The Priceless Gift of Your Life Story

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My passion for recording life stories was shown this past Saturday by my willingness to travel two hours to Indy to meet five other people who carry the same passion.  We were to share what created our passion. I used that two hour drive to reflect on what ignited my passion.  In retrospect, I believe it was ingrained in me to go this path.

I wrote stories when I was a little girl. I journaled since I was 14. The first semester of my freshman year I took Journalism class and wrote for the high school newspaper the next seven semesters.

The summer of 1976 my vision expanded when I attended Indiana University’s Journalism Institute as managing editor of my high school newspaper. The guest speaker, Elliot Wigginton, was a high school educator and oral historian in the Appalachians in Georgia. He shared how he didn’t connect with his unsettled students until he began teaching in a non-traditional teaching style. They didn’t want to write traditionally so he had them interview their grandparents and other elderly people. The students took off on this and with the stories written from the interviews they compiled them into a magazine and later into their first book, “The Foxfire Book.”

The seed was planted during this session when he sparked my interest to interview everyday people and preserve their stories for future generations to read. In the introduction to his first book he wrote about the passage of a generation of grandparents who have stories to tell but don’t record them on their own because they feel future generations wouldn’t be interested.

The issue was that these grandparents were from an oral society and their stories were verbally shared generation-to-generation. Eventually these stories could be lost.

He shared, “When they’re gone, the magnificent hunting tales, the ghost stories that kept a thousand children sleepless, the intricate tricks of self-sufficiency acquired through years of trial and error, the eloquent and haunting stories of suffering and sharing and building and healing and planting and harvesting – all these go with them, and what a loss.

If this information is to be saved at all, for whatever reason, it must be saved now; and the logical researchers are the grandchildren, not university researchers from the outside. In the process these grandchildren (and we) gain an invaluable, unique knowledge about their own roots, heritage, and culture. Suddenly they discover their families – previously people as pre-television, pre-automobile, pre-flight individuals who endured and survived the incredible task of total self-sufficiency, and came out of it all with a perspective on ourselves as a country that we are not likely to see again. They have something to tell us about self-reliance, human interdependence, and the human spirit that we would do well to listen to.”

The seed was watered in 1981 when I visited my 86 year old paternal grandfather in San Antonio, Texas. He was the family historian that journaled. He  knew the importance of identifying and dating pictures. He shared with me names and critical dates of his ancestors. He enjoyed telling me stories of his life as a young man and stories of his family. I went home and purchased blank genealogical record books that I could use to hand write all the names and dates that he had proved me and continued to add to it as I talked to extended family members. My grandfather died at the age of 94 in 1989.

The first stem broke through the ground in 1985 when I audio taped my mother, and she shared her experiences as a child in the 1930’s. About that time I also began corresponding with my grandfather’s 80 year old cousin, Marie in Ohio, and she gave me valuable information regarding my grandfather’s family.  I met Marie in person in 1995, and she took me on a tour of where she grew up and my ancestors settled and gave invaluable stories regarding our ancestors. Fortunately, I was able to interview her one last time before she passed at the age of 99 in 2012 and compiled her stories and letters into a book.

Today I have a garden full of life stories and genealogical information and it is my turn as family historian. All that my grandfather and Marie shared, all the interviews that have been recorded with family members I have put into print. I have pictures and life stories recorded for future generations to read.

It was encouraging to be with these other personal historians last weekend who share the same passion and feel the same importance of preserving the life stories of everyday people. They all concurred it is a priceless gift to leave for your family, friends, community and future generations.

Do you have a family historian in your family? Are you the family historian or is it time for you to start? Now is the time for you to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your ancestors’ and have their stories recorded for future generations to read.  Where do you begin?

  • Who is the oldest ancestor that lives closest to you?
  • Is he or she willing to set up an interview?
  • Decide what part of his or her life you would want to focus on during the interview.
  • Have questions compiled to get him or her started on their story
  • Allow him or her to be silent to compile thoughts and let speak when ready.
  • Have him or her look at pictures and describe events and memories sparked from the pictures

www.keepingyourmemories.com

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Uncle Dewey and D-Day – June 6, 1944

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On June 6, 1944 more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a fifty-mile stretch to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft banded together for the D-Day invasion. At the end of the day more than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded but their sacrifice led to the defeat of Adolf Hitler.

