Each family has a few memorable stories. You know, the ones that are repeated through the year. Funny or solemn, these stories connect us, define us and get passed on to the next generation. They are part of who we are. Do you remember all the details, though? If you weren’t there, then maybe you forget if it was Uncle Frank, or Uncle George that ‘accidentally’ stole the donkey from the neighbor’s pasture. Was it a crow or a raven that Granddad kept as a pet? What was great grandmother’s brother’s name?
The truth is, we can’t remember all the details, and if we don’t record them, they will disappear. Eventually, the folks that hold these memories will be gone, and so will bits and pieces of the story. Before it is too late, plan to get these stories in writing. If you are anything like me, just saying you are going to do something is not enough to make it happen. I must make a plan and a commitment if I am going to follow through. So, this is what I am going to do: I am going to record my family’s stories this year. Maybe you’d like to, too.
When committing to record your family’s stories, think about how you’d like to organize your efforts. First, think about the stories that you know. Make a list and fill in whatever details you remember. Then, think about the people that know these stories: aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings. These are the people who can help you fill in the gaps.
What is the best way to communicate with these family members? Do they live near you, or are they far away? If they are local, then a face to face meeting is probably best. When you meet with your family member, you might want to record the conversation. If you’d also like to write it down, taking a computer is helpful. Getting the details written down is the goal, and that is difficult to do with just pen and paper. An effortless way to make sure you ask all the right questions is to use the the 5 Ws: “Who, What, Where, When and Why.”
If a family member lives far away, then corresponding via phone or email may be preferable. You can send them a list of questions ahead of time and plan to follow up with a phone conversation a few days later. This way, they have time to think about their answers. They might even think of some other stories to share. A little bit of pre-planning ahead can make the process more enjoyable. Depending on the conversation, you might choose to talk to the same family member more than once.
Perhaps you take a few trips to see family each year. You can plan to chat with family members while you are visiting. You may talk to these family members often, but if you want to record their stories, you will need to have some time set aside to do so. Let your family members know that you will be asking them questions about some family stories. Being intentional about these conversations will help you get the information you are looking for.
Make a goal to record at least one story a month. At the end of the year, you will have 12 detailed stories recorded. What you do with this information after you have it is up to you. Perhaps you can print your stories and keep them all together in a binder. You could even put together a bound book. There might even be pictures that would be appropriate to pair with your stories. Maybe you’d like to share them with other family members.
The first and most important step is gathering the stories. Stories about our past. Stories that make us a family.