Learning Family Stories

Everyone has stories. As I get older, the stories of my youth become more and more interesting to my sons. They can’t imagine a world without electronics, without cell phones, without CD players. To me, it’s daily life. To them, it’s a family story. The challenge for me is to tell them every wonderful (to them) detail while I still can and they are interested.

My grandmother told me stories as I grew up, so I am blessed with a treasure trove of information about my female ancestors. Three of these women are featured in my novel Under the Almond Trees. Other stories are already being outlined for future novels! My current novel is Aloha Spirit, which is inspired by my husband’s grandmother. In the photograph at the top of this article are Ellen VanValkenburg (fromUnder the Almond Trees), her daughter Marion, and her great-granddaughter, also Marion. Thank goodness Ellen passed on her family stories to her granddaughter Eva, so Eva could pass them on to me.

One of the best things I did for my sons involved a Boy Scout merit badge. Working on the Genealogy badge, they had to interview an older family member. I took them to talk to their great-grandfather, who grew up in Honolulu. He told them about working as a civilian ship fitter during the Pearl Harbor attack. He was on a ship in the harbor, trying to hide from the attacking planes while ripping scaffolding off the ship they were working on so they could try to get it out of the harbor. He also talked about trying to save the men trapped in the Oklahoma. I scribbled notes furiously as my boys listened. I knew he’d lived in Honolulu in 1941, but had never asked about his experience. Thanks to a Boy Scout merit badge, this incredible story has been preserved, and is included in my as-yet-unpublished novel Aloha Spirit.

So whether or not you plan to use your family stories for a novel, talk to your oldest family members. Ask about their lives. I guarantee you will be surprised and pleased by what you find out!

8 responses to “Learning Family Stories”

  1. Family stories are very important. When I was young I was a bit bored by some of the stories about my Civil war ancestors but as I got older I came to appreciate all that my ancestors went through in America.

    I never married nor had children so I plan to leave my ancestral treasures to the African American museum in Washington, D.C.

    I have written about my Great great grandfather William Henry Halstead who served in the 29th Colored Regiment Ct.

    A few years ago I joined the Descendants of the 29th and 54th Colored Regiments. I’ve been to Reenactments, the Colored Soldiers Monument in D.C.
    The Colored Soldiers museum and I was able to find my Great great grandfather William Henry Halstead on the monument.

    I’ve also attended functions in Connecticut honoring the 29th and 54th Colored Regiments.

    1. Linda Ulleseit Avatar
      Linda Ulleseit

      Oh, that is so cool! I wasn’t old enough to appreciate family stories from the grandparents on my other side before it was too late. I really regret it! These personal stories really make history come alive.

      1. Linda, Here’s an old blog post from 2017 where you can see some of my paternal ancestors.

        My mother’s side didn’t have any old photos. They were mostly coal miners from West Virginia.

        One day after I retire next month August I will go there for more information.

        Here’s the photo link.


      2. Education was very important to my parents and family elders. I literally sat at their knees learning and absorbing. Family history is also American history.

  2. One of these days, I’ll write down the story of my MIL’s life. She came to the US from Italy just after the war. She was hesitant, even though her sister was already settled here. What changed her mind?

    Chicken. Her sister told her she could walk into a store and buy drumsticks. She didn’t have to buy the whole bird.

    That was that. She applied, and due to an error (she was confused for a person of the same name who’d been waiting for years), she was immediately approved. If not for that mistake. And CHICKEN! I wouldn’t have met her son.

    So hurray for drumsticks! 🙂

    1. Linda Ulleseit Avatar
      Linda Ulleseit

      Oh, that’s a story you HAVE to write! hah

  3. Oh, I love, love family stories, and am only just now beginning to record some of them for future generations. The house I grew up in is now six generations old, and the attic just stuffed with pictures, butter churners, BOOKS. This blog post has made me want to roll up my sleeves and dive in again.

    1. Linda Ulleseit Avatar
      Linda Ulleseit

      Such fun! Lots of story material there!

Leave a Reply

All my news and events are announced in the Paper Lantern Writers’ newsletter.

This site contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. Thanks.