Recording Family Stories in “Fits and Starts”

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By Sherry Lindsay,, Inc.

It is never too early to start interviewing your relatives to record their histories, but one day it might be too late.

When I was a child I loved listening to my grandfather tell stories about his extraordinarily interesting life, and by the time I was about sixteen I had decided that I needed to start recording the stories-not necessarily audio-recordings, but some sort of written record of his experiences in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, and various places across the United States. Of course, I didn’t get going right away; then I started college 1,500 miles away from him, and, although I kept in good contact with him, I still did not work on recording the fantastic stories he told me.

During my junior year of college I took a class on writing family histories. Upon signing up for the class I knew that I would finally be writing my grandfather’s history. Unfortunately, within three weeks of my starting the class my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I was finally struck with the realization that I had wasted a lot of time.

Of course, on the up-side, I was extremely fortunate to have about six good months where I could call my grandfather and ask him questions about his life. As I wrote his history, though, the thought that I could have known and recorded more always lingered.

My intent in writing this is not to guilt-trip you into interrogating your elderly family members until every worthwhile personal and family history detail has been extracted from their memories. Rather, my intent is to help you realize that family histories can be written in pieces, in fits and starts if you will.

Just as you log details on your pedigree chart as you find them, you can record historic details of your family members as you hear them. Next time you get off the phone or come home from a visit with a family member (young or old-the earlier your start, the more you will accumulate) take a few moments to write down any interesting stories you may have heard. With time you will find that you have accumulated a great deal of family history data, and it will be ready for a cumulative story.

If your older family members are anything like mine, you may think that you’ve heard all the stories several times before, and if push came to shove you’d be able to record them all without the assistance of your relative. But why test the limits of your own memory? Writing down these histories in fits and starts won’t take much time at all, and it will preserve the memory of those you love for generations to come.

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