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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My Annual Day of Thanks

2014-02-15

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

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

Preserving Cherished Moments

 

2016-02-23

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

 

 

A Trunkful of Memories

2016-02-21

Today I had the honor to present to Violet on her 101st birthday the printed book of her life story that she and I had compiled, “A Trunkful of Memories – Reminiscing on the Past 100 Years.” Our town’s historical association, which I am a member of, understood the necessity and the importance to interview Violet, a lifetime one hundred year old town resident. Preserving Violet’s memories of her family, farm life and education will enable future generations to read her first-hand account of the life of this early 20th century family from this small town in Indiana.

Barb, a longtime member of the Association as well as a longtime friend to Violet, was willing to make the introduction. Barb met with me to give a brief introduction of Violet’s background and to see the treasures Violet donated to the Association.

Opening Violet’s trunk we found priceless family pictures, her christening gown, baby clothes, and her mother’s wedding dress along with a tin container protecting the flowers from her parents’ 1908 wedding.

I was already excited to meet Violet so it was a pleasure to meet this energetic woman at an assisted living home in town. She flawlessly maneuvered her electric powered wheelchair in her room and down the hallway.

Once we rearranged the seating and Violet was able to self-maneuver her wheelchair into reverse to back herself against the wall, and the video camera  was set up, we were taken back up to one hundred years ago as she described her childhood, her parents, grandparents, brothers, life on the farm and moving to town. She seemed to vividly remember riding the horse and buggy to school and the family Christmas tradition of cleaning the house for Santa Claus.

I also had the opportunity to meet Francy and Erick who not only purchased Violet’s 177 acre farm but they, along with all of their children, became dear friends to her. Francy and Erick graciously let me visit them giving more details to the farm’s history and sharing pictures with me. Walking through the old dairy barn and buildings, climbing the ladder up to the hayloft and seeing a wider view of the farm, and walking around their property helped me visualize Violet as a young woman living on this farm in the early 1900’s.

We had a few copies of the book at the open house and it was satisfying to see the adults skimming over it and some sitting for an extended time reading it and giving positive reviews. However, I did a double take when glancing to the left of me I saw a young eight year old boy sitting at a table perusing the book. Thanks to the pictures and stories that Violet shared, he was able to visualize this 101 year old woman as a child. That was gratifying as my mission was met: “Keeping Your Memories for future generations.”

Recording Violet’s life story has kept her legacy preserved. And Keeping Your Memories of your life will be invaluable to your great grandchildren years from now. You would not be just a picture with a few recorded facts, but you will be an ancestor turning your life experiences into life lessons for your descendants.

Open up your laptop or grab pen and paper and start recording your life experiences for future generations to read.  Start with these questions:

  • What is the most important date in your personal history?
  • What was the hardest thing that you ever had to do?
  • If you could change anything in your life, what would you change?
  • Was there one moment in your life that changed everything for you?

http://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