“Dates, places and lists of names don’t mean anything to me,” said a friend recently. “It’s why I’ve never had an interest in history class. We had to memorise the raw facts. That was boring. I liked the stories instead without the facts getting in the way.”
“You can do a family tree that way, too—through story instead of raw facts,” I said. “You should still record the facts somewhere, but you can focus on family stories if you want.” I include family stories in my genealogy. They make the people real; it brings them to life though they may have passed on decades ago.
It’s great to know my father was born in 1922, but isn’t it fascinating to know he had two webbed-toes on each foot? He didn’t make much fuss about it, and growing up, we thought it was normal, so it was seldom mentioned. One of the bits of information I added to his biography was that he shared this unique physical characteristic with a grandson. Any family reading this in the future might then realise why this trait appears in other descendants.
My grandmother was a small woman, probably not five feet tall in her prime, but she had a huge heart. One story passed on through the years was that when she was on her way home one day, she met a female friend and somehow the discussion turned to underwear. It was the mid-30s, when the depression hit many families hard and sometimes personal needs came second over the need for basic items such as food.
When Nan learnt this woman had no underwear and couldn’t afford to buy them, she went home and made two pair, delivering them to the woman before the week’s end. She expected and wanted nothing in return. She felt only that every woman needed a pair of underwear.
Creating little stories or vignettes of family history can be rewarding. Interesting details—including raw data—are often discovered when stories begin to flow. They trigger memories and renew emotional connections to people, events and places.
Stories are a great way to connect the dots in time for family members. More than once I’ve told my son that if he’d been a girl he’d have worn the name Primadine, after my grandmother. She had died eight months before he was born, around the time I discovered I was pregnant. I also tell him about my Aunt Emily. She passed away the same morning he came into the world. My son has never met these two women, but I hope through telling their stories—connecting them to him—that he will remember them.
Yesterday I watched an interview with Lesley Crewe who talked about her new book Kin. She spoke of how she wanted to preserve her family stories, yet weave them together with fictional characters in Cape Breton. By revisiting these stories and sharing them with other members of her family and the community in which her ancestors lived, she discovered many fascinating facts that might otherwise have been missed if she hadn’t decided to explore genealogy through story.
Diane Lynn Tibert is a writer based in central Nova Scotia. Her alter-ego is Diane Lynn McGyver. Her short story collection Nova Scotia – Life Near Water is enrolled in Kindle Select, and from now until Sunday September 29th (12pm Pacific Time), it is FREE. The regular price is $2.99. Canadian residents can download it here, and those in the United States will find it here. Thank you for your downloads. Everyone counts.