A friend of mine recently received a diagnosis of a very rare cancer. She has had one surgery and will meet with an oncologist to determine further treatment soon. Yesterday morning, after church, I gave her a hug and we chatted for a few minutes. Near the end of our talking time, she put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. "Nancy," she said, "I am going to do something you have advised. So many times, I have heard you say we must write our family stories, and now I am going to do it. For my grandchildren."
Of course, it pleased me that she is going to write the family stories but I am also saddened that it took a crisis to be the final trigger. I'm hoping for the best outcome with her treatment. I got to thinking later in the day that perhaps writing her family stories will be a review of her life and may reveal some things to her that might not have happened otherwise. A small side benefit perhaps. She's a determined, motivated woman so I think those family stories will definitely figure into her treatment time. I hope her project will help her through what may be difficult days ahead.
The reason I'm writing about my friend today is motivate more of you to get busy and write those family stories. Don't wait until there is a crisis in your family or in your own life. We're all human enough to have the best of intentions about getting started on a family story project but sometimes even those good intentions aren't enough for us to take that first step.
Some people tell me there is so much to tell that they don't know where to begin. It might help to make a simple family tree. There are websites where you can download and print copies of multiple generation family trees for you to fill in. In fact, there are so many to choose from that I will just advise that you use a search engine with the keywords family tree template. Then you can choose the style you like and how far back you want it to go.
Fill in the chart as best you can. Those of you who have old family bibles may find lots of the information on full names and birth dates, marriages etc in a front or back page. You may have to contact some older relatives to help fill in any gaps. I have far more information on one side of my famiy than the other. That's often the case. I also have limited information on my husband's family.
More than likely, images of the people and character traits and, yes, stories, will come to mind as you write in the names. Pick any one and write that story. Put it in a folder or notebook and try another family member. There may be multiple stories about your Great-uncle Oscar if he was a real character. That's alright. You don't need to give equal time to every person on that family tree. Write the stories as they come to you. Write about your childhood and the things that happened to you personally, as well as others in the family. It's all relevant, it's all important, it's all true treasure for your family.
In my friend's case, she will probably write about her childhood in another country, how she met an American who swept her off her feet, what it was like to come to live in another country and so much more. Her family will benefit form her stories set in two countries.
There are times in our lives when family stories gain importance.