(We are pleased to present another Guest Post from our friend Jan Mueller, a history and genealogy librarian with an interest in personal history. If you have an interesting story about preserving life stories and would like to write a guest post, please contact us.)
One priceless piece of family memorabilia we have is a recording of our Father, taken in the late 1980s, just a few short years before his passing. Hearing Dad’s voice and words as he shares recollections of his childhood during the Great Depression with my oldest niece, who had recorded his poignant memories for an eighth grade assignment, is something we will always treasure. Her mother very thoughtfully had the cassette recording converted to audio CD format and shared copies with the rest of the family.
Listening to my father recount the difficulties he and his family experienced during the Depression Era—infrequent meals, housing difficulties, and impoverishment—still makes my heart ache for him, his siblings, and my grandparents. On this precious, 15-20 minute recording, my Father also mentions the 1937 Flood, the onset of World War II, and his attempts to join the army, which were thwarted by several medical conditions. What a precious, intensely personal, microcosmic view of such far-reaching historic events—thankfully preserved as a result of my niece’s homework assignment!
Of course, every time I listen to this recording, I find myself wishing that my Mother’s recollections would have been recorded in the same way. While we do have several videos featuring both of our parents during family gatherings, there is nothing quite like a one-on-one recording focused on preserving one person’s thoughts on life-changing events and cherished memories. And though I do have a very strong interest in oral history and have recorded numerous interviews for various research and writing projects, when my parents were still with us, I was absorbed in my own life and sadly did not take the time to preserve their reminiscences in this way. It is a regret I have lived with each day since their passing.
In my work as a history and genealogy librarian, many patrons share these same regrets with me on a fairly frequent basis. Together, we share our commiserations over the treasured tidbits of information, personal experiences, and little known facts that may be forever lost to us. If only we had taken the time to sit down and talk to our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives! Indeed, it is precisely this regret that has renewed my passionate pursuit of my own ancestry and inspired me to seek a career in genealogy librarianship.
Don’t follow this same pattern of regret. Be sure to take the time to capture the unique stories which form your own family’s singular history—now, before time either takes them or their memories. As Kristi and Jennifer thoughtfully note in the “Storied Lives” section of their Website, “[r]ecording your own life story is a priceless gift to future generations. Encouraging a beloved family member to tell theirs is a gift of respect and love for the story teller.” Preserve these priceless gifts now, before it is too late—you’ll be happy you did, and so will your relatives for generations to come!