Today you’re going to find out that family history is for you. You will learn that family history is much more than you thought, and you will get a taste of the power it can bring into your life. Not everyone knows their own family stories, and not everyone loves the stories they know. So today on #familyhistoryfriday we are going to look at why each human heart desperately needs his or her own family history. If you don’t believe me, keep reading!
Embracing the Good and the Bad
I know not every story is a good one, and I know not every family is a perfect one. However, we can always take something good from our family stories. This tweet from Family Search (@FamilySearch) explains what I mean:
Learning about both the good and the bad in our family history can inspire us to keep doing good with and for our fellow men and women. We can learn to have more compassion and empathy for all affected by unfair aspects of life.”
Now isn’t that true?! I’m a pretty sensitive and compassionate person by nature, but I can tell you that all my sadness, frustration, and disappointments give me more compassion and empathy for others going through the same thing. Even observing good people makes me more compassionate and empathetic for those who don’t have particularly good people in their lives at the moment.
Family stories have purpose. They teach us. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t limited by our stories. If you have a family story of humble, hardworking folk whose example is worth emulating, do. If you have a family story of something that should definitely not be passed on to the next generation, you get to write your story’s ending.
When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to create a brave new ending.” Brene Brown
I was interviewed a few months ago by Cary Mac Arthur for her podcast, “Dare to Find Your V.O.I.C.E.” Cary is a coach who connects women to their virtue, power, and purpose. She recognizes the power of connecting with our own stories, good or bad. During our interview, she said something that perfectly distills what our stories do for us:
Our stories give us something to stand on.” ~Cary Mac Arthur
(You can find the podcast about the power of story and more of Cary’s insights here.)
Three Things Stories Do
Storyteller Rhonda Lauritzen has three core beliefs about the power of story:
- Stories have the power to save families.
- Stories turn random events into meaning.
- Stories are the only way we will be remembered.
These are powerful statements! Do stories really have the power to save families? Can stories give meaning to the random events of our lives? Rhonda delves into each of these core beliefs in her inspiring article, The Power of Story. She refers to her own experiences (includings a sweet video about finding a letter from her dad) as well as research on family stories and storytelling. (I highly recommend clicking over to Rhonda’s article! She’s a pro at educating people about the immense value of stories.)
Story has the power to change people.” ~Rhonda Lauritzen
Maybe family stories are for you, after all.
Why Including the Hard Stuff is Important
We all have different ways we tackle the difficult parts of life. Some of us tell anyone who will listen, while others bury it deep in our souls. Some of us go into deep depression, while others just keep getting up over and over again. However we deal with it, I think it is vital that we find a way to talk about it. If we can’t share it at the time it is happening, we need to put a voice to it sometime in our lives, if for no other reason, than to teach those who go after us that we are not alone in our trials.” ~Rachel Trotter
When you write something down, you mostly write for yourself. We’re not talking about memoirs that become Broadway musicals. We’re just talking about a few notes in a journal or maybe a little self-published book that tells your story or the story of your parents or ancestors. We’re talking about something that those who love you will want, need, and cherish.
In her article, “The Hard Stuff. How Do We Overcome it and Then Write About it?”, Rachel offers some important reasons you should be writing the hard stuff:
- You need a sounding board.
- Your obstacles may help countless generations.
- Your stories can help others to overcome their own trials.
- You can decide how much to tell.
When I think of the power of knowing a family story, I often think of one of my great-grandmothers. She had a very difficult life for a time, and as I read her story I could see that it was because of a few bad decisions on her part early on. However, I could also see her character as I read. She did the best she could in her circumstances, then improved her situation (which was hard-won).
I have compassion and empathy for her as I read about those decisions that would turn out to have pretty bad consequences, knowing that I do unwise things, too, sometimes. I also feel a sense of gratitude that I didn’t make that particular bad decision! Even though she might have been embarrassed to write those things down, I can appreciate her humanity, humility, and strength, now three generations later. More stories from later in her life show quite a bit of gumption. I love her story, and because of it, I love my great-grandma!
Life’s tough. Write about the hard times; it can help heal you and bless others.” –LegacyTale
Where to Start: Family History 101
It can be easy to say, “I’m not a genealogist,” or “I’m not a writer.” It doesn’t matter. Your family history, your family story, starts with you. It goes backward through your parents and forward through your children. Family stories create connections! If you’ve never done a lick of genealogy or family history, here are three things to do to start.
- Fill out a four-generation pedigree chart. Write what you know, then ask for help from parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, or grandparents. Here’s a pedigree chart (courtesy the DAR) that you can print and fill out.
- Write your own story. More people care about it than you think! This article has several resources to help you know where to start, including lists of questions and things to think about. Tell your story your way! You can write a whole book complete with pictures (and publish it here), or you can write a few pages.
- Write the story of your parents and their parents. Keep going further if you can!
There are many online helps for tracking down names and dates these days such as familysearch.org and ancestry.com. Back before computers and the internet, my grandmother did genealogy and found family stories the old-fashioned way–handwritten letters! She came across a second cousin who was as much a genealogy-lover as my grandmother was, and they worked together a lot across the miles. Who knows what you might find with the whole world available to you online!
Many of my ancestors kept family and personal records. Over the years, several of my relatives put those stories into familysearch.org. I compiled them in these precious magazine-style books for my family. We love these stories!
What to Do Next–And What Not to Do
Once you’ve written the stories, make sure the stories you tell are preserved well so they can be shared and eventually passed down to later generations. This heirloom-quality option is my favorite for both hardbound and softbound books, and I’ve created some very special and meaningful books about my ancestors over the years.
I talked with a friend recently who had a conversation with an elderly neighbor. He mentioned to her that he had written his life story on a computer for his children and grandchildren to have. After the elderly neighbor passed away, my friend told the grieving children how neat it was that they would have this life story from their dad. “WHAT?!” they said. Their father had not told them about it, and they didn’t know where to find it.
Most computers are password-protected these days, so don’t leave your story on your computer. It’s important to find it a printed place to live.
It’s often said that we find what we’re looking for. If you look for the positive, the miracles, and the good times in your story, that’s what you’ll find.
If remembering a few miraculous moments strengthens you a little bit, then remembering a lot of miraculous moments will strengthen you a lot.” ~Alan Wright
- Ancestry.com. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/
- Brene Brown. (2018). Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/
- Cary MacArthur. (2018). Retrieved from http://carymacarthur.com/
- DAR.org. (2001.). Retrieved from https://www.dar.org/sites/default/files/RGG-1003.pdf
- Family Search. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.familysearch.org/
- @FamilySearch. (2018). Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/FamilySearch/status/966343753685385217
- Heritage Makers. (2018). Retrieved from http://heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise
- Lauritzen, Rhonda. (2018). Evalogue Life. Retrieved from http://evalogue.life/power-of-story/
- Trotter, Rachel J. (2018). Evalogue Life. Retrieved from http://evalogue.life/hard-stuff-overcome-write/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/making-connections-using-family-stories/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2016). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2016/07/im-on-cover-of-magazine.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2016). You Tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF7wGxkxJ2o&t=1004s
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2017/08/interview-questions-to-help-write-life.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/p/how-to-get-started.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2018/03/dare-to-find-your-voice-through-power.html
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