As the temperatures drop, we naturally gravitate indoors and spend a little more time with family, bringing together generations and sharing family stories. With more archives and record repositories making their documents available online, and the current craze for ancestral DNA testing, it seems everyone is digging into their family’s past. It is an absorbing question, “Who am I and where did I come from?”
Genealogy helps us find facts, but there is a thrill of finding old letters or diaries that help us get to know our ancestors as individuals. When you find personal information beyond the birth and death dates, you begin to understand their personalities and experiences. That data becomes a person with struggles and triumphs. But too often I see people missing an opportunity right in front of their eyes. Looking back into our family tree, means that we often forget to look forward. There is a very short window of time between when we are old enough to realize the importance of recording those memories for future generations.
After working for 25 years in the museum field, I have seen how much we learn from personal stories. Students of all ages will connect with historical events and different eras if they can see it from someone’s experience. The favorite question for the younger kids is “What did you wear to school?” The high school aged students liked to know what it was like to go on a date or if someone played a prank while in school. These personal stories bring to life another generation’s experience, and the students connect with that more than momentous or historical events. Preserving those family recollections are of great value to us all. All too often I hear people say that they don’t think their story matters. These are the same people who have children who are begging them to record their memories.
I am pleased to be collaborating with Senior Services of Alexandria (SSA) at its Jan. 10 speaker series – “Telling Your Story: Leaving a Legacy” that will focus on how you can preserve your family story for the next generation. We will meet at Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke Street in Alexandria from 10 a.m. to noon with registration starting at 9:30 a.m. To register for this free event, call SSA at 703-836-4414, ext. 110 or online at seniorservicesalex.org.
Here is what I would say to everyone: Your story matters a great deal. Each of you has the ability to interpret different decades and the concerns and challenges that came along with them. I can read all the facts I choose, but data does not replace experience, or the empathy and connection that we feel hearing someone’s story. Your memories are important and the more stories we have to share, the more complete our national narrative becomes. Share your history with your family and your community. Did you raise a family? Start a business? Serve in the military or civil service? You have something to share. Don’t let your voice be silenced by time.