During this challenging time, we find ourselves tasked with doing the right thing for ourselves and others by staying in. After a day or so of this, it’s easy to find yourself getting a little stir-crazy. As you search for tasks to keep yourself busy, there is one that you really owe to yourself. Take the time to research your family history, and do it while you have the ability to talk to others in your family.
Online resources that research your genealogy are fantastic. For a great history of your family’s lineage, they are tremendously useful. What I am talking about is more personal. Take the time to call or FaceTime your parents and grandparents. Sit down with them and spend an evening hearing some stories. These stories are extremely important as they help make up your relative’s DNA.
Many times we wait until it’s too late. I’ve been to funerals where the person who passed is being discussed and amazing stories are told. Many times I’ve sat there and thought, “I wish I knew that about this person. I would have loved to talk with them about it.” A lot of times we think about it; we are all just too busy. Well, here we are. Now is the time. This need to social distance ourselves is almost a giant sign to us: Slow down. Take the time to call someone you haven’t talked to. If you’ve texted someone, take the time to call instead.
Lastly, take the time to get the detailed stories of your family. Think for just a moment of what events our grandparents lived through and remember. What were your parents like as teenagers? How did your grandparents meet? All of these questions can result in fascinating stories that need saving so that you can pass them to younger generations in your family.
One of the toughest parts of this may be trying to figure out how to start. I’ll include here a few tricks we use in our Timeless Voices program to start interviews. The first question I ask an interviewee is about their childhood. Have them tell you about their mother and father. What they did for a living, where they grew up, what was something they did for fun? Try to capture any memories they have of major world events. Do they remember Pearl Harbor, the John F. Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, and more? As they answer, try to picture it from their perspective, not as a moment in history learned through a textbook, but as something happening right now.
Ask them about how they met their significant other. What did they do for a first date, what kind of car did they go out in, what were their favorite songs? All of this helps set the scene for these moments important to your history. And their answers might give you a new appreciation for a song.
Did your loved one serve in the military? If so, ask if they are willing to talk about it. This can be an extremely emotional time of their life. Many times they have kept stories bottled up and they are just waiting to uncork the top and share what they did and what they went through.
I know that maybe this phone call will seem odd. To interview your parents or grandparents might seem silly. I mean you’ve known them your whole life right? Just remember this: Your grandparents weren’t always just your grandparents. They were once teenagers and have done things that we can’t imagine.
I learned this firsthand, as my Italian grandparents helped hide downed Allied flyers from the Germans in their basements and in the woods near their home. They would tell me stories of being a part of the resistance, risking their lives to hide a downed B-25 crew, all because they were doing what they felt was right. Then, after the war, they made the decision to come to America. They traveled far from home to go out on their own in a strange land for a chance at a good life. Long hours in steel mills, and moments where their character was put to the test. I’m forever thankful that I spent the time to talk to my grandparents, and my father, to get their stories. Their story helps to tell mine. And you will find your story is special as well. It’s unique to you.
I hope that after reading this someone will take my advice, sit down, and call their parents and grandparents and ask them about their lives. It can be as formal or informal as you want, but at the end of the day, you will walk away seeing your loved ones in a different light and possibly learn something about your own history as well.