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

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There’s No Place Like (My Own) Home

Grandma and Grandpa Madden - 1006 Nelson Street

Recently a friend and her husband moved into their first home and their excitement of their new homestead rekindled my memories of how I also felt over 30 years ago when I moved into my first home.

Those memories of the first home are powerful because despite renting or owning or the size or simplicity of that first home, no one forgets the satisfaction and attainment of having your own place. And I might venture to say that this has continued for generations.

Soon after I moved to my first home, my mom, who is now deceased, shared with me the story of the first home that her parents owned:

“Back in the early 1930’s when I was growing up, my two brothers, Murice and Dewey, and my two sisters, Jo Ellen and Priscilla and I were living with Mom and Pop on Nelson Street in Webb City, Missouri. My other three siblings had already moved away from home. Mom and Pop rented that house until the time I was married in 1948.

It was a very drab one bedroom home. It had a big kitchen and living room. I don’t recall how we slept then. We might have slept on the floor in the living room.

In the winter we sat around our wood stove and kerosene lamps to keep us warm. We didn’t have any electricity until I was about eight, and we were one of the first families in town to get it. But there was only a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

We had an outhouse. In the winter we’d run out there barefoot in the snow. When dishes had to be done, there was always someone who had to go. We used old Sears’s catalogs or newspapers for toilet paper.

When Mom and Pop first moved into this home, they rented it for $6.00 a month. Then because the landlords felt a bit kindly toward them they let them buy the house at $6.00 a month. I think they paid a total of $600 for it.”

My mother’s parents were always humble people but in this picture I see them as sitting proudly in front of their home, and I’m fortunate that my mother recorded the memories of their home.

Keeping Your Memories of your life and the homes you lived in will be enjoyable reading for your great grandchildren years from now and they will learn from you how you were able to support and maintain your home.

Open up your laptop or grab a pen and paper, find a picture of that first home to add to your story, write the address and start recording your home life experiences for future generations to read. Start with these questions:

• What made you fall in love with your first home?
• Were you living by yourself or with someone?
• Did you have many possessions to move with you to this first home?
• What special events occurred while living in this home?
• What were the sounds of your home and neighborhood?

www.keepingyourmemories.com

My Grandfather…the Personal Historian

2014-12-20-2

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

Mom – I’ll Love You Forever

2016-01-20

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

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

Show Me the Facts Plus the Stories Behind Them

Madden Family44

I’m amazed at the extent of genealogical data I can retrieve from the internet. As a paid subscriber to ancestry.com I can enter names and an array of data pops up. And this past week when I opened up a weekly blog, “The Legal Genealogist” I was ecstatic to find the link to Missouri Digital Heritage because in minutes I was able to find and print death certificates for my Show Me State ancestors.

This is such a major change from when I started collecting genealogical data thirty-five years ago. At that time I was excited when I got information from family members who are now, sadly, deceased. Or I had to write and send checks to various Records Clerks in county court houses requesting birth or death certificates hoping I submitted the correct information. Fortunately today, in minutes, I can get even more details and can easily retrieve records to back up my facts and numbers. I was able to add a vast amount of information to my family tree in a few hours which thirty-five years ago took me months.

However, I am still searching for the birth certificate and death certificate of my maternal great grandmother. From searching the internet I’ve seen her name listed as Gertrude Ella or as Ella G. and learned she was born on September 18, 1868 to Solomon and Eliza Hanna and died June 10, 1897 at the young age of 29.

What is not in the data is that Ella’s passing left my grandmother, who was at that time only five years old, separated from her father and siblings to be raised by her grandmother. My mother had told me that part of the story after my grandmother passed away in 1978. If only I had learned about that before she had passed. I could have asked her more about that and her childhood. I do have my grandmother’s letters published in a book and my memories of her in writing so she will forever be remembered.

Sadly in regards to my great-grandmother we have nothing. We do not know anything of her lifestory. If she had recorded her personal history, I would know her likes and dislikes. I would know what joys and obstacles she faced. I would know about her childhood, her parents and siblings. Did she cook? Was she happy with her marriage? What were her interests? Could she read? What were her dreams and ambitions?

Don’t make your great-grandchildren wonder about you. The best gift you could pass on to your family is your recorded lifestory. Now is the time for you to pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your life. Even from the simplest parts of your life to the more complicated parts that helped form you into the person you are today. The reflections you make on your life will be cherished by future generations.

  • What special stories did your grandmother or grandfather tell you?
  • How did the Great Depression affect your family?
  • What was your favorite holiday? How did you celebrate it?
  • What was your highest level of education? What was your favorite class?
  • Can you remember a historic event that happened when you were in school?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com