My dad loved genealogy. His love for discovering his family’s history is probably one of the reasons I love to visit cemeteries. Dad would take us to a wide variety of cemeteries in Southern Indiana to check out dates on headstones. I remember seeing huge family Bibles on my father’s bookshelves as well. He told me that people used to keep family history in these huge books. I love the idea of holding family history in the one book that was held dear in a household. Today, we do not usually use these family Bibles to keep family histories. Today we have websites that offer us the chance to check out censes in formation and more recently, DNA tests to see where our DNA came from. I saw somewhere recently in passing that it’s not the DNA that tells you who you are or where you come from, it’s those who claim you.
Much of our North American society no longer maintains strong ties to family. Once we started moving away from the farms and into the city, we no longer lived among generations of family members. I’m currently residing in the smallest community I have lived since the age of ten. I am constantly amazed when people start to talk about people and from what family they come. As a mater of fact, I love city living and the feeling of being able to create my own story that does not depend on what other people might have thought of my grandmother. I love knowing family stories and who came together to create the next generation of us. I love knowing that my grandmother, born in 1906 had a master’s degree. My other grandmother had schooling following high school. Both worked outside the home. I love knowing that we as a family have value women’s education and respect the work they do inside and outside the home. These stories among the rest have helped to form who I am and how I see the world.
Whether we grow up in a small community or a large city, these family stories and knowing where we come from can help us understand so much in our lives. Some of us do not have the gift of having a family who loves to share stories. Some of us do not know our “back-stories”. Maybe we have chosen to set off on our own, and do not wish to be tethered to the story we came with. In these cases, our stories we live can become the beginning of a new story and a new family of our making. I love the idea that whoever claims us becomes our family. At the core, family is about love, sharing and community. The formation of whatever family we belong to becomes part of who we are.
Preserving these stories for those who come after us, and who might love knowing how they came to be a part of the story becomes so important. We might not have huge family Bibles. We might not have many family photos. Most of us have digital means to preserve our stories as well as the old fashioned ways. Remember with everything else, if it exists in only one place it does not really exist. Tell the stories, so those who hear can remember. Write the stories, so those who come after can still have access to them. Preserve them digitally and if you can in their original forms. Honor those who claim us as their own, and claim others along the road. In the end, the stories we make become part of the larger whole, which is family, and community. These last longer than we do and can carry our stories along to the next generation.