I’ve always believed in the importance of family stories. This is a tradition passed on to me by my grandmother, a way of preserving our legacy. Grandma told me about strong women who came before me, showing her pride in her family and inspiring me. In turn, I share these stories with my sons. Some of my female ancestors that Grandma told me about:
- Ellen VanValkenburgh, who sued the county of Santa Cruz to allow her to vote…in 1872. (Ellen is featured in my book Under the Almond Trees)
- Emily Williams, who worked as an architect in California during the same years Julia Morgan was there. (Emily is featured in my book Under the Almond Trees)
- Grandma’s own life, when Grandpa told her he wouldn’t pay for his daughter to go to school. She opened her own photography studio to pay for it. (Eva is featured in my book Under the Almond Trees)
- Emeline Beach, who was one of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and a lifelong friend of his. She would have married him, but her father refused to have a ‘Western rough-neck’ for a son-in-law.
- Emily Miree, born in 1836 at Fort Snelling in Minnesota when Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, and many other famous people were there. (Emily is featured in my WIP)
- Drusilla Brewster, who in 1766 still had the chest upon which the Mayflower Compact was signed. She was descended from Elder William Brewster, who came over on the original Mayflower voyage.
Not everyone has a grandmother who is a keeper of family lore, so you must do it yourself. Stories of those who went before can be instructional and inspiring. They can give us a connection to historical events and attitudes. I encourage you to find your story.
Recently at a writer’s conference, I spoke with a pair of memoir writers. “You should write a memoir!” they told me. I demurred. Me? A memoir? What did I have to share that was worthy of a book? After all, I write fiction, not nonfiction. One woman told me she’d be interested in reading about the change in teaching over the last twenty years, starting in a time before guns, screens, and rude children. The other one was from a small rural town. She expressed an interest in knowing what it was like growing up in Silicon Valley when it was still orchards. We talked more, about my life and theirs. I learned that growing up in a rural town wasn’t much different than my neighborhood had been in the ’50s. The parallels made it easier to understand the parts that were different. And in that lies the power of your story.
So before you assume you have no stories, talk about your life with others. Share where and when you grew up. What hardships did you face? Everyone has a hardship, whether it’s playground bullying, relationship issues, drug dependency, or sexual abuse. Don’t dismiss your trials as trivial. They were huge to you at the time, and may be huge to someone else right now. How you persevered and overcame obstacles is your story, and it can inspire others. Talk it out and find your stories. You just may inspire yourself.