Seventy-three years ago Uncle Dewey was one of those 160,000 soldiers who was part of D-Day. He was inducted into the Army on June 4, 1943. One year and two days later he landed on the beaches of Normandy along with the thousands of other troops ready to move forward as an Army private in uniform. He was a soldier, but he also was a twenty-one year old man from a small town in Missouri with a young wife and sixteen month old son waiting for him to return, and thankfully he did.

We have a photo of him in his uniform and an Honorable Discharge paper signed by a 1st Lieutenant WAC. He received the Honorable Discharge on December 25, 1945 for serving in the 967th QM Service Company.

He never told of his experience to anyone so all we know about his military service is what was recorded on that document. The paper records that his civilian occupation was as a Machinist. He was assigned as a Duty Soldier and was qualified to be a Rifle Marksman and fought in the battle of Normandy, Northern France. He earned the honors of Croix de Guerre w/Palm, two Bronze Stars and a Merit Award for good conduct. It also gives his pay data and insurance notice. The Note section contains: “3 Days lost under AW 107. Lapel Button Issued. Entitled to wear Victory Rib on European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon. 3 Overseas Bars.” Research will need to be done to better understand how he earned the honors.

As my mother (Dewey’s sister) had always told me, Uncle Dewey never spoke of his experience of D-Day. I don’t know if anybody had tried to question him or record his story. It would have been an honor to record his story of future generations to know of his service and to honor him for his courage and sacrifice that he gave for his country. He died in 1989 when he was sixty-six years old and his memories of that day were taken with him.

If you were or are a soldier, now is the time to pull out your paper and pen or open up your laptop and start Keeping Your Memories of your military experiences. It would be a priceless gift to leave your descendants for them to read how you were a part of the history of our country. Don’t let them only remember you with a picture and a copy of your Honorable Discharge. Leave for them your story of how you heroically fought for our country and for our freedom. Start with the following questions:

  • Where did you serve?
  • What unit were you in?
  • What were you trained to do?
  • Where were you when the war ended?
  • How did you feel emotionally when you got word that the war had ended?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

 

Jake (My Dad) The Tool Man

My husband and I went to a large-scale hardware store today to purchase an electric sander that we need so we can 2017-04-29 Dad and Nancy
repair a door on our garden shed and restore some kitchen furniture. When walking in this store, we stopped and took a wide-angle view of the store to see what direction we needed to go. When I saw a sales clerk, I walked up to him to ask where to find the sander. He pointed out to us where to go and once there we stared at the numerous sanders and tried to figure out which one we needed. After consulting a son-in-law who does more construction work than we do, we settled on the palm sander.

With today, April 29, being my father’s 91st birthday what better place for me to be but at a hardware store.  Dad has been gone for over ten years now. If he had been here, we would have called him to borrow one of his sanders. He seemed to be a tool collector, and he knew how to use everything and used it at least once. However, if he didn’t have what we needed, he would have met with us to help us.

Today also reminds me of the multiple times in my childhood in the 1960’s when I tagged along with Dad to the local hardware store in our town. Lindy’s Hardware on Kennedy Avenue in Hessville was his mainstay for purchasing supplies and tools when he was making something or doing home repairs.

Lindy's Ace Hardware in Hessville

The difference between the large-scale hardware store and this small corner hardware store was you never had to search for something on your own. At Lindy’s the men who worked there along with the owner, Lindy, would stand at the front door and greet the customers (often by name) as they came in, ask what they were looking for, and assist the customer in finding the minutest item to the largest item that he or she needed. They were always nice to me when I walked in with Dad. I loved the awesome smell of that store that this hardware store carried. I can’t quite describe it other than freshly cut wood. But I will never forget the smell of that store.

Dad had a workroom in the basement where he built shelves and hung pegboards to organize all of his tools, nails, screws and nuts and bolts and a place to use his table saw. He spent much of his retirement time building wood creations and teaching his grandchildren how to do the same. My children loved exploring and working in Papa’s workroom.

Today in memory of my father on his birthday we are not having cake. We are sanding furniture! He would be proud of us!

