This photo is of my grandfather’s sisters, Ethelwyn and Gladys. I wasn’t born yet when they visited in the 1950s from Scotland. This would have been nothing more than a picture of old women in my family album without my grandmother’s story about them. Their brother, Aubrey, died of tuberculosis. Their parents only had enough money to send away one of their remaining children to save them from getting the disease. They chose to send my grandfather, their brother Edward, to live with family friends in California. Ethelwyn and Gladys never married. They both became doctors and lived on the Isle of Man.
Finding your family stories, as recommended in my previous post, is only the first step. You must tell those stories to preserve them. Tell them to your children, your grandchildren, anyone who will listen. Your family members don’t have to be famous or known for anything in particular. The world is hard for every generation in different ways. Just surviving is a story to inspire and appreciate.
I admit when my grandmother told me the family stories I wasn’t greatly interested. It is a source of grief to me that I never asked her to tell me more, that I never thanked her and told her how inspired I was. If you are a grandchild, listen to those stories. If you are a grandparent, tell them. It’s how generations develop legacy, even if you believe you haven’t done anything grand or important. The story of your life, set against the context of political and historical events of the time, makes history come alive for your descendants. I remember my sons’ enthralled faces as they listened to their great-grandfather tell him about being a civilian stationed at Pearl Harbor during the bombing. Years later, when we visited the memorial, their mood was somber and respectful at a deeper level. They could place a family member into the history they saw all around them.
One way of telling your story is to write it. I’ve had several people ask me to write their ancestor’s story. They tell me the story, and I say, “Yes, that sounds like a story YOU should tell.” When I set out to tell the story of the women featured in UNDER THE ALMOND TREES–my grandmother, her grandmother, and my great-aunt–I knew I didn’t have enough information to write a biography. I am an avid historical fiction reader, and I knew their story needed to be told. I imagined them set against the times in which they lived, and I wrote the novel. You can do the same. It takes a great deal of perseverance, which comes in your belief that the story must be told. It also takes a great group of writing friends who can guide you on structure. More about that in a later post!