Category Archives: Family history

Why Worry About Family Stories?

Why Family Stories?

Unless we pause to ask, “Why that story,” or “Why that story told that way,” we may find ourselves trying to live the story we’ve always heard. In my family we tell great love stories. Listen long enough and you might spend your whole life waiting to be swept off your feet.

Stories get better with time. Families exaggerate because they want the stories to be remembered. Pay attention. The whoppers contain clues as to what the family thinks is important. George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree; never said “I cannot tell a lie.” So why, as an American family, do we keep telling that story? When we stop telling it, what has changed?

Stories have voices. If all our stories are about hardship, we may not be able to hear good news. If our stories are about old hurts, we feel a duty to right old wrongs. Old hatreds are passed along the same way.

Stories are slogans. “In our family we ___________” is a sentence most of us can complete. Question is, who decides how to fill in that blank?

If you come from a family of war heroes, does it become unthinkable to not put on a uniform? If you come from a family that goes to college, is becoming a plumber an option or a failure?

Giving a new twist to an old story can make a huge difference. Have you examined your family stories lately?

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, stories, Why Stories?

Christmas Letter Time–Yeah Family, Yeah Bloggers

letter writing quillYes, I know people who bemoan the fact that no one writes letters any more. Those same people aren’t blog savvy. If they were, they’d know that bloggers are the letter writers of the 21st Century. I read blogs on everything from a-poem-day to the history of Yellowstone Park. I see photos of food in restaurants and police brutality in Oakland. I am informed about everyday things and history-in-the-making.

Christmas letters are something else. So far this season, I’ve gotten the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since I love family stories, why can’t I get excited about family letters? I’m thinking it’s because they lack the spontaneity and freshness of blogs.

letter writing quillChristmas comes once a year, and we try to roll everything into a summary. The result is often a catalog of  what Tim, Tammy and George did. They competed, they won, they advanced a grade or got a scholarship. Yeah! However, as a lover of stories, I would rather know the ups and downs that went with that achievement and how they handled defeat–assuming they didn’t win everything. Defeat reveals more about character than success.


Our dogsitter just arrived to pick up the keys. She’ll be in charge while we visit the granddaughters. “Just wanted you to know, my father died two days ago. We’re doing the memorial in a couple of weeks, so I’m still good for taking care of things, but I thought you should know.”

letter writing quillYes, I should know. She didn’t have to tell me but telling created a bond.

Yes, I should know, so keep sending those Christmas letters. I need to know what everyone did last year. Otherwise we will drift too far apart. At the same time, raise a glass to blogs and bloggers everywhere. Bloggers keep us informed, entertained and aware of our shared humanity all year long. How good is that?

To borrow a phrase, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night” Or Solstice, Kwanza, Hanukkah and/or any other celebration that marks the season. The “merry” is the part we need to know!

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Filed under Christmas, Family history, Family Stories, Storytelling

My Family Put FUN in DysFUNctional–Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Thanksgiving dog and catYes, we love our families. Yes, lots of us have to give ourselves a pep talk before we enter the room for that Thanksgiving dinner, smiling.

Families know how to push our buttons. Families have issues. If you haven’t seen the new George Clooney movie, be prepared. It’s not a feel-good. It’s a reality check.

Speaking of reality checks, families are also good for that, too. They keep us grounded. Praise the Lord. Pass the gravy. We all need to stay grounded. The uncle/brother/ mother/cousin who drives you crazy may be doing you a favor, you know, keeping your ego in check.

If it’s politics that drives you crazy, listen. It pays to understand how the other side thinks. If you’re bored, ask yourself why. Are you so busy you can’t change pace for a half-a-day? If it’s an old issue that keeps coming up, remind yourself that it’s OLD. If you don’t want to deal with it, tell yourself you’re not dealing and shrug.

Here’s the key, according to me. No matter what happens, ask yourself what’s funny about the situation. How would this make an interesting story? Humor trumps anger. Even if you’re only amused on the inside, keeping your feelings to yourself, you’ll win. You’ll leave the family gathering in better spirits and maybe wiser for taking a step back and putting life in perspective.

That’s my Thanksgiving morning pep talk. I needed it. Have a good one with lots of food and amusement/amazement at the FUN in every family’s dysFUNction.

Cheers!!!

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Filed under Event, Family history, Family Stories, Funny story

Share Your Colorado Story and Win a Trip

History Colorado Center and LogoHistory Colorado is calling all Coloradans to dress up, snap a photo and, most importantly, share it and the story behind it for History Colorado’s “Share Your Story” contest for a chance to win a family overnight getaway for four to Glenwood Springs! Entries should be photos of individuals, kids or families dressed up that tells a Colorado story — past, present, or future – along with a brief description of the story. The “Share Your Story” photo contest will be open to Colorado residents 18 years of age or older beginning on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 at 8 a.m. MT and ends on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. MT.

