“Get It All Down Before It’s Too Late”
These are words family historians hear all too frequently, but all too frequently, we do not have the time to make that happen. Somehow we have to balance researching the past with the stories we are creating with current generations. The fragmentation of families and distance from loved ones make it even more difficult, but with all our high-tech tools, there are many ways we can make it actually happen.
I recently read a great article by Clay Jenkinson in the Bismarck Tribune, 28 December 2014. He kindly gave me permission to quote from his article:
“Every life is important, every life has mystery and astonishing adventures.
Every relaxed person can speak forth whoppers that will lift you out of your chair. We take for granted their stories, sometimes regard them as tedious, but then they die and that unique voice is lost forever, and those amazing stories begin to lose their authenticity and take on the rounded curves of safe family narrative and myth.
We must get it all down before it’s too late.”
The entire article may be found here. It is well written and a worthwhile read.
“Tedious“- an excellent word in this context. I think of the stories I found “tedious” as a child, and so wish I had listened better, or asked the family elders to write down those memories- they do not seem so tedious today. Today, I scour the internet and ask family questions trying to learn those tedious stories, but seldom am successful. I am, though, thankful for all that I did get down on videotape or paper, especially those names on the backs of photographs.
Mary Theresa Helbling, my first storyteller, captivated me with stories of her dear mother, Anna May (Beerbower) Helbling, and grandmother, Anna Missouri (Springsteen) Beerbower, who lived with them. One year we visited in June, but it had to be a quick visit. Mary was happy and healthy at age 80 (and didn’t seem that old at all), so we laid out plans to go through photo albums and family treasures and record memories when we returned in August. By the time we got there just two months later, however, the insidious tentacles of Alzheimers had strangled those memories, and they were lost forever.
I always expect too much in my New Year’s resolutions, so this year I am going to make two simple ones:
1) Talk more with the oldest members of the family, and get their stories recorded in some technology.
2) Convert the videotapes and audio recordings I have to today’s technology, so they won’t be lost forever.
I guess these are not that simple and will be time-consuming, but definitely worth the effort. And I did not set specific goals or use the overwhelming word “all,” so maybe these will get done.
I realized too that my own story is not really down on paper, and now I am one of the older generation. (That is SO hard to write! I still feel 30-something in my heart.) I do have some journals I have kept for our son of his growing up years, plus some from one college semester when we were required to keep a journal in English 101, but that is just a small fraction of my life. We do get the “so-tedious—you’ve-told-me-that-before” eye-roll when we tell stories to our son, but maybe I’ll put them down anyway, in case he is ever interested, or those grandchildren we hope to have eventually.
After all, every life is important.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Photo from Helbling family photo album.
2) Family history: Get it all down before it’s too late- http://bismarcktribune.com/news/columnists/clay-jenkinson/family-history-get-it-all-down-before-it-s-too/article_8a54f302-8b96-11e4-90b1-dbbf4b6e92ed.html
3) Clay Jenkinson seems like a very interesting person- check out his Amazon.com page (actually, sign up & use smile.amazon.com to have Amazon donate a portion of your purchases to a favorite charity): http://smile.amazon.com/Clay-Jenkinson/e/B001K7OX96/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
I love how he brings the humanities to (what some would call dry) history, and will be ordering a number of his books. (No financial interest, just excited about finding his work, especially since I am a Lewis & Clark groupie.)
4) P.S. I apologize, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles, for those teenage eye-rolls. I really do regret them now- you were right.
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