If your father or mother is gone, what special memories come to you on their birthday? Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and use the questions below to start Keeping Your Memories of what special memories you have of them. You can start with answering these questions:

  • What special ordinary place do you remember going to often with your mom or dad?
  • What kind of smell did it have? Can you still remember that smell?
  • How often did you get to go on a one-on-one errand with your mom and dad?
  • Was it special because you had multiple siblings and enjoyed having your mom or dad to yourself?
  • What is the recollection of the location?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

My Grandfather…the Personal Historian

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My paternal grandfather was born 121 years ago on December 19, 1895 and died nine days short of 94 on December 10, 1989.

I never had a close relationship with him when I was a young child partly due to the hundreds of miles between us as he lived in San Antonio, Texas and I lived in Northwest Indiana. In the early 1980’s when I was in my early twenties, I began to visit him on my own. I’m so fortunate that I came to know him better because he opened up a door for me stirring my interest in my family lineage.

My grandfather introduced me to my ancestors and to my heritage. I became intrigued with his oral stories and family pictures he had of his family. He shared with me his journals that he kept. He showed me the paper with his father’s writing recording the day that grandfather was born. He also show me the genealogical notes that he had on his family. He was a personal historian himself.

I went home after that first visit and started recording my ancestors’ and immediate family’s dates and facts. I began to interview and record family stories. Little did I know it at that time, thanks to my grandfather, the personal historian in me was born.

In 1974 he wrote about his service in World War I: “I was in France, Company F. 360 Infantry 90 Division, American Expeditionary Force. It was Sunday, November 11th, 1918 and we were advancing under heavy fire from the enemy. We had orders to take ‘Metz at all costs. We already had taken St. Michiel where the French lost 40,000 men. In that fighting we lost some men including two lieutenants and my captain was wounded. Many of our men were wounded too.

At 11 a.m. on that cold, rainy day of November 11th the War came to an end. Week later we went to Luxembourg for a rest of two weeks. Then to Berncastle, Germany. Stayed in Germany almost one year. So 56 years have passed since. I was almost 23 years old. So today the 11th day of November, 1974 I give thanks to our Lord Jesus for all the blessings I have received all those years of my life.”

And I give thanks that my grandfather recorded his memories and lit the fire in me to continue his mission as the family historian.

It is said that after two generations family stories can be lost if not recorded. However, there will come the day when I have a grandchild or a grandniece or grandnephew come to me with questions about their heritage, and I will be able to tell them about their ancestors as far back as the early 1800’s because my grandfather shared it with me. And hopefully there will be one in that next generation that will become the next family historian.

What priceless story from your grandparents can you preserve? Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of stories that your grandparents had shared with you. If your grandparents are still with you, take the time to record their memories.

www.keepingyourmemories.com

In Memory of Violet

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“Is not wisdom found among the aged?”  Job 12:12

Today I went to graveside services for Violet Guritz, a remarkable 101 year old woman who I had the privilege of meeting six months ago. When a fellow Three Creeks Historical Association member learned that I interview and write the life stories of every day folks, she encouraged me to meet and interview one of the oldest remaining Lowell citizens at that time – Violet Guritz.

Violet was 100 years old when I met her, and despite the fact that she was unable to walk she still had a healthy mind to maneuver her electric wheelchair and to cheerfully share stories from her past and share her wisdom learned through her long life journey. She shared stories ranging from riding a horse and buggy to school to working daily on her family’s dairy farm to moving to town with her brothers to living in assisted living quarters.

It was a rush against time to research a bit of her story; visit the farm where she was born in 1915; and compile, format, proof and print her book, “Violet Guritz – A Trunkful of Memories – Reminiscing on the Past 100 Years.” We were blessed with the privilege of giving her a printed copy of her life story at her 101st birthday party on February 21, 2016 that Francy Goetz and her family hosted for her. Francy was an integral part of completing Violet’s life story as she willingly gave me a tour of her farm that was previously owned by Violet and her family, along with providing more information, pictures and documents to be a part of her book.

I have been blessed to have met Violet and am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn about her life and preserve her stories for future generations to read.

If you have an elderly friend or family member, now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of the stories they have shared with you or arrange a time to meet with them and record their memories that can be preserved for future generations to read.

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” – Deuteronomy 32:7

 

 

 

Blizzard of 2016

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This past week for two days I had to call off work. I live 60 miles outside of Chicago where I work so the weather there can be totally different from the weather by my home. Chicago got only approximately 2″ of snow and we got 15″ of snow.  I am proud to say Midwesterner’s are resilient and can normally withstand snowstorms, but it is the blowing and drifting snow that stops us. On the open country roads the snow blows horizontally causing massive drifts and blocks us. Cars and trucks get stuck and people either abandon their cars or are stuck in them for hours.

