You probably had a great time getting together with family and friends these past holidays: exchanging family stories, updating on the latest happenings of family members, and making some great memories. As an amateur genealogist and family historian, I hope you are taking the time to record these stories on paper—or on your computer—before you forget them.
While working in the genealogical society’s booth at Cedar Hill Country Day, I met many young families that were quite interested in learning their family history, but they admitted not having the time to do the research. I told them that I understood, but urged them to talk to their parents and grandparents while they were still alive to get their stories about growing up and what life was like back in the “old days”. I told them that when we finally do have the time, Grandpa and Grandma would likely be gone. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me “I wish I had talked to Grandpa about that while he was still alive!”
I am among the lucky ones. My mother is a vigorous 88 years old. I frequently ask her about the “old days”. She’s told me about life on a 1920s dairy farm: living with outdoor plumbing, electricity in the early days of its adoption, how she became the first girl in her family to attend high school—she stamped her feet and insisted—food preservation and storage, and much more. I made notes while on the phone and typed up the story while it was still fresh in my mind. Don’t have a parent or grandparent to provide information? Write about your “old days”. If you have children under 21, they probably don’t know what an LP record is—they soon may not know what a CD is! When they were young cell phones were just beginning to come into use and not many people had home computers. You can provide that link to the past by writing about all of those things.
Some tips: sharing our stories in writing is something that is easy to put off until we know exactly what we are going to say and how we are going to say it—a sure way that it will never be written. Do as the professionals do. Set aside a specific time to do it—I did my writing on Friday afternoons—writing is surprisingly hard work so you have to have some discipline about it. Pick a subject and start writing. Just write, don’t stop to correct it and make it pretty. Get it all written before going back to proof it. The important thing is to get your story on paper. Word processors are great for us less than gifted writers. Many check spelling, grammar, punctuation and style. They all let you insert additional words and move things around without having to retype them. You can even include scanned pictures in your stories. They work very well for those of us who can’t type.
As you write, you will think of other subjects to write about. Write those story ideas down before you forget them and then write about them next session. Whatever you do, keep writing. Even if you never get around to researching your family’s history, you’ll have left behind a rich legacy for the person who finally does tell your family’s story. Your descendants born and yet unborn will thank you for it.
By Dave Klauck, Cedar Hill Genealogical Society