October is National Family History Month

What if something you wrote became a treasure for your grandchildren?

That’s what happened for me. Years ago, I’d asked Grandma Leora Wilson to write her life’s story and she did, by hand on typing paper over several years.

What stories she told–about Indians trading dress goods for chickens (and laughing at her father’s mules), about moving to northern Minnesota on a train (with everyone sick and arriving in a blizzard), attending sewing school at Exira (1910, when Comet Halley was visible), a Chautauqua date at Panora with Clabe Wilson, marriage and the births of ten children children, suffering through the influenza pandemic, the scarcity years of the Great Depression, all nine children with whooping cough and, the World War II years, when she and Clabe lost three of their five sons who served.

Grandma Leora’s daughters discovered what she’d written after her death in 1987. I transcribed those memoirs, added old photos, and made copies for all the relatives. This is still a treasure for all of us.

How about starting your own memoirs during National Family History Month? In 2001, Congress first passed a resolution, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who wrote, “By searching for our roots, we come closer together as a human family.” Since then, Family History Month has been observed annually during the month of October.

Ask the oldest ones in your family to write what they remember. One memory will open the door and lead to others. Talking about them will stir up even more memories. Older family members not only hold valuable stories, they are benefited by perspective.

Don’t forget to look through old photos and make sure they’re labeled. Ask questions about them. One surprise I ran into was taking for granted that my grandparents were all dressed up for a special occasion in an early 1935 photo. I asked Mom whether they might be going to a wedding. No, they were waiting for a ride so her mother could have the eye of a needle taken out of her hand.

Why would they dress up for that? Because their only other clothes were overalls and a housedress. This was during the Great Depression. They had no car at that point, not until sometime in 1939.

That one photo led to stories about the Depression, hauling water, doing the washing for a family of nine on a washboard (because her hand-worked washing machine was broken), the doctor having trouble finding the needle, his worrying that winter weather and using ether as an anesthetic could lead to pneumonia. All from one small photograph.

Share growing up stories, what you remember of your grandparents. Details. Your faith story. Holiday and school stories.

Perhaps stories from your past, ones that you might consider commonplace, will one day be among a grandchild’s treasured keepsakes.

Typed up on a Mac Plus computer, printed on a dot-matrix printer, and distributed to relatives in 1990

Grandma’s memoir became the scaffolding for the three books about her long life, at least through the first six decades. This Amazon Author Page link will take you to all three.


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