Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Living History?

Living Histories

Column for Lodi News Sentinel
By Ann Kerr

            This fall the Lodi Family History Center is emphasizing the importance of gathering histories from relatives who are still living. Their stories (our heritage) are family treasures that need to be preserved.
            This will be the first in a series of three columns to give you ideas on why and how you can gather and preserve a living history.
            First, why should we do this?
  • To create and preserve heart-felt family experiences.
  • To give us opportunities to learn from the lives and lessons of previous generations
  • To draw upon the perspective and moral strength of the past.
  • To build communication, foster respect, and show our love for those who have worked and sacrificed to give us so much.
Someone once said, “When an older person dies, a library burns.”  Don’t wait until it’s too late to gather family history.
I read a story about a woman whose widowed mother passed away earlier in the year.  She said, “We were always to going to sit down ‘someday’ and write down what Mom remembered of family history.  Unfortunately, she died of injuries suffered in an auto accident before ‘someday’ came.  I am afraid I have lost some invaluable information on her family--her own fertile memory of family incidents, as well as special memories like my father’s courtship, her wedding day, and her childhood.”
This woman is going to try and make up for this by making a Thanksgiving trip to an uncle’s home in another state. There she will meet with two uncles, an aunt by marriage and two cousins and their families. From them she hopes to get a good start on identifying pictures and recording family stories.
 She will take with her a laptop computer with genealogy software loaded on it, her grandmother’s photo albums in which most of the photos are unidentified, a camera and a mini tape recorder.  She will try to get information from those who knew her mother and grandmother in earlier years.
What is a living family history?  It can be oral, recorded on audio or videotape.  Next month in my column I will give you tips on conducting a successful interview.
            Five years ago my husband and I decided to make video histories of our parents who were all living.  Two years later, three of them had died.  We’re so glad that we acted on our impressions to get this done.  After this, we followed up by having one of our daughters make a video history of us.  You never know when your time will come to leave this life.
Photos play an important part in a history and make it come alive.  Gather and label family photos.
Histories can be written: either extensive life-long histories, or short stories of interesting and vital events that have happened in a person’s life.
            Don’t forget memorabilia.  It’s interesting to get the personal story behind the little things on the shelf and in the drawers.  My mom has a pitcher that is shaped like an elephant and the liquid comes out of its mouth.  When I was a little girl our relatives gwould come from the city to visit our farm and my dad would take them out to watch him milk the cows.
            Now knowing where milk came from, they refused to drink it, so my mother put it in the elephant pitcher and told them it was elephant milk.  Then they were willing to drink it.  I wrote this story and put it in my history with a photo of the pitcher.
            I hope I have convinced you to overcome procrastination in gathering priceless family histories from living relatives before the information is lost forever.  In the process you will learn more about who you are and how much you are a product of their lives.

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