History Needs Your Story, Too
Eliminate the regret your children or grandchildren will feel when they realize they didn’t get your history while you are alive— by you recording your family history for them now.
Have you ever regretted not asking your parents or grandparents about their past? Too often, the thought of writing or recording one’s family history occurs after losing our loved ones, when it’s too late to hear their stories. Let’s remedy that.
Young adults are so busy raising kids or caught up in career building that they just don’t have the time it takes to write the family history. Since we know our children and grandchildren will probably have the same regret after we’re gone, let’s lessen the heartache and write or record our stories for them now before we’re gone.
Before my grandmother passed away, I asked her about her early life. She kept putting me off, saying her life wasn’t interesting. But when she finally began talking, I loved her stories. During her lifetime, transportation evolved from covered wagons and horses to putting a man on the moon! She also began making biscuits from scratch for her family from the time she was around 8 years old when her mother was bedridden with a pregnancy. Granny was so short, she had to stand on a box to be able to reach the countertop to work.
She made a pan of biscuits every morning from then on, except for the very few times she and my step-grandfather traveled, and up until she was hospitalized and subsequently came to live with my parents. My father estimated that Granny Valentine made half a million biscuits in her lifetime, one small pan at a time.
Documenting family history can be as simple or as complicated as we choose. The key is to stick with it. You don’t have to include every bit of your life; at least record the things that were meaningful to you, including important dates.
Granny made half a million biscuits in her lifetime, one small pan at a time
My siblings, Bobby, me, Joe, and Joy when we lived in Fort Stockton, Texas during the early 1960s.
My mother's cake pan, similar to her mother's, along with Granny's tiny biscuit cutter
Here are some easy ways to get started:
Begin recording stories as they come to mind. You can do this by:
handwriting them in a spiral notebook or nicely bound journal; or
recording your story with an app on your cell phone or an electronic recording device; or
typing them on your computer/laptop (my mode of choice since it is so easy to edit) and printing them out.
We scheduled two weekends for family and friends to get together and share stories of our growing up years. We used our mobile phones to record the conversations, which are much more entertaining than interviews, and I am transcribing these recordings.
Don’t reinvent the wheel; build on others’ genealogical work. Usually there is a family member or kin that has done some genealogy work on your family. Ask around, and they are usually willing to share what they’ve learned. I was very fortunate to find people on both sides of my family who had created family trees to get me started. Through further research, I was able to fill in a number of blanks and make several corrections. It’s amazing what can be found online. I gave these people credit for their work and sent them copies of the book I created on Amazon Publishing for our family history as a thank you for their help.
If you are starting from scratch with genealogy, it will take a lot more space than this article to teach you how this works, and there will be a learning curve on your part. But it’s an exciting journey. Many online resources are available to learn from, as well as books in the library you can check out. Some towns and communities have genealogy clubs where others are willing to share what they’ve learned. Check to see if there are any genealogy libraries in your area, too. They are also helpful resources.
If your parents are still alive, start asking them questions now before they’re gone. If your parents are deceased, you can ask any surviving siblings questions about their childhood.
The following online resources can give you some ideas for questions to ask, but you con't have to ask every question.
Questions to Ask Your Parents and Grandparents
30 Questions to Ask Your Grandparents
Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Grandparents
150 Questions to Ask Family Members About Their Lives
Most of the biographies throughout history are of royalty, the famous, the infamous, and the powerful, etc. The vast majority of the stories of everyday people were not recorded, so there are huge gaps in history when it came to documenting most of mankind, which creates an unbalanced view of history.
History needs your story, too-- especially for your children and descendants.
Commit an amount of time each week to work on recording your story. Even a couple of hours a week will create a nice collection of stories over a year’s time. No matter how much or how little you tell of your life story or even your ancestors’ stories, your collection of words will be one of the most treasured heirlooms you could leave your children.
Donna Van Cleve