Dynamic Woman — Changing Times
Preserving Family Stories: What’s your story?
Are you preserving your family stories? They say that after we die, we will live on in cyberspace. I heard this in a TED talk: unlike past generations, we have a digital footprint that will last an eternity. Certainly technology has allowed us to be present to our family and friends, even beyond death. We continue to post comments on the Facebook pages of long buried loved ones. But is it really so different from talking to them prayer? Only in the sense that our conversation is public.
Private or public, we have stories to tell–memories of mothers and fathers we miss, or young people who left life too soon; perspectives on how we came to be the people we are; documentation of the people, places, and things that have formed the culture of our individual tribes. We are the caretakers.
Collective wisdom holds that we remember our forbears to the third generation, but genealogy records now grant access to ancestral events we can use to create stories that help us understand who we are. And that creates a challenge. How much digging do we want to do, and how seriously do we want to take a responsibility to tell our own stories to the generations to come?
Preserving family stories
As priorities change and life speeds up, some of us have become careless in preserving our family stories. It’s easy to see why. In my lifetime, we’ve moved from pasting memorabilia into albums, to preserving photos on tapes and CDs, to assembling digital photo albums that fill boxes, shelves, and drawers, to live casting our experiences on the internet. It will be there for generations to come, but what will it mean?
As part of my Great Giveaway project, I am trying to discard as much stuff as possible. In an effort to reduce my paper footprint, I likely will have a train car’s worth of paper I can bid farewell. The challenge is to organize what’s left into the story I choose to tell.
An emotional journey
Digging into a mountain of memories triggers emotions that range from anxiety and guilt–Is it really possible to get this sorted out and under control? Worth the effort? Why didn’t I keep better records?–to gratitude and the peace that comes with perspective.
I had a lot of false starts. After an initial sort and purge, I piled photos, journals, files, albums, certificates, etc. into so many different categories that the floor in my office resembled a prairie dog colony. Each mound was the entrance to a hole that connected to some underground network. I chose first to create a timeline of our travels. From travel journals, photo albums and file folders I was able to document 40 years of travel in one album, one or two pages per trip.
A story emerges
We have record of how we have aged. We have a picture of our lives emerged. The story is told in the gaps–the years we didn’t travel because we were working and raising kids, and in the milestones–the intense periods when we traveled because opportunity knocked, or the nest emptied.
I am grateful for how much of the world we have seen. Joel has safaried in South Africa, I have trekked through Central Europe with a high school girlfriend. Joel and I have flown our own plane across the Great Lakes and the Baja desert. We have traveled to strengthen family bonds, to make new memories that mark life changes, and to refresh our souls and renew our spirits. What was once a tangle of events in my head is now a coherent story I can easily share.
What’s your story? How will you tell it?
© Sydney Avey