The wet and heavy snow also caused mass power outages on Day 1 and commuter trains not running the morning of Day Two. In our home we had no electricity for 21 hours which also resulted in no heat and no water.  We have well water so when the power goes, the water goes…which means no flushing possible!  When I moved out this way, that really freaked me out because I had never experienced that before! With a cold, pitch black home on Wednesday night we went to bed at 9:00 p.m., and we slept under the covers with a 56 temperature in the house.

Of course, my experience was minor in comparison to those who were left stranded in their cars and trucks for hours on country roads or walked through the blizzard to their homes.

All of this certainly made us aware of and appreciate the luxuries and comforts we take for granted having electricity.

While clearing out my refrigerator/freezer and putting food in coolers to set out in the snow before anything was spoiled, made me think how my grandparents and great-grandparents lived like this daily. They had to work hard every day just to handle daily activities of eating and keeping warm.

Suckers Flat MO - CopyMy grandfather is the six year old boy in the center of the picture standing between his parents. I can only imagine the hardships that these folks struggled through everyday. The men in this picture worked in the lead and zinc mines at the Suckers Flat Mine in Webb City, Missouri in 1890. The women, most likely, tended to the food, taking care of children, animals and daily chores.

Many of the businesses in our town were also closed beyond their control due to power outages so it wasn’t possible to hop in the car to pick up something quick to eat. And what I did have in the house I couldn’t cook, but we certainly didn’t go hungry as we found things tucked in our cabinets that obviously weren’t our favorite. Again, our ancestors experienced this daily.

It was a “hallelujah moment” when lights were on again Thursday afternoon and life was back to normal. Here’s to our ancestors who daily worked hard back in their time!

Do you remember stories that your grandparents told you about their experiences as a child or their grandparents who lived without the luxury of electricity? Now is the to pull out your laptop or pen and paper and start Keeping Your Memories of those stories.
 

Mom – I’ll Love You Forever

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My mom is gone but her memories are still with me. It was in 1985. I was at Mom’s home with the plan to record some of her stories using a cassette tape recorder. When I arrived, she was in her usual place…the kitchen. She was fixing lunch for dad and once all was prepared and Dad was settled, we went into the living room and Mom shared about her childhood in the 1930’s, her parents, her siblings and Dad.

In 1985 her mother…my grandmother…had been gone for seven years. And today, January 20, 2016 my mother has been gone for seven years. Just as my heart and writings are filled with memories of my mother, she too had her heart filled with memories of her mother. I now understand how my mother felt with the love she had for her mom. Today Grandma would be 118 years old and Mom would be 88 years old.

She shared, “Mom made our clothes and our coats.  She also worked and did housekeeping for the Elder’s and Smith’s in Webb City, Missouri.  And people would give her their old coats, and she would make them into coats for us.  And she made really nice coats.  She would use scraps to make quilts, and she would put them together with yarn…comforters.  She would use flannel sheeting for the underneath side.

She’d still be working when I got home from school.  I don’t know how old I was when she started working at the Miller Manufacturing Shirt Factory in Joplin, Missouri.  It might have been while I was in grade school.

When she came home from work, I didn’t often show her what I had done at school that day, but when I was in the fifth grade I started learning fractions.  Every night we’d sit down there, and I had to teach her what I learned.  I taught her how to use fractions because she had to use fractions at work, and she didn’t know them.

We did a lot of spelling too at home.  Mama liked words, and she needed to learn it for herself.  It wasn’t that she spent time with us, but she needed to learn it for herself; it was more for her sake.  She was only able to go to school through third grade. But it was good because we both learned more that way.  The spelling must have been just because she enjoyed it.  But maybe she was learning too.”

It is delightful to read how despite Grandma’s formal education ended when she was nine years old, it never stopped her desire to learn. And I’m delighted that my mother recorded these memories.  Now is the time to pull out your laptop or grab paper or pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your mother.

  • What are your earliest memories with your mother?
  • How much education did your mother complete and where did she attend?
  • Was she a stay-at-home mother or did she work outside the home?
  • Did your mother have a favorite saying you can remember him repeating?
  • What do you realize about your mother’s life that you didn’t understand when you were growing up?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com