Increase Story Longevity

I recently watched from the sidelines as acquaintances sorted through boxes of old family artifacts awaiting final disposition. Among the collection of musty old photo albums, letters and other memorabilia were dozens of journals kept by Grandpa over decades.

“You are not taking all those smelly old things home!” the wife stated. The look in her eye brooked no room for negotiation.

“No, maybe a volume or two as an example,” the descendant concurred. He wasn’t interested in reading them, he explained. They were too dry, too factual. All they contained were weather reports, prices of various commodities, times and dates of meetings, and other banalities. “Now, I’d definitely read them if they were my mum’s journals,” he told me. “Her journals were full of stories. They told what happened. You learn a lot from them.”

He elected to take the pile of photo albums home, with the intention of scanning in two or three selected photos of each person. “I can put those pictures in my genealogy software and they’ll print out with the paragraph I write about each person. I tell just enough that future generations will know who the person is and where they fit in.” When he’s finished, he’ll return the albums, and a nephew can do as he wishes with the contents.

Since it wasn’t my family, and none of my business, I held my tongue as both husband and wife continued to insist that “Nobody wants to see more than a couple of pictures, and they’d be bored reading more than a paragraph or two about each.”

My heart yowled in disagreement! Yes, I’d rather see a paragraph or two than none, and any picture at all, but those paragraphs they refer to would only whet my appetite for “the rest of the story.” I pour over albums of pictures, following the evolution of a person from infancy to old age, even when the people are unrelated to me. I’m fascinated by the details of people’s lives. I want to know what they thought, how they lived, what their passions were.

A couple of days later I thought more calmly about the incident and drew a few conclusions:
  • An extensive collection of “raw” and unorganized journals or stories will overwhelm many people, who are likely to toss the whole lot rather than deal with them. If you are a prolific journal or lifestory writer, do future generations a favor and write at least an overview of your life.
  • The most effective plan is to write on two levels. Give an overview for the easily sated, and work in detail elsewhere for the inquiring minds like mine.
  • You can significantly increase the odds of survival for your documents by livening up your facts and figures with stories to produce the sort of mind magnet that Grandma created in her journals.
I’m happy for my new friends that they were able to find material that satisfies their needs, and sad that so much will be left out. But in the end, perhaps they took as much as anyone will ever want to read, and in any event, it’s definitely better than nothing!

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal

Countdown: 15 more days until the official release of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing. Advance orders can now be placed at for the earliest possible delivery.


Tara said...

When my Grandparents passed, a lot of folks thought the same thing about many of the things I chose to treasure. My Grandmother was deeply Catholic and had thousands of prayer books that she would mark as she read out of them daily. To me, even that here bookmark was on a specific page gave me insight to what she may have been thinking about on a particular day. My Grandfather had kept all of his bills, deeds and other information that to most people would not have much value, but to me it was reflective not only of their history but of a place in time that I was not old enough to experience with them since I am their granddaughter. People are too quick to look over the little treasurers that their loved ones have held onto for whatever reason. To me, the fact they even held on to specific documents/books was reflective of their personalities and something I want to remember.

Great post Ritergal...counting down the days with you :)

Ritergal said...

Wow! I can't even delete my own comments without leaving tracks — Blogger keeps us honest! I know better than to post one without using Preview.

Tara, the post was for you, to thank you for your thoughts. Your tender heart and your eye for detail are going to make you a stellar librarian with enough stories of your own to fill a whole shelf.

QuoinMonkey said...

"I’m fascinated by the details of people’s lives. I want to know what they thought, how they lived, what their passions were."

I'm 100% with you here. I was in Georgia the last few weeks, doing research on my memoir and was so grateful to my uncle who had saved brown, wrinkled, and crinkled treasures from the 1800's in a faded shoe box.

There were grocery receipts, personal letters, and even a grade school graduation paper for my grandfather.

My mother and I were pouring over everything and I sure treasured those moments with her. I copy shot many of them with my camera and now photos of my ancestors come up on my screensaver.

People's lives are fascinating. We are lucky to be able to write down our memories. Thanks for this post!