The Priceless Gift of Your Life Story

2017-09-30

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

Advertisements

Uncle Dewey and D-Day – June 6, 1944

Madden,Dewey

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

 

Memorial Day – Straight from the Heart

This past Friday night my husband, daughter and soon to be son-in-law began the holiday weekend with shopping at Hunt & Gather. It is one of my favorite quarterly pop-up markets in our area featuring over 150 vintage/antique curators. I have gone to all but one of the thirteen scheduled markets since it originated a few years ago and every time I find something unique. This time what attracted my attention was a perfect fit for the holiday weekend.

My daughter and I stopped at the last table that we saw because the curator had a 1940 vintage suitcase that my daughter wanted to purchase and use at her wedding reception for wedding cards. While she was purchasing it, I noticed something else from the 1940’s. What attracted my attention were the stacks of personal letters written in 1943 and 1944 between a World War II sailor and his wife which the curator purchased at an estate sale. What better time to purchase them than Memorial Day weekend.

It really tugged at my heart and spirit when I saw these personal letters with intimate thoughts that were shared between two young people who were in love with each other. When these letters were written 73 years ago, did they ever imagine they would be sold at a market and a stranger would purchase them to read? There were multiple stacks, and I would have loved to have purchased them all but only purchased two stacks which totaled twenty letters.

In between my activities over the weekend, I read the letters and felt close to this World War II veteran and his wife. It appears he was stationed in the states in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and New York. His wife lived approximately twenty minutes from where I live. They had occasional phone calls but it appears their main communication was writing letters. And because of that, their experience and emotions have been preserved for history.

Below are a few excerpts from the letters sharing first-hand emotions of how a sailor and his wife felt during this time.

The wife in Crown Point, Indiana shared her loneliness to the husband, “I’m awfully anxious to see you again – every time I see a sailor around town. I get so lonesome for you. It’s a good thing you’ll be there to see me in Norfolk. I’d be lonesome so much, seeing so many sailors if you weren’t around. I love you and hurry up and write even if it’s only a little bit.” (postmarked Crown Point, Indiana on September 4, 1943 at 5:30 p.m.)

The sailor sent instructions to the wife, “I have a little news for you. I am going to start this schooling the 27th of September. When you get here, I will be able to spend the evenings with you so when you are figuring your trip, figure three to four dollars a day for meals. And also try to get a train that gets here early in the evening so I will be able to meet you. Whatever day you want to come down is ok. As I understand, we have Sundays off when we are going to school. I will tell you more about school when I get in there so don’t ask too many questions now. (postmarked Norfolk, Virginia on September 7, 1943 at 6:30 p.m.)

The unsettled sailor shared with the wife, “I don’t know what to do. I just can’t make up my mind the more I am in this life the more disgusted I get. If I knew where I would be shipped to it would be OK. I am working until 2 o’clock tonight so have this time to write you…

About going back to Norfolk, I am not really crazy about it. But I would get off the streets and that would be something. I don’t know if I would save more money. I guess I stay here until they ask me to move. They have some talk about the S.P. relieving the M.P. in this delivering prisoners to these prison camps. I don’t know much about it. It may be all talk like everything else.”  (postmarked Virginia Beach, Virginia on May 27, 1944 at 8:30 a.m.)

More excerpts will later be posted from this sailor. But for now if you have love letters exchanged between your parents or grandparents, now is the time to pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and begin Keeping Your Memories of the letters and preserving them for future generations to read.

Letters are a first-hand record of the culture and lifestyle they were living at the time. Combine the letters with pictures of the people mentioned in the correspondence and the images in the picture will come to life when you understand what those folks were experiencing.

www.keepingyourmemories.com

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!  Missing my mother who has been gone for seven years now but so fortunate that I still have her close to me in my heart. And I will never forget her childhood and teenage stories with interviewing her in 1985 and my brother, Jacob, videotaping my parents narrating their family pictures and preserving the stories of their lives.

This year I have compiled the pictures of my mother and transcribed her narrations to create a coffee table book of the first quarter of my mother’s life.

IMG_7649

 

IMG_7653

IMG_7659

IMG_7660

When my daughter reviewed the 77 pages of the final draft, she questioned me as to why I didn’t have any pictures of Papa in this book. She didn’t think it was complete without including pictures of him.

I explained this book depicted the first quarter of her life and even though it was just a short portion of her life span it was the foundation of her life before she met my dad.  It formed her into the woman, mother and grandmother she became. To include him I did add an epilogue of how she met Papa through her cousin and her cousin’s boyfriend who was a USS Anzio shipmate of Papa’s during World War II.

