Advice Column, Parenting

Recording a Family History

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What if you or your children wrote down the history of your family or the experiences of senior family members for future generations to read and share?  What if you encouraged your children to interview grandparents to learn about their earliest experiences and recorded those interviews for inclusion in a family manual?  Here is an idea on that very premise from a great book on family meetings.

The book is OUR FAMILY MEETING BOOK (Free Spirit Books, 2002) by Elaine Hightower and Betsy Riley, and I had the honor to interview the authors when the book first hit the market.  Unfortunately it is out of print today, but a quick search on Amazon or ebay often times turns up used copies in very good condition, and for very cheap.  In this fabulous book, Ms. Hightower and Ms. Riley offer up 52 family meeting agendas, along with suggested activities and topics for each meeting.

One meeting agenda and topic suggestion comes along in week 7 and is titled RESPECT YOUR ELDERS.  In the description it offers a Ghanian proverb, “Because your parents took care of you while you were cutting your teeth, you should take care of them while they are losing theirs.”  The description for the week’s exercise goes on to point out that modern generations of families are often times living far apart and distant from family members.

Have you thought about having your children interview senior members of the family to learn about their accomplishments and achievements in their earlier years?  What about asking them questions such as “Where did you live when you were my age?” “What was your school like?” “What was your favorite food or toy?” “How did you celebrate holidays?

My own great grandfather fought in World War I and I remember asking him about his experiences in the war.  He was an infantry soldier and the tales he told me when I was a boy were hard for me to grasp back then.  I wish I had formally interviewed him and recorded the stories he told to me so that I could have had the details to read and understand today.

My maternal grandfather did not go to war, but he worked at the Springfield Armory, making weapons and artillery for use by the U.S. military.  As a young adult, I took every opportunity to ask him questions about his work, what the conditions were like, and how he paid his bills.  Some of the most difficult times he shared with me were getting to work when weather and road conditions were treacherous to travel.  There was not much of a department of public works back then and employers didn’t care much about what it took to travel to the armory.

My wife’s father was considered somewhat of a spy in World War II.  He had amazing drawing talent and was sent into enemy territory to record camp layouts and troop movements.  He did an amazing thing by recording his experiences in a hand-written, book-length journal, complete with illustrations.  My wife and I will soon publish his book for many to read and enjoy for years to come.

Are you fortunate to still have your parents or your grandparents in your life?  Perhaps now would be a good time to schedule some time with them to interview them about their childhood or experiences from long ago.  Your children will cherish them for many years to come.

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