By Barry J. Ewell
As we live our lives, we become a very special, one-of-a-kind, cherished set of memories. Stories about the family’s past may include immigration or emigration, old neighborhoods, military service, marriages, births, deaths, famous or infamous family members, culture, religion, political endeavors, education, and social and economic status.
Without an autobiography or a personal or family history, these memories become nothing more than a footprint in the sand, a name on a headstone, and a precious opportunity lost. This chapter is about what we can “tell the children.”
Family histories provide valuable insight into the lives of our ancestors. They tell us information about their daily lives, such as the following:
- the who, what, and (most important) why—the motives and attitudes of the participants, their actions and reactions to the world around them.
- memories of other times, places, and events, such as the Great Depression, world wars, and the Civil Rights movement.
- patterns of living—how the household was organized, how the family money was spent, who sat where at the dining table, and what types of meals were served.
- information from traditional sources such as the family bible, school diplomas, letters, photo albums, and scrap- books which provide preliminary research for the interview.
- stories of feuds or other stressful incidents that may be painful to revisit, but that are vital for understanding family dynamics and ongoing or ended relationships. Family members experience the same events, yet react and remember them quite differently from each other, depending on their age, attitude, placement in the family, and expectations overall.