Writing the history of a family isn’t only about visiting graveyards, or sneezing your way through hours of research in dusty archives. Names and dates are important, but they don’t offer much in the way of family identity. For a richer, fuller family history we want the family narrative–the story of our people.
For most of us family history is around us everyday, but it’s an elusive thing and few of us think to get out our butterfly nets and capture it for those who’ll come after.
We are born of two parents, who were each born of two parents; rinse and repeat. This doubling each generation explains how “doing” family history quickly gets out of hand and becomes a tangled ball of factoids, unidentified photos and confused names. For some of us the pursuit of documented dates on tombstones diverts us from what we really want to capture about our family, which is what kind of family we are and where did the many attributes, habits, physical appearances, quirks and interests that go into make up our family identity all come from?
A 2000 movie called Songcatcher portrays dedicated musicologists who came to the Appalachians at the turn of the century to write down songs the isolated mountain people passed down through generations. These intrepid songcatchers made it their mission to capture the lyrics and the tunes before they were forgotten. But they didn’t stop there; they made wax recordings because they wanted to capture the singing, to make the notes come alive!
We can all be “storycatchers” for our families, including color and texture and personality to make our stories sing! And it doesn’t have to wait for that mythical day when you have great gobs of time on your hands. In a few short minutes you can accomplish a lot more than you think if you don’t get fixated on that blank page staring back at you. Writing your family’s story needn’t be an overwhelming task, something to put off until you’re retired. If you break it down into small chunks and write a little each day, maybe as you’re having your morning coffee, or just before bedtime, you’ll be amazed at how much of the story you’ve captured in a year’s time.
To avoid blank-paper paralysis I’ll supply some prompts to start you out writing the story of YOUR family. So pull out a fresh notebook, Storycatchers! You can do this while you have your morning coffee. So let's get started HERE!