There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots, and the other is wings.Hodding S. Carter, Journalist & Author
I have several boxes in my garage that have been stored for years and years. First they were moved when my mother relocated for retirement. And upon her passing, they were moved from Oregon to California, and then from garage to garage as I moved, scarcely ever opened.
Each cardboard box contains beautiful images of family history, a window into times past, for better and for worse, the bittersweet as well as the sweet. There have been days over the past couple of years, and more recently during COVID, when I had some extra time on my hands. So, I opened the boxes, peered inside, and ran my fingers through the vintage frames and old weathered photos. It is mostly a bittersweet and sad experience because I do not know the history behind them. And sadder still because, as an only child with no children, I don’t know what to do with them or how to pass them along.
Family photographs and letters are a window into times past. They tell a story that if we care to listen to it, we can gain wisdom when the soul is open to learning. And they tell of a life explored. I so wish I had spent more time with my mother learning about who these people were and any experiences she had with them.
March 14th is National Write Your Story Day. And there’s no more perfect a time to start writing down your own story and the stories of your ancestors to help remind people of the deep and beautiful journey of your family. While some people love to get their thoughts and experiences down on paper through journaling, scrapbooks, or other hobbies, many don’t realize the value of the intriguing stories we carry through life.
Our stories are our most unique and priceless treasure. It’s time we cherished them and shared them as such. Here, we’ll dive into why storytelling is so essential to our family history and how you can become a bonafide storyteller!
“The elderly have so much to offer. They’re our link with history.”
~ John Cusack
Have you ever gone through old photos with your more senior family members and seen how the memories light up their eyes? Or read through an old letter or sat around the table sipping tea while your grandfather told stories about how things were so very different when he grew up? While photos and trinkets are dear family treasures, they are empty without the stories behind them.
Sadly, generations of family history are becoming lost because we simply don’t share stories like we used to do. Before all the TV, movies, and games that technology brought to us, storytelling was the main source of entertainment. Our ancestors would share their stories to keep their history alive and impart wisdom and belonging to the younger family members. Storytelling was a powerful way to keep the family together, share a common bond, give advice, and enjoy family entertainment.
These moments are precious. Our ancestry is our only personal link to the past, and the one thing that remains when our family members pass on. If you still have older family members in your life, ask them to share their stories and get a glimpse of where you came from. Record them if you can. Here are some story-starting questions to ask your family members:
Just as capturing these memories will help you know more about where you came from, passing down your own memories is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family, especially children.
Now, let’s learn some ways you can start sharing your story.
“Tell me about your family, I said. And so she did. I listened intently as my mother
went through each branch of the tree. Years later, after the funeral,
Maria had asked me questions about the family, who was related to whom,
and I struggled. I couldn’t remember. A big chunk of our history had been
buried with my mother. You should never let your past disappear that way.”
~ Mitch Albom
The photo above sits on my dresser. It is of my maternal grandmother, Birdella. She was born in Iowa in 1898, an only child. (In fact, on my mother’s side of the family, I am the fourth-generation only girl.) She moved to Ohio after she met my grandfather and had my mother. Her and her mother owned two beauty shops in the 1930’s, during the Depression. Amazing to know that there were successful women entrepreneurs back then and during such difficult days.
Break out of your shell and start writing down your story today. You might surprise yourself with what you unravel! Here are some tips to get you started:
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you might as well make him dance.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
This photo hangs in my home, and is one of my most treasured possessions. It’s a portrait of my father and his family a couple of years after they immigrated to the United States from Northern Italy. My father is the youngest, and he was born in July 1919. I have always surmised he was about 4 years old in the photo. My fraternal grandfather and this family made Morristown, New Jersey their home, and he earned his living as a brick mason. I met my my fraternal grandparents when I was 13 months old, and sadly, both of them passed away before I was 2. I would have loved to have heard their stories.
Now, are you feeling quite serious about writing down your story and want to create something more significant to share with your family (or even just for yourself)? Bravo!
Getting your story down on paper is an incredible experience and one that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Thankfully, these days there are tons of simple ways to write and print your own life story. Here are a few favorites:
“As we grow older, our bodies get shorter and our anecdotes longer.”
~ Robert Quillen
Writing down your story is not just a creative exercise – it’s an investment you make in your family’s history. Make writing down your memories a simple morning practice, or opt for some help with the services above. Then, encourage your other family members to do the same. You’ll have a rich and rewarding family history to pass down for generations to come!
P.S. March 14th just so happens to be Pi Day and National Potato Chip Day, too! Fuel your writing session with some homemade pasta sauce like my Italian father used to make or these sophisticated homemade herbed potato chips!
However you spend it, live a life explored!
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