Sunday, April 15, 2012

Preserve your memories

From Western Illinois Family Magazine

The cover story of this month's WIF Magazine struck a chord with me, because there is truly an art to collecting, preserving and sharing precious family memories. Some folks maintain well-ordered photo albums, while others create definitive scrapbooks that detail every cute, funny, smart or interesting event in their children's lives.
And then there are the rest of us.
You know, the ones who harbor overwhelming numbers of bins, boxes, bags and bundles bursting with multi-generational piles family flotsam, including snapshots, post cards and letters, crayon drawings and old fifth-grade social studies reports.
That's OK.. Everybody does it.
We have, over the over the past year or so, been attempting to spread the wealth, so to speak, by presenting our kids with bins jammed with semi-organized treasures. They've been pretty nice about it, so far, though they probably don't realize that what they've received to date is just the tip of the iceberg.
That's OK, too, because they've got plenty of time to sift, sort, pitch and preserve, just like we did. And it's all important, in one way or another.
But of all the things we can share with kids and other family members, perhaps the one that's most often missed and neglected is family history. It's an unfortunate fact of life that time passes quickly, and we often fail to ask about the details of who and where we came from until it's too late.
I, for one, developed an interest in my family story several years ago, when, as a descendant of the Bishop Hill colonists, I was asked to speak at the yearly Old Settlers celebration. In cobbling together a version of my colony history, I realized just how little I really knew. But, happily, the Bishop Hill story is a well-documented one, with a lot of information available via the colony archives and an incredible online database of colony members. I got through that speech all right, but the experience made me want to know more.
Luckily, I had Helen.
She's my dad's first cousin, a remarkably independent lady who turned 101 this year.
She’s a close relative and a good friend. And she’s a last living link to my past.
She knew my mom and dad as kids, as sweethearts and as a young married couple who had settled in with their two children before an unexpected surprise (that’s me) came their way when mom was 40 and dad was 46. She’s provided some different views and recollections, indeed, from the people I knew as my loving, but (in my kid-view) rather old-fashioned parents.
She remembers the grandparents I never knew, and has told me stories about the wonderful, giving ladies who were my grandmothers.
She has shared many informative, sweet, poignant tales of those people who are gone, but not forgotten. She tells those stories as if they had just happened yesterday, which, in a way, they did.
The internet, that most modern of communications methods, also offers many connections to the past. While there are websites (often requiring a paid membership) that provide access to census records and other interesting stuff, you can also often find a surprising amount of information by simply searching with the name of an ancestor and a few other terms, like hometown and country of origin.
There are, too, a few of us lucky enough to have a predecessor who kept a diary or journal.
My mother was one of them. For years, she unfailingly wrote something every day. Sometimes, the entries were rich and descriptive, and told stories of important events in her life and the lives of family members and friends. Other days, it was as simple as "Nice day. Bought groceries."
It is, without exception, all precious today.
Mom used to have a small, hand-embroidered tapestry that hung beside the pictures of her and my father’s parents.
“Remember me,” it said.
And so, my advice to you is to do just that. Ask, listen, and tell the tales of the ones who went before you. Share those memories with your children and grandchildren.
Write them down, and preserve precious pieces of the lives of those we loved and will love forever.

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