Why Writing about Family Stories Matters

Writing about family stories

Writing about family stories brings family history to life.

I am so pleased to have Laura Hedgecock, our guest blogger, to share with us why writing about our family stories matters.

There’s no question that documenting your family history is a gift for future generations. That gift doesn’t have to stop with names, dates, and places. You can bring your family history to life by writing about family stories.

I’m passionate about this because I’ve been on the receiving end of such a legacy.

My Story

Our-Old-WillowThe silhouette of my own family tree used to look more like the willow that lost limbs in every storm than the archetypal oak.

On my father’s side, we had precious little information, owing not the least to the fact that our grandmother claimed to be an orphan. (That’s a whole different story.) The opposite was true of my mother’s side of the family, where my aunt had traced ancestors back to about 1500.

However, the ancestry information paled in comparison to my grandmother’s Treasure Chest of Memories—an old spiral notebook filled with a lifetime of writings. It included childhood memories of relatives, stories of her children as they grew, and family stories. Her stories ground us—all fourteen of us cousins—not only to her, but also to each other and our common history.

 Writing about Family Stories Forms Connections

Writing about family stories connects family members on a visceral level. In contrast to facts, narratives can help family members—including future ones—to their ancestors. These stories matter because they convey traditions, personalities, and relationships. They can also fill in the gaps of our research.

For instance, when I see “Charles Crymes” on a family chart, I think of my grandmother’s words, “I remember Cousin Charlie Crymes and how jolly he could be….”

Writing about Family Stories Helps Us Understand History

I learned all about the Great Depression in school. However, I came to understand it through family stories of going hungry and scraping by. Our family stories are a way of teaching our children (and other family members who might have dozed off during high school) history through the lens of our genealogy.

Writing about family stories of immigration, migration, and service to God and country bring history alive. Perhaps more importantly, family stories of doing the right thing or coping under difficult circumstances allow our ancestors—and us—to be there to teach and share long after we’re gone.

Family Traditions are part of our Personal Stories.

Whether we love them or hate them, family traditions are part of who we are. We may not observe family traditions or cook the same recipes, but they are part of the forming of our formative year. So are the stories that were told at every family get-together. These stories need to be written down and shared.

Start Preserving Your Family Stories

Writing about family stories makes your tree accessible.

Writing about family stories makes your family tree more accessible.

You can’t always fill in the missing branches on your family tree. However, you can make the branches that are there accessible to your loved ones. By writing about family stories and memories, it’s as if you’re adding a tire swing or little boards up the trunk to make it easier to climb.

 

LAURA HEDGECOCK is author of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life (coming May 2014 via Cedar Fort Publishing’s Plain Sight Imprint) and blogs about telling stories and sharing memories at TreasureChestofMemories.com/blog. Laura would love to connect with readers via TwitterFacebookGoogle+, or Pinterest.

Laura Hedgecock, Author

Laura Hedgecock, Author

Funeral Card Friday: Robert Wesley Bunn Jr.

Robert Wesley Bunn Jr.

May 23, 1918- June 10, 2012

Robert Wesley Bunn Jr.

An ending of a generation in the Bunn family has given me the sense that my generation is on deck.  We are the grandparents now and there is no cushion in front of us.

My heart was saddened to know that my Grandmother‘s brother passed away in June of 2012.  I haven’t spoken about his passing too much, as I think and ponder why I didn’t pursue the urgency of speaking with him a little more often.  I did however speak with him a few months before his illness got the best of him.  At this point, his memory was not as strong, but my Great Grand Uncle Robert did speak with me about his days on the plantation in Lake Providence, Louisiana and Arkansas.

I was not able to attend the Celebration of Life for Robert W. Bunn, Jr., but was pleased however to have received the program card from my cousin Wes, Robert’s son.

Document of The Day: Hannah Nelson-Singleton Gilliam Death Certificate

This is an electronic copy of my 2X Great Grandmother Hannah Nelson-Singleton Gilliam’s Death Certificate, which I found on familysearch.org   Hannah passed away at her sister’s residence at 49 Bowdoin Street, Worcester, MA on February 23, 1914.  I am pretty sure Hannah lived with her sister during this time, as they were very close, and they tended to help one another during the many years they lived in Worcester.

