“A people without the knowledge of their past history,
origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
-Marcus Garvey, Civil Rights Activist, 1887-1940
There is a reason we use the phrase family tree. Our ancestors are our roots. Our children and great-grandchildren are the branches. I was able to witness this firsthand a few weeks ago.
This past Christmas break we took a trip to see my paternal grandparents. There’s something special about seeing 4 generations of family in one room; my grandparents, my dad, me, and my boys. And there is nothing like spending time with family; you clearly see those traits that are passed down from generation to generation. It may be how you sit at a table, or your laugh, but observing genetics in play is an amazing thing. The short time we spent together flew by. I tried to soak it all in, but I wish I had been able to spend more time listening to stories about my father’s and my grandfather’s childhood from my grandfather. I truly wish I taken the initiative to record some of those stories.
Spending time with family and learning history is important. Oral history used to be the only way stories were passed down. Now there are so many more options for documenting stories. We just need to make sure we are utilizing the resources we have or we risk losing these precious stories forever. Our days are numbered, we just don’t know that number. My paternal grandparents are almost 90 and are in great health. I plan to make another trip in a few months to see them again and will make it a priority to ask and record stories about them and their childhood. However, I never got the opportunity to record my maternal grandpa’s stories. He died before his 76th birthday.
I will never forget my last phone call with my maternal Grandpa. I was a sophomore in high school. It was early February and he told me that he wanted me to help transcribe his history. I knew that he served in the army during WWII, but was in Hawaii and not in combat. I knew that he helped with the construction of the elevator in the St. Louis Arch. But I never got to hear the stories from him. He had a heart attack and died less than a week after that.
So learn the stories while you can; however, don’t limit yourself to gathering the stories of only your grandparents. You don’t know when your grandparent’s time will come, nor do you know when your time will come. I have a friend who lost three of her childhood friends this past year and all were for different reasons. So don’t forget about yourself; record your stories as well. Share with someone, or get those stories written down. Your stories may not feel important to you now, but I promise they will be to future generations. The branches of your family tree will appreciate the ability to read about their roots.
Write to remember.
Life & Times team member