Custodians of Family History

Last night at a book signing event, I was asked a question I hadn’t heard before. “What do you do about the older women, the ones who grew up in the Great Depression and thereabouts, who have never been comfortable talking about themselves?”

The woman asking the question (I’ll call her Jill) is curious about her mother’s life, but she assured me there was no way her mother would write stories. Mom’s too modest, and furthermore, she believes her life has been as plain and ordinary as mud.

The question stumped me. Many people are deterred by the perception that their lives are dull. I’ve written about that. If you think this of your own life and still want to write, that’s one thing. But you can’t force someone else to write. If they do it to appease you, the results will surely lack spirit, and probably not go beyond basic facts.

After some discussion, we came up with a plan. This woman will get a digital recorder, formulate some questions designed to loosen Mom's memory, and interview her mother. She’ll explain that she is interested in the details of her mother’s life, and if Mom thinks her own life is dull and ordinary, Jill thinks otherwise. But even if it is dull and ordinary, by today’s standards it would seem heroic. Her granddaughters and great-granddaughters are not familiar with that way of life, and they deserve to know. Jill is optimistic this will work, and promised to let me know how it goes.

After she finishes the recordings, she will download them to a CD, so future generations can hear the sound of Mom’s voice, and she will incorporate much of the information in stories about her mother.

Another person needed a way of capturing stories from a ninety-year-old grandfather. Recording was the recommendation there too.

These people reminded me that we are not only custodians of our own stories, but we may also need to be custodians of stories for previous generations also. If you have an older relative who isn’t inclined to write, fire up that recorder, capture some stories, and preserve their legacy before the timer runs out.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Tara said...

Great story Ritergal. I have recently started writing letters to an aunt of mine and found out that she is composing stories about childhood memories with her parents. She has sent me a few samples and they are really noteworthy. I told her to purchase a copy of your book because I think it would be very helpful to her because I feel she should try to publish them. I think she would appreciate the insight you have to offer.

Ritergal said...


That's great news about your aunt. I'll keep my fingers crossed for her if she's looking for an agent and traditional publisher. If she decides to publish them on her own, may be a good way of doing it. Thanks for recommending the book to her. Keep me posted on her progress, and tell her to drop me an e-mail if she needs any help!

Bhaswati said...

Great advice, Sharon. How true is that; with the passing of older generations, we also lose the stories of their times, the stories of ordinary men and women and their everyday battles.

Thank you for encouraging us to preserve those fading voices.

JoJo said...

Five or so years ago, I first realized how little of my parent's lives I actually knew, along with the realization that no one was still on the planet who could answer much of the questions I had. I "knew" I had found my calling. The Writing Gods had singled me out to disseminate that information to the world. Because it was a new idea to me, I cautiously shared this info with first one friend, and then the other and they, as well, found this to be a novel idea. We tried on the idea, played around with it a bit and began developing concepts of how to best develop the ideas.

One friend did as you have described and made several visits to his mother's home setting up his tape recorder as they shared stories of time gone by. In all, he said he garnered about six hours of tape, which he transcribed and gave to siblings as a gift for Christmas and eternity.

Meanwhile I timidly searched the Internet to see if there was any background information to support my new dream - - - and within minutes I was laughing hysterically at my self-importance concept that somehow the stone tablets were handed directly to me to chisel and share with the world of writers. Thanks to the writing group where I first met Sharon, we now have this wonderful guidebook to visit as we take our own journeys thru the pages of our lives. It has certainly made the roadmap better than anything MapQuest might offer. And isn't it our own personal roadmap of life?? ~ JoJo