Thursday, September 10, 2009

Documenting family stories...The unassuming archivist in us all.

Human curiosity is such a wonderful thing. What do you think? (Sorry, I couldn't resist throwing that in there!)

In the last few weeks, I've met with several remarkable people, who without quite realizing it, have been doing a great job in preserving family history.

Take, for example, the lady I met with yesterday. I knew I was going to walk across the room and make her my friend the minute I saw her. There were about 20 of us at the meeting for the upcoming Austin Groups for the Elderly (AGE) conference in Austin. (In case you're interested, it's on Saturday, September 12, at the Norris Conference Center in Austin - and it's Free!). Anyway, when the lady walked in, it was impossible to miss the air of grace that entered the room along with her. When we finally did get chatting, we sparked instantly - despite the 30-years age difference!

She went on to tell me a story about the over-filled closets in her mother's room. They were bursting at the seams with photographs collected over a lifetime... and not just hers! They were in color. Black and White. Polaroid. Negatives. Big. Small. Frayed edges. Yellowing paper. All sorts of photographs, telling the stories of people she had known, lost, and still remembered. It was a shrine. A treasure trove. A mess.

No one was allowed near them for fear of losing / tearing / losing any of the contents of the closets. Till one day, my new friend realized that her mother was not growing any younger - and as for herself, she still had no idea who the people in those photographs were. Thus followed one of the best decisions of her life - she insisted... and I mean insisted!... that her mother write the names of the people behind each picture. The suggestion wasn't met with much enthusiasm initially but once she got started, her mother seemed transformed as she relived the memories while labeling and documenting the people in the pictures and their stories.

It wasn't until a few years later when her mother's memory started to fail that my new friend truly realized the value of the project she had assigned to her mother. There were too many pictures in those closets and her mother wasn't quite able to label them all... but because of the ones that she had, the family now has something with which they can piece the dots together.

Another gentleman whom I interviewed a while back, gave me a guided tour of his house and we made a rather long stop at the study, which was again filled with pictures, but this time, they were all on CD. The gentleman confided in me that he had scanned up to 15,000 pictures from his family and ancestors' lives... and transferred them on to CDs so that technology won't leave behind his memories and history. There were still several thousand more pictures to go... but I could tell they were in safe hands.

Yet another new acquaintance (we're email pals!) - Jerrie Hurd has made stories her life's passion - and if you read her blog, you'll see what I mean ( Her blog is a tribute to the power that stories hold over each of our lives. And it's interesting to see how individual stories come together to provide a cohesive reflection of community history over the years.

If you find that you're the keeper of your family's stories, then my question to you is this - What are you doing to preserve those stories?

What are you doing in order to add yours to the collection?

And have you thought about how you are going to pass these on to future generations?

Because a Video Biography might just be what you need to create.


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