"Look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."Thich Nhat Hahn
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
How Do You Measure Your Success in Family History?
There are many ways to measure success in family history. Some count the number of "leaves on the branches", while others count the branches.
For me, there is only one success that really matters...I want my family to care about their ancestors, their legacy and heritage. Now, I don't expect them to care as much as I do, but, I do aim for just a bit of understanding, maybe a little aha... that's why you do this.
Last weekend, I got such a moment. I had my parents staythe weekend for Easter. Since it was my house and I controlled the remote, we watched Who Do You Think You Are. My parents have never watched the show before and my mom was visibly moved by the episode. I waited for my father to say something equally moving about the story presented, so you can imagine my utter shock when he says, "I don't get it. Why would anyone care about the past?" Excuse me?! Never mind that he just dissed my occupation, but color me gobsmacked, how could anyone even think that, let alone say that?!
I fussed and fumed all night. When I calmed down, I began to analyze the problem like any good researcher is taught to do. My father wasn't trying to be mean - the man is the biggest softie I know and he certainly isn't dumb. He was completely genuine when he asked the question. He just couldn't figure out why people would care about people long since gone. What did that have to do with the here and now?
As I pondered his unexpected response, I realized that my dad's experience in life was completely different than mine and my mother's for that matter. My father grew up with both set of grandparents either next door or close to it. Both grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins were part of his daily life. He had no need to wonder about family because his life was surrounded about them and he thought he knew all there was to about them.
My dad James Brown w/ his dad Samuel, grandfather Herbert and Uncle Don Brown
The next day a much calmer and saner me, I mentioned my analysis to him as to why I felt he didn't have the same need to know the past as I did. Then, I began to practice what I preach...have you heard the story about your great, great grandfather Wiley T. Johnston? I shared a carefully crafted story about Wiley and then I shared another equally moving story about his grandfather. Slowly, the shackles fell from his eyes as he began to understand.
My father had met a genealogist many years ago whose zeal for collecting names had turned my father away. He thought, 'if this is what genealogy is all about, than I don't want any part of it.' He said that he loved history, but not genealogy. I said, "Dad, genealogy is just history where you know the names of the people who were there."
I further explained how the lessons of the past, our families joys and triumphs, their stumbles and crashes are all apart of who we are and using their experiences can aid us in our own lives.
One of my favorite quotes on this:
"It is good to look to the past gain and appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the futures of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead.
It is good to reflect upon the work of those who worked so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of those dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest that we are all the beneficiaries.
Their tremendous example [whether good or bad], can be a compelling motivation for us all."Gordon B. Hinckley
The reason I had gotten so upset by my dad's innocent comment was that to me, all those who have gone before me - are still real. I know their stories and I care about them and love just as love my living family. Their stories have bound them to my heart.
I could tell the stories had done their job. My dad began to comprehend that there was something to this crazy occupation and endeavor that his oldest child had chosen to devote her life to. The best part of the whole thing... dad began to tell me stories!
Why does storytelling work? Because:
1. Stories are Memorable
2. Stories Travel Further
3. Stories Inspire Action
Want to know more about family history storytelling? Come hear my presentation at the Family History Expos in Albuquerque, NM this Friday and Saturday. I am presenting 2 classes:
"The Magic of Storytelling" and "Historically Speaking" where I will discuss how to find the story in the records and documents.