Saturday, December 16, 2017
Off the Shelf:
Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins
To be precise, this book isn't exactly off my shelf; in his absence, I made an arbitrary decision to borrow the book off my husband's bookshelf. Since he's lately been my only reader in Saudi Arabia—until this morning, when he joined my readership from Germany—I figured he wouldn't mind if I lifted a title from his reading stack back here at home.
If you know me, you know I have a strong affinity for the use of story. For whatever reason, for the last several days, every time I pass that to-read stack of books, the one with the term "story" stands out; it's almost as if it is shouting at me. And since I haven't mentioned much around here about reading since last September, I figured it was about time to pull up a comfy chair and open another book.
So this month, it will be Annette Simmons' Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins. I have the updated second edition, published in 2015.
There's no doubt story has a power to draw people's attention. We are naturally wired to wonder, "and then what?" We want to know whodunit, and why.
The drawback is that we associate stories with fiction—something to pull out in our spare time, for entertainment or to decompress from real world struggles. We forget that it is we who represent stories with our own lives, as well—we just haven't discovered the means for uncovering those stories, for harvesting their message.
For those of us in genealogy, we are aware of the stories resident in the family history facts we uncover. Those birth, marriage, and death dots connect us with the life stories of our ancestors. It is when we glean those details and let that family history narrative include the stories that we gain an audience with our fellow family members who otherwise might not be even slightly interested in knowing about their ancestors. The story becomes the hook.
As I step into the role of heading up our local genealogical society, I see the potential in the aggregate of all the stories represented by each of our members. Some of those stories belong in the locales where our families once lived, far from our current west coast location, but some stories happened right here in our own jurisdiction—stories so fascinating that they will draw in others and convert them into believers who want to know the rest of the stories of our county.
Those stories represent micro-histories woven into the larger fabric of our communities' heritage, of course, but while we may shy away from the "boring history" we remember from our school days, to know about the dramas that unfolded in the lives of the friends and neighbors of our grandparents contains an entirely different motivating factor.
To represent our genealogical societies is to represent the stories of our members and the stories of the people in our communities—present and past. To tell the story, then, becomes a means for encouraging others to join us, to weave their own family histories into our joint community story. Annette Simmons' book, as a workbook and inspiration for employing this storytelling modality, offers a blueprint to help us as a society to share those compelling elements of our research. Our audience—potential members and future supporters of our society's work—will find it is the stories that will resonate with them. We need to find the best way to bring those stories to life so they can work their magic.