Check out the details: http://www.agjournalonline.com/news/x1606478818/History-Colorado-launches-Share-Your-Story-Facebook-photo-and-story-contest

Sounds like a fun idea. Got a costume????

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Filed under Event, Family history, Family Stories, History, Why Stories?

We’re Related to Pirates!!

pirate drawing“Pirates!” my son exclaims. “We have pirates in the family? Awesome.”

“Vikings,” I repeat, thinking that isn’t exactly the same. I’m standing next to a Viking burial mound on an island off the coast of Denmark talking to him via cell phone. He’s responding on the wavelength of the current zeitgeist that includes Talk Like A Pirate Day, every September 19, and recent books that tell how to release one’s inner buccaneer–a California thing.

The island is Samsø—an hourglass shaped landmass in an arm of the North Sea. It’s twenty miles long, six miles wide, pinched to half a mile at the point where in the year 726, the Vikings dug a canal, a remarkable feat of engineering that allowed ships to sail from the fjord to the mainland with speed and safety—polite language for outrunning another ship. OK, think pirate, raider, explorer. Then also remember a remarkable shipbuilding culture complete with a pantheon of Norse gods. The Vikings gave us Valhalla and Thor. It is said that Samsø is where Odin learned magic.

I’ve returned to Samsø where my Danish ancestors once lived to see if I can learn anything about my family’s background. Vikings and/or pirates was not what I thought I’d find.

There’s more.

Near the remnants of the old Viking canal, there is a sandbank with newly uncovered Stone Age dwellings. According to a local pamphlet, pollen analysis indicates that grazing cattle and sheep on Samsø is a tradition reaching back to the beginning of Neolithic time, in other words, since mankind first began to keep domestic animals.

Cattle and sheep! That’s what my family raised on our ranch just above Bone, Idaho, even though sheep and cattle were not supposed to mix in the American West. Here’s the larger thought, since my family goes back father than written records on Samsø, I have to consider the possibility that my roots in this place might extend to the last ice age and that cattle and sheep have been part of my family’s livelihood for tens of thousands of years. Cattle and sheep still grazed in the island pastures that I passed. It was enough to give one pause.

However, nothing stopped me like the reproduction of an old Viking house. It exactly matched the description of the first house my Danish ancestor and her new husband made from the wagon that they’d brought across the plains. According to the family stories, they turned the wagon over, mounded earth over it, and made it through the cold months.

Cattle and sheep; pirates and dugouts, until you return to the old places you might not sense how far our stories echo across time.

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, Legend, Old Storytelling Traditions, Why Stories?

Celebration of Quilts, Dump Cake and Hard Times

quilt exampledump cake recipeIf someone in your family hasn’t reminded you of  The Great Depression lately, you haven’t been listening.

I have an quilt that my mother found among some old things and gave to me. From the fabrics, I already know it was made in the 1930s, when everything, including fabric, was precious. From the workmanship, I know it was hastily made. Not all the pieces match. It’s a common pattern, thirty star blocks, predominantly yellow in color. The charm of a handmade quilt is that it’s make-do made art. Since most of us have had to make-do, at one time or another, we know it’s one thing to handle hard times with grace and another to handle them with style. Taking scraps of material too good to throw away and turning them into quilts has to be one of the higher expressions of make-do.

Dump-cake is another example. The recipe that has came down in my family is actually quite good. If hard times include dump-cake, I’m not likely to whine. Of course, the recipe assumes you have a jar of fruit sitting around. Canning your own fruit and vegetables is also an art that not many of us do any more.

My mother is sure we’re all going to have to learn those old skills again. She sees a root cellar in every back yard. Hope not, I like my deck and umbrellas. However, I do have a compost box.

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Filed under Family history, History, Keepsakes, Memories

“Who Do You Think You Are” Videos Are Free Fun

Maybe you’re a fan and haven’t missed a single episode of NBC’s TV Show Who Do You Think You Are? If not, the complete episodes from season two are available on NBC’s site.

Gwyneth PaltrowMy favorite is Gwyneth Paltrow discovering that she’s related to a long line of famous rabbis. She also uncovers the tragedy that scarred one of her grandmothers, making her withdrawn, described by her son as “an ambivalent mother.”

Steve BuscemiEvery episode uncovers surprising emotional material but not necessarily material that is storybook nice. Steve Buscemi finds an ancestor who deserted the army during the Civil War also abandoning his wife and children, leaving them to think he’s dead, while starting another family in another state. A dentist, he eventually dies of tuberculosis–an occupational hazard for dentists of the day.

The episodes center on a celebrity going in search of his/her family history with the help of experts and a camera crew. However, within the stories are suggestions that can apply to anyone interested in discovering his/her family stories. Near the end of her segment, Gwyneth Paltrow turns to the camera and says, “There’s energy in your ancestors, not just facts.”

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, Television, Why Stories?