HannahGilliamDeathRecord

Hannah became a widow in March of 1867, when her husband Daniel Gilliam passed away. Daniel was a former slave and only lived a few years as a Freedman. He did not migrate with Hannah and her family to Worcester as they migrated in the late 1870’s.

Hannah was the daughter of Benjamin (Ellis) Nelson and Zara (Jones) Humphrey/Humphries both born in New Bern, North Carolina.

Hannah’s sister Jane B. Collins was the informant.  Hannah’s cause of death was Cancer of the Liver/Gallstones.  When doing research on my Maternal Ancestry, I find that many of them died of some form of Cancer, as did my mother.

One thing I find helpful is to keep track of the causes of death of each of your ancestor’s as you will possibly begin to see a pattern.  This information might help descendants as to what type of prevention methods one might take towards their health.

When I see that Hannah died of Cancer of the Liver, I wonder if maybe she had been a drinker.  It is very possible as I also find that many of my ancestors also died from diseases due to alcoholism or heavy drinking.

Hannah was buried at the Hope Cemetery, Worcester Ma in Lot 5817, Section 76.  Her memorial is on Find-A-Grave at: Hannah Nelson-Singleton Gilliam

Family Stories Handed Down Through the Oral Tradition

If the Story-Teller leaves no oral or written family history, it dies with them.  I think my mother knew this.  44 years ago in 1973, I was 5 years old.  My mother was an elementary school teacher and I distinctly remember during  Summer vacation, my mother sitting in her home office and firmly letting me know that she was writing a family story.  She would tell me that I needed to find something to do as she spoke into an old-fashioned tape recorder with a hand-held microphone, clearly pronouncing every syllable of every word.

[When I reflect on this, I realize that she had perfect diction and elocution, as did her Aunt Zara Cully Brown, who taught her how to speak]

I have always been curious about my family history, and I would hear the stories of my parent’s lives spoken around the table, or in the living room when my mother was entertaining guests.  I always had my ears perked up, but with child understanding, many of the stories were not remembered or understood clearly.

My Paternal Grandmother would give me bits and pieces of her life and those of her family members from the country, but she would shut-down if my questions presented hit a nerve. That would be it, and nothing more.

My mother passed away in 2004, and as I was packing and storing the contents of her home, I came across boxes of tapes.  Many of the tapes were recordings of community events, and recordings of guest speakers.  When I found the time, I took each tape and listened to see what was on them.  One after one, I stumbled across the old tapes my mother had been recording in the Summer of 1973.  I was ecstatic.  Not only did she record the stories, but most of them she had already transcribed.  This was the beginning of my genealogical family research on the history of her ancestry.

These tapes sparked the story-teller in me, and as I listened to each tape, I realized the stories she was telling were passed down from her mother and her mother’s mother.  It was five generations of stories.  I knew my mother wanted to write her life story in Sugar-hill, New York which also encompassed Worcester, MA and North Carolina.  As a matter of fact, I had promised my mother when she was living that I would help her find records to support the stories she was telling.

My mother, The story-teller, who is no longer with us, is alive and well when I replay the old tapes, and the new CD’s I had made of the tapes.  It is like my mother is in the room.  I feel her spirit, and it is in my hearts desire to continue to tell the stories of my ancestors as I hand them down to my children and their children.  Whenever I get the chance, I incorporate the stories into the daily lives of my children according to how they relate to the happenings in their lives.

“Our lives are like a million books, of which many stories can be told.”

Clifton R. Wharton III – Wordless Wednesday

This is a photo of Clifton R. Wharton III, My mother’s Godson.  Clifton’s Grandfather Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr. was confirmed as the First U.S. black foreign minister of Romania on February 5, 1958.

Clifton R. Wharton III

 

I had never met Clifton, but my mother was devastated by the news of his passing.  I happened to be with her when she received the call.