Summer is the chance for many people to make some headway on the never-ending trail of ancestors’ history. Vacations have a way of detouring to cover research-worthy territory, whether stops at cemeteries or days at prime library destinations. While I’ve had my chance at the library rendezvous with relatives earlier this season, I wasn’t beyond adding another detour on last weekend’s trip.
I had the chance to head south last Friday, and through a series of what seemed to be misadventures, still salvaged some time on the return trip to visit family.
Though we had everything else to talk about, somehow the conversation this weekend meandered onto the subject of family history. How could it not? This research thing has a way of throwing curves at us—dislodging convenient family traditions and replacing them with unexpected truths.
The pressure of time weighs heavily on us all. For some, this awareness presents itself as a retrospective observation: those who regret not having thought sooner to ask the important questions about family. For others—and I think these are the rare few—there is the urgency of obligation: sensing that time is short, wanting to share what can be shared before memory seals up the last glimpses of a bygone generation.
The weekend’s visit concluded with this second sense: a call to get together and preserve the memories—those family stories of the previous generation—so that they can be passed along to another generation. Even if that new generation doesn’t yet know that’s what they’ll want.
Because someday, they’ll realize that they want to know, too.
Discussing this dynamic brought up an interesting point. History can only fully become history if there is someone to receive the stories. There needs to be a receiver of the past who is also willing to serve as the one to pass the stories forward. Just like following the links in a chain, though, unless someone else subsequently steps up and joins that line as the next receiver, the stories will stop mid-process. History is only one link away from being forgotten.
A story needs a willing audience. And that audience must, in turn, become the next generation’s storytellers.
History can’t keep being history unless it keeps being passed along.