IMG_7661

Webb City, Missouri had been Mom’s home for twenty years and when she left in November 1948 to marry Dad she was never to live there again. She was embarking on a new chapter of her life. She married, had five children and brought her family back every year to this small town that would always remain home to her in her heart.

Have you interviewed and recorded your mother’s childhood stories?  Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of the stories your mother has shared with you.

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

In Memory of Violet

2016-04-03

“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

 

 

 

A Time I Can’t Remember

2015-12-28

I have been an adult orphan for the past seven years. Yesterday Mom (who passed in January 2009) and Dad (who passed in 2007) were on my heart and in my thoughts while spending a wonderful day celebrating my birthday with my husband, daughter and sons. I especially missed my mom. Even yesterday, with her passing almost seven years ago, I cried and I missed her.

I was mulling over how Mom must have felt the day that she was in labor and gave birth to me. I wish she had recorded in writing when she started having her contractions and the entire experience. Was Dad home to take her to the hospital? What did it feel like at that time to give birth and not have Dad with her during the delivery as was the typical case at that time? How did she feel delivering her fifth child? I would have loved reading today what her dreams for me were that day.

As a mother myself, I can easily envision my thirty-one year old mother holding me, kissing me, and loving me. Being born two days after Christmas Mom always told me that I was the best Christmas present she ever received. They were delighted to have a daughter added to their family of four sons.

I do have pictures (and Dad bought colored film for these pictures) of Mom and Dad holding me when I was an infant fifty-six years ago. And I’m also fortunate to have a copy of our silent 8 mm home movie (converted to a DVD) that my dad taped on Christmas Eve of Mom when she was nine months pregnant with me. She looked young and slim, other than her stomach, and she was admiring the homemade gifts that her sons (ten, eight, six and three years old) had made for her.

With the holiday season we miss our loved ones even more. And I felt it yesterday on my birthday. But I still had a terrific day because I feel my mom is with me wherever I go. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. With the cycle of life I also had a new generation, my adult children, to spend time with and enjoy life.

Now is the time to start Keeping Your Memories of the day that your child was born because that is one day that he or she will not remember! Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and record in writing the emotional experience you had that day. One day your child and his or her descendants will cherish reading your memories you have on this special day.

  • When did you start having contractions?
  • Did you deliver the infant at home or at a hospital?
  • Who took you to the hospital and what was the story behind the transportation?
  • Share the emotional feelings you felt when you saw your infant for the first time.
  • What prayers or wishes did you have for this newborn child?

 

 

Finding an Unknown Link to My Past

2015-11-06

For the past ten years we have driven that one and a half hour journey on I-65 from Northwest Indiana taking my kids back and forth to Purdue University in West Lafayette. We  attended first year orientations, moved them in and out of dorms and apartments, cheered at football and basketball games, and proudly attended and cried at graduations.

Little did I realize that in all those travels how close we were to a part of my past. Little did I know that  over 180 years ago my ancestors worked, raised families and traveled only twenty miles from where I often visited. I only knew of the majority of my ancestors, including my parents, who were originally from Missouri and Texas.

Earlier this year I learned that my great-great-great-great-grandparents were buried near Delphi, Indiana which was only 20 miles from where we had been traveling to all these years.

So this past summer when we drove down one last time to help my youngest son compile all his belongings into a U-Haul and move home after his graduation, we decided to find this cemetery and pay honor to these folks that were part of my ancestry.

Fortunately, this cemetery was small enough that it was a short search for the gravesites. I was excited to stand near the graves of these great-great-great-great-grandparents who died in the mid 1800’s. I was amazed by the fact that I was standing near the grave where my ancestors were buried 160 years ago. Would they ever have imagined that a descendant  – a granddaughter – would be standing there?

I have found stories of these ancestors that have been recorded by others. I don’t know if they ever journaled personally to preserve their own stories. I would love to know how they commuted, did they travel much, how did they spend time with their family? Were they anything like me or was I anything like them? It was an odd feeling standing in this cemetery in the middle of farmlands knowing that part of me was here.

How far back have you been able to trace your ancestors? Find A Grave has over 138 million grave records and is an excellent source for finding information and leads. Pull out your laptop or grab a pen and paper and start Keeping Your Memories of the stories you have heard your parents or grandparents share with you about their grandparents. If you don’t have many of those stories, record stories of your grandparents for future generations to read.

  • Do you remember any special stories your grandparents told you?
  • Where did your grandparents live?
  • Where were they born?
  • What circumstances brought them to the place where your parents were born?
  • If your grandparents are still with you, are they able to tell you stories of their grandparents?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com