Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sharing Family Memories

As I sit in the Denver International Airport waiting for my flight back to DC, I am filled with excitement to “return and report” all the wonderful things I learned at the genealogical conference known as RootsTech.  To cover it all in one blog post would be insane, so I will stick with the primary theme: Memories

We often think of genealogy as dealing only with the dead.  Well, that is true.  Our ancestors do seem to be the primary focus of family history research.  But how about the living?  We are all family and one day we will be part of someone’s family tree.  Let’s work on our story so that generations to come won’t have to struggle to know us.

Interview and Record.  You’ll be glad you did!

When I was around 9 years old, my family and I took a vacation to Reynolds, Georgia from Lakewood, Colorado.  The purpose of our 1500 mile trip was to make a pilgrimage to see my great grandmother Ollie Posey Wilson.  What we did not know at the time of that visit was that the following summer, Ollie would pass away at the age of 85 years.  It is a visit I will never forget.

One of the reasons I won’t forget the trip is because of the extreme heat.  This was 1976 and we had no A/C in our car.  My father was also trying to defy all records to get to Georgia and back within a certain time frame.  As an adult, I can now understand that he was most likely trying to get back to his job and had limited vacation, but as a 9 year old, to me he was the brute that would allow for only one bathroom break per day of travel and soggy PBJ lunches consumed in the backseat.  My brother and I would vie for space in the cramped backseat that we shared with luggage.  Luggage on the floor.  Luggage between us.  Thank goodness we were small kids.  But I digress.

My great grandmother Ollie was a small woman.  In her prime she was probably 5’3, but as an elderly person she was more around 5 feet.  She wore a simple patterned straight dress.  Her house smelled of lilac.  Her accent was a thick southern drawl.  She loved iced tea.  I had no memory of her from my baby years, but I loved her the moment I saw her. 

Ollie Posey Wilson (RT) with her daughter, my grandmother Kathryn Wilson Watts Kistner.  Circa 1975

My mother had the foresight (or maybe it was planned) to bring a tape recorder with her to this visit.  For about an hour of our visit, my mother and great grandmother talked as the tape recorder dials turned, taking in every word and every noise surrounding them.  Listening now, I am beyond grateful for this tape and the treasures it holds.  I not only have in my possession Ollie’s stories first hand, but I also treasure the sound of her voice and the voices of my parents who have also since passed on.

The details within the stories told that day have opened up genealogical windows – not broken down any walls as of yet – and small details have revealed names of relatives not found in census records.  These were stories of family not written in books.  And, what’s more, just hearing my great grandmother talk about her family opened up an understanding to who she was as a daughter, mother and wife.

"Papa and Mama had to plant corn. Mama dropped and Papa covered it.  They carried me to my aunt's house 'cause I was so bad that my brother couldn't manage me and the baby too.
Oh well, I ran away from my Aunt and went home and made my brother open the door.  I went in and he made me so mad I turned the cradle over and then I slipped back to my Aunt's.  Oh boy did I get a whipping!  I ran from mama all around the potato patch, and when she caught me! Oh my!  I sure got it.  And then, I called my brother a dirty word and oh my! I got it again!”  (Ollie Posey Wilson, 1976.)

What a treasure to hear her talk of her childhood.  I’m sure at the time, she didn’t find it to be a treasure, but to me, it is gold!

We, too, have a story and it is important that we share it.  When we are gone, someone will be ever so grateful to hear our voice and listen to the tales we have to tell about our parents, grandparents and even our siblings.  But where do we begin?

1.     Think small.  Start with just one story and keep it short and simple.  Need a way to prompt for one?  Take out an old photograph that brings back long forgotten memories.

2.     Record your story.  Have an iPhone? At RootsTech I learned of a great program called StoryCorps.  They have an amazing app that allows you to interview family and friends and then preserve your conversation at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  Imagine that!  Imagine if you had your ancestral stories at your fingertips.  Go to StoryCorps.com and learn more about their program.  It’s free!

3.     Journal.  There are so many ways to journal these days.  Various online journals exist such as JRNL.com – for writing and incorporating digital images, to ProjectLife which is a digital scrapbooking site in which you document your life through your photos.  There are tons of sites out there like the ones mentioned here.  Pick one that is right for you.

4.     Share.   I once heard said, “When a person passes away, a library dies.”  With our passing, so do our stories and memories.  If we think that our lives are mundane and that we have nothing of interest to share with others, we would be wrong.  I would love to read the about the “mundane” day my ancestors had, and I am sure you would, as well.

5.     Encourage others to do the same.  We live in a wonderful age of being able to use media outlets to share our stories.  Schedule a time once a week, or once a month, to sit down with a friend or family member.  Interview each other.  Bring other family members into your “Memories” project and get them excited about their own story.  Your family will be glad you did!

      Remember -- History not shared is History forgotten!