While reading The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister, I found a section I want to share with you.
“Old age is a treasure-house of history – personal history, family history, national history, world history. But what do we do with everything an older generation knows in a culture that does not seek answers from that generation? Every elder in every community is a living story for the people to whom he or she will someday leave the Earth to guide as good, as better, than they did in their own time.
Family tales have always been the parables one generation handed down to the next to tell us who we are and where we came from. Funeral rituals, the interment of ancestors, became the art form that preserved the values and ideals of the past in special ways. Meant to remind the clan of their connections in both life and death, funerals were a tribal event. Telling the stories of those who passed away made the family the bridge to both past and future.
Even in our own times, in the not so distant past, the deceased were laid out in the family homes. But while it was prayer time for the soul of the dead in the parlor, in the rest of the house it was story- telling time for the living….In those moments children learned the history of their parents’ own childhood. Most of all, the young came to realize what stood to be lost forever in one last breath if the next generation did not take responsibility for maintaining it.”
I encourage people to write or record their living history, their story, even though the younger generation is not now interested in our stories. One day they will realize that our stories are their stories and they will wish they had listened. They will read our stories.
Recently a man told me he wants to write his parents’ story, but they are both gone and so were others who knew them. He has no oral history or written history of his mother and father.
I spent ten years researching and writing a family history book. I published the book in 1998. Some of my siblings never read the book. Some of their children did read the book and found it interesting. After all these years my last living brother has been reading the book.
I am happy I was able to record the stories of my grandparents on my father’s line and the lives of his ten children. Often it is not until a parent or loved one dies that the children begin to long for more knowledge about that person’s life. I can’t begin to count how many times I've heard the words, “I wish I had asked my mother or my father about what their lives were like when they were growing up.”
One man told me he doesn't have family and is not sure for whom he would write his life story. I responded that he has friends and extended family he is not close to now that would like to read his story someday. Our stories have value to future generations. As elders we pass on the family history to those who will carry on where we leave off.
As a genealogist, I know the thrill of finding written information about an ancestor or distant relative when searching my family tree. To find a book written by one of them would be like discovering a gold mine. I have no children, but I have a family with many, many stories that I hope to record for those who will want to read them one day.
Here are a few titles: The Day My Father was a Hero, Frog Gigging with my Brothers, The Council Brothers go to Dallas, Pop-up Camping across the USA, and others.
Do you have some unusual family stories you can share with others? Give us some titles to ponder.