Saturday, January 28, 2012

Family History: The Importance of Oral History- Preserve Their Stories!

Isn't it funny the difference between adults and children?  The seemingly endless stories told by our parents and grandparents, the ones we listened to over and over as children that we "tuned out" so often, are the very stories that we, as adults, struggle to remember today. If we would have only listened to those stories when we had the chance we wouldn't have to struggle today in trying to find out who or what we are all about.   It wasn't until after my grandparents started passing away one by one that I realized that their stories should have been written down and preserved for future generations. 

Everyone has a history that includes important family information. Where the family came from, who they were related too, what they did for a living. Some generic information, such as birth, death and marriage information can be located easily enough in county records, but the real family history is something that can only be passed down within the family itself, by those who experienced it. These are the important facts that need to be recorded.

Today we have a mound of records available to assist us in our genealogical research found in internet genealogical data bases and all kinds of public records at our fingertips with the click of a mouse, used to provide answers to most of our ancestery puzzles. And while these sources make research easy and fast, our grandparents grew up when oral history was the primary way of preserving the past. Even the internet can't provide us with some of the most important missing links. We can only depend on oral history for some of the most unique and intimate details that we like to know about our past. "Who do I look like? What was my great grandmother's personality like?", or "Why did the family decide to immigrate to America", are some of the questions that can only be answered by oral history.

In researching my own ancestery on the internet there have often been times when I have found many pieces to a family puzzle that don't fit together and all I've needed is one missing piece of information to make it all fit together. One piece to complete the mysterious puzzle and perhaps the only person who can answer my question is gone. So some questions to my family's history will remain unanswered for now and may be gone for an eternity.   We are cautioned by genealogists to avoid relying on strictly oral history to get dates, time frames, etc, but as far as those intimate details there is nothing as reliable as the stories that so many of us have heard while growing up.

If my grandfather was alive today I would sit beside him with a tape recorder and listen to each and every story over and over again and I'd write his stories down on paper. If my grandmother was alive today, I'd interview her and learn everything I could about her life. 

Our ancestors were more than just names on pieces of paper. They were real people like us, and they were loved deeply by someone from our past.

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