As family historians, we avidly search for details about our ancestors from records about their births, deaths and marriages, immigration documents, electoral rolls and census records etc, and then pad out the details of their lives using various other documents and newspaper articles. If we’re lucky there will be family tales passed down through the generations or someone may even have a collection of photos that they are willing to share. Hopefully they will be labelled with the names of the subjects and when and where they were taken. We start our family research with ourselves and work backwards in search of those who have gone before us.
We hope that someone in our family will continue researching our family after we fall off the genealogy perch. How many times have we complained “if only we’d spoken to our family about their lives while they were still with us”? But, how many of us record the details of our own lives for those who may continue what we have left them with? I’m not talking about certificates and documents, I’m talking about recollections of our lives to date, the bits that make our lives interesting.
I’m fortunate that both my daughters are interested in the family stories I have uncovered but at the moment they are both time-poor, so the stories and yarns we’ve talked about could likely be forgotten as their busy lives evolve.
A couple of Christmases back, one of our girls gave my husband, Greg and I the perfect gifts….a small book each, about the size of those autograph books you may remember from your school days where your friends wrote special messages and rhymes.
My book was entitled “My Mum, Her stories. Her words”, Greg’s of course was “My Dad. His Stories. His Words”. Inside each book were a series of around 40 questions regarding what we remembered of our childhoods; the homes we lived in, our pets, our school days, family time, what “rules” our parents had as we grew up. It asked about recollections of special holidays and celebrations such as birthdays and Christmases, and gifts we particularly treasured along the way. Who or what inspired us, what we wanted to be when we grew up, did we follow those early dreams? How were our teenage years, did we play sport, what types of music did we listen to? Who were our friends? Do we share any family traits? Did we get up to anything our parents knew nothing of?!? What have been the challenges we have faced along the way along the way.
You get the idea.
It was soon clear to us that this was something very worthwhile, it was something we could both write for our girls and it was also clear that it was going to take much more space than was available in those little books to record our thoughts and experiences. So, taking inspiration from them, I wrote out a series of questions based on those inside. Greg and I each had a copy on our computers and away we went filling in the details.
We decided to write as much or as little as we felt was needed to tell “our stories” and more importantly, that to do it properly, we should be honest in what we wrote, and not sugar coat any of our recollections, you can’t change history so to speak. As we worked our way through the questions, we recalled joyous times and experiences, many we’d forgotten about until prompted. I must admit though, not all recollections were pleasurable and some were particularly difficult to write about but we’d decided to write the truth and so we did.
I for one remembered that while we didn’t have much money growing up, Mum in particular used to create fun times: picnics in our big backyard on a rug, sometimes freshly made hot chips wrapped in newspaper. We’d make a cubby by draping a table in blankets and spend hours inside. I remember playing with the neighbourhood kids out on the street in the days before it was sealed and a big ditch ran along the side, hazardous for those of us with bikes. We played marbles, skipping elastics and hopscotch until “tea” time at 5 o’clock sharp. I also remember that unlike other families I’d heard about, in ours there was no talking at the table!
Our street was lined with post war fibro houses, ours was built by dad. I described the house and yard as it was when I was growing up, a little different to what our girls would remember. Much of the suburb Greg and I grew up in is now being rebuilt and my childhood home, and his, have been replaced by large brick homes which fill the entire blocks, the streetscape now as seen on Google Earth is vastly different from what it was only a few years ago.
I largely enjoyed school, though I was not encouraged to participate in sport. I recalled the treasured, longed for little microscope I received one Christmas which triggered my curiosity in the world around me and led me to eventually study Science at university. I still want to know “how, why and where” and I like to think this curiosity has fuelled my passion for genealogy.
I wrote about the time I snuck out of the house to take my first ever flight….in a small plane, flown by Greg, then my boyfriend, …that was something I never told my parents until well after. That and a couple of abseiling adventures were about as daring as I got.
I also wrote about what it was like to become new parents the joys and the bits no one ever tells you about. I also spent time honestly relating what it was like to be confronted with several health issues along the way.
When Greg and I had finished answering the questions (and only then) we read what we’d each had written, an interesting exercise in itself. We added photos, and printed a copy of each story for our girls and one for ourselves.
It was a very worthwhile exercise for us both, reliving times gone by. The world sure has changed in a few short years. Of course, our story is a long way from being over (I hope) and we may need to revisit what we have written and make additions; we now know the joy of grandchildren for instance.
When I eventually write our family history books, these recollections will become a part of them. While to a genealogist dates and details are important, family will only read them if there are “interesting bits” included, if they feel they get to know the people in each generation. I hope our descendants will have an insight into us both.
We may never have gotten around to recording our stories if we hadn’t received these little books, prompting us to recall the past. Imagine if our ancestors had done the same!
Perhaps this will inspire you to do something similar. A quote I like from the back of the book I was given: ‘Of all of these gifts she gave us, please, the greatest of these were the memories’ by Isabella Graham.…and from Greg’s book: ‘Memories are our greatest inheritance’ by Peter Hamill.