A couple days ago I was listening to a story by Dolores Hydock called Occam’s Razor on the radio program The Apple Seed . The story is about how blessed she was after her mother’s diagnosis of cancer. It really struck home with me because we had recently dealt with the death of a loved one due to cancer and had also felt the blessings in disguise that had come from that experience. Even though our family has lost a beloved grandfather, we know that he can live on in the stories that we pass along to our children and grandchildren. Writing those stories down and retelling them orally is an important part of keeping his legacy alive.
While he was alive, he shared his stories by taking his family and friends to places that he had lived while growing up, by talking about family photos, and by sharing stories around the dinner table and campfire, but he didn’t keep a journal. Looking back, it would have been wise for us to record him telling those stories either with a voice recorder or a video recorder, but since we didn’t, we will need to rely on our collective memories. It is up to us, his family and friends, to preserve his story for his posterity. There are several ways this can be done.
My father-in-law had many friends who he spent time with fishing, golfing and playing tennis. He still has friends from his school days, his military days, and his work life that would be more than happy to share their stories. Collecting them while they are still fresh is ideal, but even the old memories, long cherished but as yet unwritten are gems. One way to do this online is to create a Google Doc and invite people to add their recollections and stories to the document. Google Docs is a free site and it allows everyone to work on the same document at the same time no matter where they are.
Photos tell a story, but there are often additional details about the photo which make it even more interesting. Gather family around when you go through the photos to find out who knows the details of each photo and the story behind each photo, if there is one. Record these stories and attach them to the photo. This can be compiled into a scrapbook and either printed or saved online by creating a Google Doc, or by using an online genealogy site like Ancestry or Family Search.
3. Travel journals and letters
My father-in-law enjoyed travel, and while he didn’t keep a journal, he did keep travel logs, marked maps, and photos from his trips with dates and details written on them. Also, he sent and kept letters which will be helpful in compiling his story. If your family member wrote emails, those could also be collected.
4. Telephone voice recordings
My sister-in-law has a set of voice recordings from when her father called her to give her updates on the progress of the cancer. The tone and volume of his voice and the words that he chose or didn’t choose to say speak volumes. What a treasure it is for us to have that record.
Notes written on calendars, appointments and even doodles can help to tell his story.
6. Video recordings
Over the years we have had many family gathers in which my father-in-law was video taped. These could be gathered and arranged into a montage. Before my grandmother passed away, we had the foresight to interview her on tape. We asked her about her life growing up and while she was a young woman. Now that she has passed away and we can no longer ask her about her life, we have a priceless treasure. There are many good video editing programs available, some are even free. Vimeo, Windows Movie Maker, and Lightworks are highly rated free programs. For more professional quality videos. you can purchase programs like Corel VideoStudio Pro X7 and Mac iMovie 10.0 for Mac users.
7. Read our own journal entries, blogs, emails and scrapbooks
A lovely way to preserve a loved one’s story is to ask family members to share memories they may have written in journals, blogs, emails and scrapbooks. These can be compiled and shared. One family member had tragically lost her 3 year-old son. To preserve his story, she printed out her daily journal entries during his three precious years, had them bound into a book, and then she presented the book to her in-laws so that they could share the details of his everyday life and know his story.
8. Record and photograph their hobbies
My father-in-law had an interest in and talent for photography. He was generous in sharing his hobby with us by giving us framed photos, which we can be sure have his name on the back. Perhaps your loved one painted, or created quilts, or made wood carvings, etc. Preserve those pieces by photographing them and recording details about their creation and their creator.
“Too many Americans have ignored their ancestors and family history and not bothered to examine their own life stories, much less share them with others. They too rarely share much of their past lives with friends, or pass them on to their progeny. And yet we desperately need to do all that…” Dolly Berthelot
Perhaps a storyteller at this year’s Festival will spark a memory or two of a loved one that you can then record. We have some great tellers this year who will do their best to inspire and enchant you. I’m really looking forward to this 25th anniversary celebration.
Now it’s time for me to get busy preserving my father-in-law’s story. It would be overwhelming to try to do all of the above, but I will do what I can. He deserves it, and my children and grandchildren deserve it as well. Preserve your family stories while you can, in any way that you can, and your posterity will be blessed because of it.