started playing a filmstrip of the things that happened there. Although the memories (my own and stories passed down) were bittersweet, I consider myself blessed to know the many things that happened in this house.
Writing about the things that happened in this house
What stories come quickly to mind about your growing up? Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life devotes a chapter to writing about a childhood home. They’re important stories! And, your loved ones will appreciate knowing the details of your childhood home(s).
Writing Our Parents’ Stories
If you’re blessed enough to still have access to your parents and grandparents, start asking questions. It’s always great to visit the actual house if you can (See the Power of Going Back.), but looking at old photos can spark the reminiscing process.
Chances are that quite a few stories will come to mind. Try to engage your relatives in a brainstorming exercise. With pen and paper in hand, ask your loved ones to respond to “Things that happened in this house” in a single phrase or sentence. Write furiously.
Later come back to the phrases and get the details of what happened. Not only will you reap some great stories, you’ll have a wonderful time bonding with your loved ones.
Write Ancestral Stories
Very few of us have the luxury of maintaining a house or property for hundreds of years. If you don’t know the stories of what happened in your ancestors homes, research. If anyone in your family has been doing genealogical research, start buttering them up! Census records can give you clues about the births and deaths that happened there. Old city directories and newspapers often hold stories. (See How to Turn Dry Facts into Stories on how to develop the stories.)
Although your ancestors may not be available for interviews, your elders might be. As your grandparents what they remember about their grandparents.
You can also now find historical photos of towns and neighborhoods online. The Library of Congress’ has a searchable Prints & Photograph Online Catalog (PPOC), but individual states and cities often have resources of their own. Type “Historical images [CITY NAME]” in to your Google search bar to find those most relevant to you. (I find Google has better results than other search engines for this type of search.)
What resources have you found useful in telling the stories of your house? What stories of your own do you have to tell?