In my late teens a woman contacted my mother by way of my Aunt Mary, married to my Uncle Sammy, my father’s brother. The woman, Della, was on a fishing expedition or as it might be referred to today, phishing. She meant no harm though. Long before sites like Ancestry or Geni were thought of, Della was searching for family history – her family and my mother’s family, their roots intertwined with common ancestry. When she learned my maternal grandmother was still living, Della flew east to interview her, harvesting the memories of grandma’s lifetime.
Since leaving the workforce I’ve met lots of writers, published and unpublished, professional and amateur. There are those who plan never to be published. They are writing the story of their lives only for the eyes of their descendants.
We all have a story, especially as we experience more and more of life. And, people obviously want to know where they come from. Genealogy websites can give us records, but the essence of someone’s life, their personal views, their personality comes through in their intimate recollections of people, places and things of their time.
While personal notes can be left on genealogy sites, snippets of a life may not be enough for some descendants. Take my friend whose mother died last year at 97. She left each of her descendants a hardbound book of several hundred pages of family history, including photos, letters and other scraps of memorabilia to be cherished and handed down to future generations. The creation of the book most likely gave her purpose. It is now a heartfelt legacy.
Memoirs, in recent years, have become bestsellers and notable films. Not only do we want to know where we come from, we take a voyeuristic pleasure in peeking at someone else’s life — the more bizarre, the better. Memoir writing, either for publication or not is a definite trend and for good reason. Chronicling our histories for the ages provides a glimpse of what life was like at our moment in time.
As Della’s research revealed, my family history on my mother’s side went back centuries in the ‘new world’ with the settling of Pennsylvania. There was one Edward Marshall, who made the first walking purchase in what was at the time colonies belonging to England. But, that’s not the interesting part. It appears Marshall and two of Penn’s sons cheated the native Lenape, who, in turn, took revenge by burning Marshall’s farm and murdering his pregnant wife. So, how did I get here? My ancestor slid into the cold waters of the Delaware River with an arrow in her shoulder where the frigid waters stemmed the bleeding. She lived to tell the story and produce children of her own.
Even if you see your life story as typical or normal or ordinary, write it down. We all have a few interesting anecdotes. Leave a snapshot of you in your words for your descendants. What you did, why you did it, how you did it, in your words, is more important than any thing or money you leave them. Your memories may be your greatest legacy for generations to come.