The Stories We Tell

My mother’s newspaper clipping of Marshall Massacre

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Since leaving the workforce I’ve met lots of writers, published and unpublished, professional and amateur.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.



5 comments on “The Stories We Tell

  1. I’m totally in agreement–genealogy is important in many ways. Our European American ancestors often seemed to want to forget their history, unlike many other ethnic groups that celebrate and carefully trace and share their origins. Each of us can learn a lot by finding out who came before us. Unfortunately, this process is often difficult for people who have been adopted or otherwise prevented from knowing or contacting their family members and ancestors. Great post!


  2. WOW! This is such a beautifully written, thought provoking piece and I must say that reading it really brightened my day. My name is Jennifer and I am 25 years old. When I was 17, my mother passed away from Pancreatic Cancer and all that was left behind of her were scarce photographs, few home video clips and the memories we shared. A little over 5 years after she passed away I found myself struggling to recall specific stories of her and it frightened me to think that her presence in my life was fading. In 2014 I met a wonderful man, who has since become my fiance, and together he and I embarked on a mission to restore my mother’s legacy. We both studied Television Production in school and were now working for Nickelodeon so we utilized those skills to create a documentary, paying tribute to my mother’s lifetime. We held on camera interviews of her colleagues, friends, family members and anyone else who we felt she impacted in any way, gathering the stories and memories they had of her. We then pieced everything together to tell one coherent story of the incredible woman my mother was, using the photographs and home video clips we could find to help illustrate what was being said. Here is a highlight of her story that I would love to share with you – This project has become my most cherished possession and it makes me feel accomplished to know that she will never be forgotten as her moments will continue to be shared through generations. With all of that said, my fiance and I found such a passion in this sort of work that we parted ways with our jobs in the television industry to start our own venture, Living Locket Films, where we now work with families worldwide to capture and preserve their stories to be enjoyed and passed down forever. It has become our mission to help as many families as we possibly can to ensure that their legacy will live on so when I read your article and heard that you share that same passion I instantly felt a connection to your story. I want to thank you for writing this and encouraging everyone, whether they think their story is important or not, to capture it as it is something that will undoubtedly be appreciated by their descendants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer, what a beautiful story and tribute to your mom! Thank you for bringing up the importance of other ways, such as video, to leave memories. Your mom would be so proud of you creating a way to honor her life and memories. K

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great idea. Recently I thought I’d leave a little journal of my life with “interesting snippets” to my son. I’m in my late 60’s & still have a lot of time & life to live!


  4. Sometimes we need to get here…to appreciate there….sometimes we need to savor our stories…to appreciate their stories…it’s all about perspective…. the long view back….a post to ponder! Thanks for the “think about…”


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