Family History is a Perishable Commodity
Genealogy is often associated with family history work. The word genealogy comes from Greek and means “the making of a pedigree.” For someone like me, who is not well experienced in genealogical research, the entire concept of finding my ancestral lines and historical family relationships is a bit overwhelming.
Maybe that is why I am so enthusiastic about another facet of family history work: the collecting, telling, and safeguarding of family stories and memories. This work brings me great joy.
One of the challenges of collecting memories is captured in the following quote: “I wish I had realized that family history is a perishable commodity. It disappears with time, as memories fade, and as loved ones pass on. I wish I had known that the most important aspect of family history is preserving a record of the present for the future.”
The Urgency of Today
I reflect on the loss of so many lives due to COVID-19, knowing that a disproportionate percentage have been our senior citizens who will no longer be able to tell their stories. More tragically, we will no longer learn from their wisdom, experience, and insights. There is an urgency associated with family history work. It is a perishable commodity.
I feel this urgency keenly. My mother is 93 years old. Her mind is still strong, but her body is not likely going to last too many more years. And even though she kept a journal during a few years of her life, most of her life’s story is not recorded.
Recently, we found in her home a photo album she kept from ages 15 to 30 years. This 15-year period covers her high school and college graduations, marriage to my father, and the birth of her first four children—so many significant events! Unfortunately, a low percentage of the photos identify the date when it was taken, the location, or the individuals in the photo. The only person who can fill in the blanks and answer these questions is my aging mother.
This summer, I took the occasion to make an audio recording of my mother as we reviewed the 75 pages of this album. She gave me 90 minutes of details about many of the photos with a few gems of elaboration about key events and specific individuals. Of course, my favorite was her descriptions of meeting my father and their courtship.
As I shared one of the short clips from this recording with three of my grandchildren, I felt impressed to instruct them to pay particular attention to and remember hearing my mother’s laugh. The stories can be written down, but the laughter is not capturable via any other means. This clip is
priceless to me.
Fade With Time
Family History is a perishable commodity. It disappears with time, as memories fade, and as loved ones pass on. I urge you to seek out and record your family’s stories and memories. Start with the most senior members of your family. You will find family gems that will soon be lost if not for your