Hail to the Queen Family Historian

Marie Sullivan

May is Personal History Awareness Month and what better time to be reminded of recording your family stories before you say, “IF ONLY I HAD DONE THIS SOONER!” So often those words are spoken when it is too late to remedy the situation. In my case I deeply regret waiting too long to videotape the life story of my dear 98 year old cousin, Marie, officially my “second cousin once removed.” Six years ago I traveled to Ohio to visit with her in a nursing home where she was cared for and was only able to share minimal stories with us. She passed away two weeks later.

Marie had been the “Queen Family Historian” in this branch of my family tree. Fortunately, I met her a little over twenty years ago, and she gave me a vast amount of information and stories of my ancestors who settled in a small town in Ohio in the early 1800’s. She loved being the family storyteller of the Roquet, Roquette, and Rockey clan.

I have another cousin, officially my third cousin, who also knows the importance of Keeping Your Memories, and she has records that she has shared with me also. Marie’s crown as Queen Family Historian has been passed on down to us. My hope is that there will be someone in our next generation to be in line that will continue the interest of our ancestors as to where they came from, what they experienced and where we are headed.

If you have a family member who is the King or Queen Family Historian of your family and has endlessly told the same family stories at every family gathering, NOW is the time to get them recorded and begin Keeping Your Memories because one day when you are finally interested in those stories, IT WILL BE TOO LATE. If you are unable to find the time to do this, check out my website www.keepingyourmemories.com, and I will be able to assist you in preventing what I experienced.

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That The Next Generation Might Know…

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My Grandma and Mom – 1969

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My Grandson – 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend I have the mixed emotions of sadness and joy. Sadness with missing my mother who passed nine years ago and joy with the birth of my first grandchild who was born nine days ago. Mom would have been 89 years old and Carson is nine days old. Mom died in her home on January 20, 2009 and Carson was born in a hospital on January 12, 2018. Mom would have loved this little guy.

It was amazing to see this tiny 5 pounds, 9 ounces body emerge into my world. Since this precious bundle arrived five weeks early, he was placed in NICU to further develop and be monitored. He is doing well and will be coming home soon.

With not being able to see Carson, I have been concentrating on the time when my daughter and son-in-law bring him home. I am looking forward to holding him and loving him endlessly. As a grandmother now, I think of how my mother and maternal grandmother influenced me.

Grandma listened to me, and I remember her speaking softly. I hope to do the same.

And as Mom let my children retreat to her home for time to themselves, the door will always be open for my grandchildren. I’ll always have popcorn in the cabinets and paint, glitter, glue, crayons, markers, drawing paper, colored paper, felt, and scissors in the closet. He will be free to run through the hallways in the house, and he can help me in the kitchen during the holidays when I’m baking cookies and fruitcake.

I look forward to spending time with this little boy when he helps me pull weeds, plant flowers and rake leaves. We will have endless fun outside tossing a wiffle ball for Carson to hit with his wiffle bat that we will keep on the porch. It will be fun again to have colored chalk and outline his little body on the driveway and let him chalk in facial features, hair, and clothes to it. And when he learns to ride a bike, we will have an extra one here for him.

As he grows, I will share with him the stories of my parents and ancestors. I hope to influence him to start journaling with drawing pictures at a young age and advancing to short sentences when he gets older. Most importantly, I will share with him my endless faith in God.

My mother has physically been gone for nine years but her spirit is with me daily, and I cherish her dearly. She, along with my grandmother, will never be forgotten because as my grandmother and mother loved their grandchildren and taught me by example, it is now my privilege to do the same.

Do you have special memories of your parents and grandparents?  Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of them to pass on to the next generation in your family.

  • How close did your grandparents live to you?
  • What kind of home did they live in? Describe the house and rooms.
  • What special food did you look forward to when you were at your grandparents?
  • What one-on-one activity did you do with your grandparents?
  • What chores did you do for your grandparents when you visited?

 

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

 

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

My Annual Day of Thanks

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Clockwise:  Carol; Nancy 1 week after surgery; Nancy and Bruce 5 months after the surgery.

