My aunt Helen, 80, is one of my oldest living relatives and the one I turn to for questions about family members only she can remember. Because she lives in Kansas and I’m in California, our family history is exchanged via frequent phone calls and letters. She’s great at sending me copies of old photos, and I call with new discoveries.
What I like best about Helen is her ability to fill in the details that bring family members to life. I love hearing about the hollyhocks that lined the back pathway of my great-grandmother’s house, and how my great-grandfather told stories from his childhood about Indian raids and a prairie fire. She can untangle convoluted family lines and help sort through my hunches. Although she is not comfortable around people she doesn’t know, she traveled to a small Kansas town and spent part of the day with strangers, just to help find out more about our ancestors.
Whenever I get off the phone with her, I turn on my computer and make notes in my genealogy software about the stories she told. I know in another year I’ll remember them less correctly and they are stories that need to be remembered.
Are you taking advantage of the wonderful stories your relatives tell? And if so, are you keeping good enough notes so the stories won’t be forgotten?
If you’d like to learn more about family stories, look here:
• Center for Life Stories Preservation
• Tell Me A Story
• Gathering Family Stories
• Fundamentals of Life Story Writing
• My History is America’s History