The Importance of Preserving Family Stories

My father died a few years ago and while I know a good deal about his life, I wish I had done more to capture his stories in his words and voice directly. I am blessed to have had a such a loving and supportive dad. What I know about his past not only helps me understand him but also gives me a broader perspective on my grandparents and other relatives who shaped his life and thus mine.

Bruce Feiler wrote an article for the New York Times in 2013 about the connection between understanding family history and resiliency (The Stories That Bind Us) that remains relevant. In short, it explains that when we know our family history, that provides a unifying effect across a family group. We realize we are a part of something bigger than ourselves which both strengthens family ties and increases our own self confidence. This is particularly true when we know not only the family success stories but also the challenges. The latter is what promotes resiliency because it puts into perspective that setbacks are normal and can be managed and overcome.

So how do we go about capturing our family stories? What do we need to focus on and what are the options for collecting and sharing this information across a family?

The good news is, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a complicated process (perfection can be the enemy of progress). Start by making decisions about who you want to interview. Most people start with the oldest generation of the family as these members can share not only their own stories but those of their own parents and grandparents. If you are not sure what to ask, a quick online search of “questions to capture family legacy” leads to hundreds of examples. One of my favorite lists is the Life Interview Questions by author and motivational speaker, Brendon Burchard. His lays out 32 questions for this purpose focused on a person’s life experiences, memories and values. One tip – it’s best to share the questions in advance with the interviewee so they have time to consider what they want to relay.

As to format, even direct recording audio/video by smart phone is an effective way to collect these stories. If going it alone feels overwhelming or you want a more professional result, there are experts to help with every option from creating an autobiography, to family video biographies, to customized photo and scrap books. Many of these services extend to include assistance with family history research as well as sorting and organizing family photos, letters and related documents. Here are a few options to investigate:

Whatever approach and format you determine, capturing these family stories will not only be a gift in your life but something to hand down to your own children and grandchildren. As individuals, our lives are a continuation of an extended family narrative. The more we know about that storyline, the more rooted we are in the world.

“Knowing your generational story firms the ground upon which you stand. It makes your life, your struggles and triumphs, bigger than your lone existence. It connects you to a grand plotline.” – Cicely Tyson, Just As I Am

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