Today is my thirty-seventh anniversary of the day I almost met my Maker! It is my annual reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to put all that crosses my path in perspective.

It was Friday, February 15, 1980. I was leaving work with plans to meet my friend, Carol, for our weekly Friday night game of racquetball. After scraping the car windows of ice and snow, I sat in the driver’s seat, inserted the key and started the car.

In a split second I felt that familiar rush in my head. It was that frightening rush that I’d previously had four other times since I was thirteen. I held tightly onto the steering wheel and braced myself expecting to have another grand mal seizure. It never came. This time I became nauseous and it felt like my head was going to burst.

I turned off the car, walked back into the office and laid my head down on my desk. Again I waited to have the seizure, but it didn’t happen. Ken, my boss, had me come into his office and lay down on his couch after I explained to him I was feeling dizzy and nauseous.

Ken tried to contact my parents but was unable to reach them because they routinely went grocery shopping on Friday nights. And this was the pre-cell phone and pre-voicemail era so it was impossible to reach them. He eventually was able to contact my brother, Bruce, and told him that I seemed to have the flu and asked him to come to the office and take me home.

I don’t remember Bruce picking me up at work, however, I briefly remember sitting in his car in his driveway while he stopped to tell his wife that he was going to take me to the emergency room (“ER”) at a local hospital as he had determined that it was something other than the flu. By the time we arrived at the hospital, I was incoherent and eventually became comatose.

Thankfully in 1980 medical technology was advancing and the doctors were able to run a CT scan and an angiogram to detect a blood clot on my brain had hemorrhaged. The neurosurgeon diagnosed me with arteriovenous malformation (“AVM”) which is a congenital disorder of blood vessels with a tangled web of abnormal arteries and veins. We finally had an explanation for my previous seizures.

Carol, my friend that had been waiting for me at the racquetball court, was a nursing student and ironically was working the midnight shift in the ER that night. When she started her shift, she was given details about patients and was shocked when she learned I was the patient with the brain hemorrhage.

In the meantime, my parents were finally contacted and arrived at the hospital. Doctors advised them to notify close family members and friends as they gave me only four days to live. From the ER I was transferred to the intensive care unit (“ICU”) where family and friends came to see me. Miraculously, two days later I came out of my coma.

Living in Northwest Indiana we were, fortunately, only 35 miles from Chicago. The local neurosurgeon arranged for me to be transferred to a Chicago hospital that had an excellent neurosurgeon with surgical experience in repairing AVM’s. That surgeon was out of the country at the time so I stayed in the ICU for a week until he returned.

Once I was under the Chicago neurosurgeon’s care, I underwent more testing and preparation for the surgery. The day of the surgery I had absolutely no fear. The surgery was successful and recovery went well. I had minimal recovery time and after only one week I was sent home. From the point of near death to brain surgery to going home was a span of only three weeks.

Life is definitely a journey and mine has been interesting with some of the obstacles in the path, and I will forever be thankful to God for every extra day that I have been given. I am especially thankful that I have been blessed with my husband and three children and now their spouses.

In 1980 I was journaling as I found it important to record my journeys in life and recorded my experiences during this time and am able to read my reaction and emotions when I was twenty years old. Have you been Keeping Your Memories of your life journeys? If not, now is the time to begin. Grab your pen and paper or pull out your laptop and begin to answer these questions:

• Describe a time in your life when you had a serious complication.
• Describe an incident in your life that was your biggest challenge.
• Describe one moment in your life that changed everything for you.

www.keepingyourmemories.com

I Write. He Paints. We Preserve History.

I write. My brother paints. We are both preserving history.

Since the early 1960’s our parents took us to the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana to play in the water and waves of Lake Michigan. We hiked the trails, explored the blow outs, climbed the sand dunes and conquered Mount Tom and Mount Baldy.

It was a place for us to roam freely with acres and acres of sand dunes vs our suburban neighborhood with houses built side-by-side.

