Monday, August 8, 2011

Family Historian---Take It Seriously

My parents and me in 1942

Last Friday, Veronica Breen Hogle, wrote here about job descriptions. Hers is Family Historian. Veronica has a rich and colorful history which she brings to life so very well in her stories. I have taken on the role of Family Historian in my family and, I think, in my husband's, as well. 

Ken's Aunt Fannie played that role in her large, German immigrant family, and I eagerly anticipated the stories she told. Sadly, she didn't write them down, but I have written several of them. The one problem with that is that they may lose something as they are moved on from one person to another. Still, it is better than not having any written record at all. 

Do you have a Family Historian in your extended family? In the family of your spouse? If you don't, it's time to begin. Family history is true treasure. The funny stories, the joyful ones, and even the tragic episodes in a family's journey through life--they're all of importance. No other family has exactly the same history, yours is unique, and it deserves to be passed on to your children, grandchildren and future generations. 

Besides knowing what has happened within a family, these stories can sometimes be of importance in medical issues that pop up now and then. There have been a few times when my son has called and started a conversaton with "Who in our family had ______?"  And usually, I can come up with the answer.

Where do you begin this job of Family Historian? It's not necessary to begin at the beginning, whatever that might be. Write each story as it comes to you, when something or someone triggers a memory. Or when you attend a family reunion, jot down notes and write the story when you get home. A good trigger for these memories is to sit down and look through old photo albums. If you're lucky, your generations-back relatives noted dates and names on the backs or underneath. The photo with this posting is from an album my mother started when I was just an infant. This picture was taken in the back of my grandmother's apartment building in suburban Chicago when I was around 3. We're all dressed up. Maybe it was Easter Sunday.

I count myself as fortunate because my mother was a storyteller and so was my Aunt Vivienne, my dad's sister. I listened to countless stories from each of them, some repeated many times. It's possible some of these stories were a bit embellished, but the basic facts were there. Hearing so many stories, often told around the dinner table, left me with a tapestry of my family history. My father told family stories, too. If you come from a family that doesn't have a rich storytelling history, you'll have to use other means to delve back through the years. Do look up those photo albums, Interview older family members, even old neighbors who will remember many happenings. 

Don't say that you aren't very good at writing these kinds of stories. That's one excuse I find unacceptable. There's no doubt that some Family Historians will bring a story to life better than others, but the most important thing is to have a written record to pass on. Step up and take on the job. What better legacy could you leave?


  1. What a timely entry for me to read. I've been contemplating my mother's story... again. I put it together in note form when my oldest niece turned 16. My next niece turns 16 this year and I always thought it would be nice to create a more finished version as each of my mother's grandkids grow up.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tracy. I hope you do get started on your mother's story. Write a little each day and before you know it, you'll have it, and your family will be grateful.