18 December 2013

Treasuring Your Family Stories

This is the time of year when we are most likely to gather with our families, both immediate and extended. This is also a great time to ask questions about your grandparents, uncles, aunts, and beyond. Since we don't live forever, it is important to gather up as many family stories as is possible before they are lost forever. The way our grandparents lived is already history, but have we done our job in educating our children and/or relatives about it? It only takes one generation to begin losing touch with the past, especially since we live in a future-oriented culture. The past can quickly only become interesting when there is a revival of sorts when it comes to fashion trends or if someone has been successful in spotlighting a particular part of history, such as Tom Brokaw and his books on "The Greatest Generation."

A few years ago, Jay Leno, the comedic host of the "Tonight Show," wrote and published a children's book, If Roast Beef Could Fly. He based the story on a personal family experience that did a wonderful job in highlighting the kind of people his parents were as well as his happy childhood. The illustrations were caricatures of himself, filled with humor and family love.

We all have personal family experiences and stories that we should share--we just need to find our best way to present them. We might not be able to write a book, but most of us are able to record an anecdote that illustrates something about a family member who might already be deceased. These stories become family treasures, meant to be enjoyed by all future generations. Publishing stories has also become quite easy and affordable, thanks to companies such as Shutterfly and Heritage Makers, and others. With their extensive template and graphics libraries, it becomes a simple matter of plugging in your text as well as your pictures. One can also format their own book to better reflect the story.

I spent a lot of time this year scanning old slides (remember those?), and when I came across a group that my husband had taken of the bombing of his ship, the USS Higbee, during the Viet Nam war, I realized that I had some important images that I felt should be made more easily available for our families to see. I want to add text that reflects his remembrances of that time as closely as possible. This was a significant event for us, but because it occurred at the same time as the Apollo 16 moon landing, it was very hard to get information about it on the news. It was two weeks before we wives heard from our guys, and it was a terrifying time to not be able to communicate. By putting this story in a book format, all associated pictures and stories will be preserved in one place for easy access for our family members or anyone else who wants to know something about it.

Why do this? In the December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, there is a wonderful article, The Root of All Things, by Frances Lefkowitz about "how family stories and memories shared aloud create a powerful bond with the people you love, build resilience, and even boost happiness."   Psychologists are discovering that family stories both inspire and motivate us--family history researchers have known this for a long time! We are familiar with many prominent families, such as the Kennedys, and how important it was for the patriarch of the family (Joseph Kennedy) to see his sons pursue political careers and to have one become president of our country. Our personal stories may not be as dramatic as that, but we still have important lessons to share. Our stories can prove that it is possible to rise above incredible obstacles and tragedy, that the human spirit is resilient and strong. "Research has shown that people who tell redemptive types of stories about themselves and their families are psychologically healthier than those who tell stories of defeat or of happy events that didn't involve overcoming a difficulty (Good Housekeeping magazine, Dec. issue, p.90)."

Take advantage of the opportunities that may come your way, and take it a step further by recording it so that future generations can learn from it. Share the laughter as well as the tears. Show your descendants that they come from strong people who persevered even when they thought they were failing. Learning to "endure to the end" is an invaluable lesson for everyone.

Jan's Editing Service for Writers


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