On a cold day in 1967 while we explored the beach, my brother, Jacob, sat in the sand and made sketches of an abandoned cottage that still stood on the lakefront. He later created this painting. Shortly after, the cottage was demolished. All of the cottages that once stood are gone.

However, fifty years later the memory of this cottage remains as the picture hangs in my living room. And it preserves an era of cottages that were built one hundred years ago by owners who, like us today, relished their hours spent on this beautiful lakefront.

We don’t know the original owners or history of this specific cottage, but in the early 1900’s many folks from Chicago traveled to the Indiana side of Lake Michigan to enjoy a time of recreation at the Indiana Dunes.

It was so well-liked that eventually a group of Chicagoans incorporated the Prairie Club in 1911 and two years later built a beach house for members. Members would come to spend weekends and the summer and slept in tents.

Later in the 1910’s and 1920’s landowners began renting small parcels to these Chicago folks. Simple, inexpensive one story wooden cottages along the lakefront would be built on the rented parcels.

Alarmed by industrial sand mining destroying large areas of duneland and steel company land purchased, the Prairie Club members and others began a campaign to create a state park. The cause to preserve the Dunes began in 1916 and that campaign finally came to fruition in 1926 when the Dunes opened to the public as the Indiana Dunes State Park.

In 1966 with the drive of Illinois Senator Paul Douglas to save the dunes, the park was authorized as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. With perseverance from multiple groups the preservation of more land was granted.

The Indiana Dunes today stands at 15,000 acres. What I will remember of that extensive amount of land, because of my brother’s sketches and painting, is the small portion of land where a cottage was built and an unknown family or individual’s memories were made.

I have over fifty years of good memories made of experiences at the Indiana Dunes from my childhood and with my children and eventually with my grandchildren, and I have recorded my memories on paper.

Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of the Indiana Dunes or of your nature preserves for your descendants to read.

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

Preserving Cherished Moments

 

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I have journaled my existence since I was a teenager. I wrote about high school friends and sweethearts, family, God, college, marriage and infertility. But the day came on June 16, 1986 when I opened up a brand new journal filled with fresh, clean, empty pages to start recording my experience and elation of finally being pregnant with my first child. Twenty-nine years later I pulled out that book from my closet shelf, blew off the dust and carefully opened up the cover so small papers that were tucked between the yellowed pages wouldn’t fall and began reading the pages . The first entry read:

“June 16, 1986:  Dear Baby – I always said that when I get pregnant I would start a journal for my little one and give it to him or her when he or she gets older. Hopefully I will keep this book filled with memories for you to always cherish and to pass on to your children. Well, tonight I finally was able to get in the doctor’s office and take the pregnancy test. It was positive! We are so happy that we are going to give birth to you. Babies are a gift from God and we praise Him and thank Him for this gift.”

My little baby finally arrived, and I was extremely happy and thankful that I had a baby girl. Twenty-nine years ago this evening I wrote:

“February 23, 1987:  Dear Joanna May – You have finally arrived! You looked beautiful after you were born. We can’t believe that you are finally here. You were born at 10:03 a.m. and weighed 8 lbs., 12 oz and 22” long. You were born with your big dark eyes wide open and born with dark brown hair.”

That evening I continued writing to my daughter about the entire day and what I experienced delivering my first child and how I fell in love with her.

Days and months passed quickly, but I would write entries for this precious baby about her monthly doctor visits, who came to visit her, and every milestone in her life. I shared with her how I was feeling, what I was experiencing, and how much I loved being a mother. That book filled quickly and I began another but eventually three children later,  all of us growing older, becoming busier and having less time the pages didn’t fill up as quickly. But I know that what I did write will preserve the memories of my daughter’s birth for future generations to read.

One day I will have grandchildren and they will read how excited I was the day their parents were born. I definitely would have cherished reading my mother’s and my grandmothers’ emotional and physical experiences when they were pregnant.

Now is the time to start Keeping Your Memories of your newborns and children.  Open up your laptops or grab paper and pen and start recording the precious moments, love and adoration you have for your children.

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com