Get Their Feet Wet With Writing Memories

Writing Family History
Photo by Nadia Priestley in the Creative Commons

What a blessing I have had to teach a beginning family historian in a 5-week series run throughout this year. When individuals are guided well in the beginning, genealogy does not have to be a huge, insurmountable task.

During this class series, I initially focus on the 'why' of family history. In a church setting, I will stress scriptures that support the need, blessings and promises of doing genealogy. In a conference, library, or society setting, then I stress the health and relationship benefits of preserving family memories and legacy. In a 45 minute class, half of my time will be spent on "Why."

Then it's time for them to dip their toes in the water. They are asked to think of one ancestor and write down their memories of that person. For 5 minutes quite minutes, participants reminisce and write down whatever comes to mind.

When the time beeps, class members are invited share their thoughts. Volunteers share sweet, simple stories or profound personal experiences. Stories range from a grandpa sharing grapes with a man when he was a young  to a poor mother working in Louisiana doing everything she could to lift her family out of poverty through education and good cooking. A funny story was about a grandfather who had his grandchildren every Saturday over to help do chores on the farm. When the work was done, the kindhearted but honest man would say, "Thank you so much for helping me today. The work would have gone faster without you." As the children were young, they believed the cheerfully delivered sentiment was a compliment. As they grew up, they would stop their grandpa as quizzically say, "Hey!" For the jolly grandpa, the speed of the work was not as important as the memory making experiences!

You see, family history isn't so hard. It's about recording memories. Each memory tells us something about our ancestors, and ourselves.

In the second class, participants are prepared to write for another 5 minutes and share once again. Now they have recorded 2 stories. Two more stories than they had recorded before. Two stories in their handwriting that can be passed down as a keepsake. Some participants accepted the home work assignment to write more stories between the first and second class. Others are thankful that they are kindly nudged into action during the class. Soon, they realize memory writing is so easy and fun to do! They won't need my promptings.

I love changing the myth that family history is hard and only the truly passionate should do it. When I start with the why of family history and stories, slowly but surely people's hearts change. And that's the best thing a beginner family historian can learn as they get their feet wet.

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