While the shift to a virtual world of genealogical research is in full bloom, there still is a world back home that hasn’t yet withered on the vine. It’s the local genealogical society—the place where real people get together with others from their neighborhoods to share their enthusiasm for their latest research discoveries.
I still engage in that old style of genealogical connection, despite social analysis salvos like those found in books like Bowling Alone—or whatever may be said nowadays regarding those “dying” traditions of face-to-face interactions. And—you knew I’d be headed in this direction—it is exactly this week’s local Society meeting that I want to discuss now.
Thursday night, we had one of those meetings which got everyone talking. It zeroed in on one person’s experience, but it could have been an example of what the rest of us could be doing: writing our family’s stories. We have all done the research—often, decades of labor over multiple ancestral lines. But how do we share it?
If you have been following along here on A Family Tapestry, you know I’m a fanatic of Telling the Story. Well, I go beyond just that. I actually collect every example I can find of others who have gotten past the thought of it, and actually put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and put in visible form the narrative hiding behind the research notes. If you are reading here, and are one of those people who actually have accomplished that objective, I have likely bought your book. (Unless, of course, your name is Colleen Brown Pasquale—but I promise, Colleen, your book is on my Christmas wish list!)
My purpose in delving into this sort of collection so deeply is that I want to examine how each author has chosen to unwind the yarn of her life—how to tell that story in a way that is meaningful, even to strangers. I’m not engaging in this study merely for altruistic reasons, of course. My hope is that I will someday do the same: publish a book of our family’s stories. I certainly have plenty of material to do so: everything from the World War II fallout in the life of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens, to the life-changing tragedy that robbed Samuel Bean of both his sight and hearing.
Everything eventually came together to see that very same author become our speaker at this week’s Society meeting. We were treated to an artistically-crafted presentation on how Deborah Conner Mascot came to write the Mariani family’s history as pioneer settlers in the city of San Francisco, and how the author’s own family story eventually intertwined with that of the Marianis—including one Mariani descendant whose hundredth birthday was commemorated by the launching of this book.
With poignant memories infused in everything from the recipes tucked away in the book’s pages to childhood photographs of family visits, Vera’s Chicken Wings and Peas blends the universe of a well-to-do San Francisco family with the homespun life of a different family living on the Marianis' summer-hideaway ranch in the south peninsula Portola Valley. If you are like me, and enjoy seeing how others craft the stories they tell about their family history, you will enjoy seeing life through the eyes of author Debbie Mascot in her latest book. Better yet, if you live in the Bay Area and belong to a genealogical society there, don’t miss the chance to have Debbie share her story live with your group!
I am always touched to see the result of turning the struggles and victories of near-anonymous family members into stories that can be shared and passed down through the generations. We all can be “biographers of insignificant lives.” No matter how small, those lives—of our own family members—are full of hard lessons to be learned, wry observations on the nature of life, even humorous self-reflection. Sometimes, those lives bump up against history and may even share their own fleeting fifteen minutes of fame. But no one will remember those tales unless we take the time to preserve what we’ve learned and transform it into something that can be passed along to future generations.
I’m grateful for all the examples of other people like you and me who have accomplished exactly that. And Debbie Mascot’s book can proudly take her place among the others in achieving that goal—both for the Mariani family, and for her own.