Someone Needs to Hear Your Story

April 17, 2020

Someone needs to hear your story. Whether it’s this generation, the next, or even the next. Someone wants to know about you. What you did, what kind of things you liked, and what experiences shaped who you are.

When you don’t tell your story, future generations are left to wonder, fill in the gaps with their imaginations, or just not, sadly, not have enough clues to create an idea of whom you might have been. 

I want to know about my ancestors and I’ve had various experiences when doing family history research:

  • One relative told their story through letters.
  • Another left me to figure out their story through legal documents, and
  • Yet another helped dispel a family myth because of something they kept.

Charles: Story Telling

My great-great-grandfather’s name was Charles. In the 1850s, he left a small town in Kansas, making his way to California, hoping to make his fortune in the Gold Rush. During that time he wrote letters to his family members and friends in which he spoke of the hardships he faced. He also wrote spirited letters about the 1852 Presidential election and about the need for the abolition of slavery.

Charles shared his life through these letters, and because of that, we know so much about him. I am fortunate enough to have about 40 of his letters in my possession.

 

Laura: Non-Story Telling

Laura, my great-grandmother was adopted, but no one in my family knew the story of why or how that came to be. Well, no one that would talk about it anyway.  When my grandmother was asked about it, her comment was always, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” It wasn’t until years after my grandmother’s death, by researching court documents and census records that I was able to put the story together of Laura. 

Agnes, a 17-year-old girl became pregnant out-of-wedlock. She died in childbirth without revealing the name of the baby’s father. The baby was named Laura. 

Census records revealed the names of the families who lived near Agnes at the time of her pregnancy. Court records detailed a contentious custody battle over Laura between one of those male neighbors (who was married with 9 children of his own) and Agnes’s father.  Agnes’s father won the custody battle, and the next census showed that the neighboring family had moved out of the area. 

Although Laura’s grandfather won the custody battle, Laura was subsequently put up for adoption.

We have no first-hand account of this story but were able to figure it out from government records. But wouldn’t it have been amazing to have had a hand-written diary of Agnes or her Mom? Or anyone really.

 

Louise Schulz: A Saver of Postcards

Louise Schulz was my husband’s great-grandmother. She didn’t keep a diary. She didn’t keep any secrets. But she did keep some postcards that Paul, her boyfriend, then fiance, then husband sent to her during their courting days.

Sometimes this is enough. Having keepsakes to pass on. I have about 50 postcards that Paul sent to Louise. From these postcards, we can have the address of where Louise lived. We can tell where Paul was and what he was doing when he sent the cards. We were able to reconstruct their path from courtship to marriage. 

That is really cool information to have. But because of these postcards, we were also able to dispel a family myth.

Paul’s last name was Schultz. Louise’s last name was also Schultz.  (What are the odds that they would have the same last name?)

Family myth, though, tells us that Paul dropped the “t” from his name, making it “Schulz,” so that Louise could change her last name when they got married.

Guess what? Not true. The postcards were directed to Louise Schulz (no “t”) from Paul Schulz (no “t”).

While the mystery of a name-change-or-no-name-change might not be as historically interesting as letters from the 1850s or as scintillating as the puzzle of an adopted child, it’s still fun information to have.

 

So what about you?

Are you a story-teller? Do you keep a journal that your grandkids or great-grandkids will read with great interest one day?  Do you create scrapbook pages or albums that will tell your story? No matter what you do, no matter how you do it, just do it.

Someone needs to hear your story.

Card dated October, 1910; from Paul Schulz to Louise Schulz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. DeLoris Musick

    I made a book with my siblings. We gathered our photos and I made the book. My youngest brother had recently passed and that was the inspiration for my book. I also made a slideshow from pages the and added music. My other brother, sister and myself, each wrote something for the book. Each of us have a copy of the book and the video. You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/S6MV7N3s5wQ. It is important to tell your story before it too late. I truly enjoyed reading your stories Karen!

    Reply
    • Karen

      You’re so right, DeLoris. I’ve looked at your books before, and they are wonderful. Thanks for sharing a link here. I’m so glad you have done this for your family!

      Reply
  2. Marilyn McCormick

    Karen,
    Thank you so much for taking time to encourage people to tell their story. I too have letters, lots of postcards, even my grandpa’s draft card for WW1. I have poems written by my grandma, and I even tape recorded me interviewing my mom about her life. My mother and her mother both died on June 29th (years apart) but I thought that was a bit of unusual history. Another unusual thing is that about 18 males in mine and my husband’s generational family combined have either the first or middle name of James. I could go on and on, so for sure my story will get told because I’m a scrapbooker AND a writer!
    Marilyn

    Reply
    • Karen

      That is awesome, Marilyn! You have so much to use in your stories! And what a gift that you are a write too! You will be leaving valuable treasures for your family.

      Reply
  3. Anita

    Wow! The timing for reading this post is perfect for me! Last night I began going through “How to Save Your Life, One Story at a Time” by Tom and Allison Taylor (at Pictures and Stories), and I’m doing the exercises as I go! I’ve spent many hours documenting (and scrapping layouts) for my ancestors, and now I need to think about telling MY story – thank you so much for this post!!
    P.S. My great-grandfather was adopted; through DNA testing of my 92-year-old father, we’ve found close matches that point directly to my great-grandfather’s father! The fact that my brother had already done Y-DNA, and we knew something about our ancestors from that, provided very good confirmation!

    Reply
    • Karen

      That is so cool, Anita! I’m so glad you will be telling your own story now! DNA testing is fascinating, isn’t it!!! Keep us up to date as you go along!

      Reply
  4. Barbara S

    It is so true that family history is soooo interesting. I never knew much about my Dad’s family. I knew cousins and aunts and uncles, but both his parents died when he was young. In reseaarching after he passed, I found out that the mother he knew was not his birth mother, she passed away many years before and the woman he knew as his mother was actually his step-mother. I often wonder but never had the chance to ask him if he knew. My husbands story is even more interesting as his great great grandfather was “bought” by a family that had no male heirs and they wanted one to carry the family name. I started a scrapbook of “Me” a few years ago to leave the stories for my children and now my two little grandchildren.

    Reply
    • Karen

      OH, my goodness. What a story!!! I’m so glad you are creating a book about yourself that will include this! What a treasure for your family!

      Reply

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