Sunday, October 27, 2019

Including Ourselves

Where were you back in October 1989, at the start of the World Series in San Francisco, when the ground started shaking underneath the feet of those competing baseball teams—and everyone else for miles around? Did you experience the Loma Prieta earthquake?

Perhaps you didn't lose any money in the stock market crash that happened on this day in 1997, or don't recall that a U-2 spy aircraft was shot down on this date in 1962 in the midst of tensions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but chances are that you have lived through some significant events, yourself.

Chances are, also, that you haven't thought to write up your version of the experience, from your own "bird's eye" view of history. Unless you have formed the habit of journaling your everyday experiences, the events in your own history may be only a fading memory.

It's been such a joy to discover that some of my ancestors—or at least their cousins—did form that writing habit and have let me reap the benefits of these discoveries. Journals and letters, edited and published in book form over one hundred years later, have given me that bird's eye view of what life was like for family members I've never even met, and certainly would never have had the opportunity to interview.

Sometimes, those writings provide the details which have become the stock in trade of genealogy: the vital statistics of birth, marriage, and death. More valuable, I think, is to glean details of my relatives' opinions about the current events swirling around them as they made their way through life. It would be next to impossible to find such records otherwise.

Fast forward to our own lifespans. We are part of our own family history, too—but in preserving the family's stories, we seldom remember to include our own experiences in the collection.

An ongoing activity now carried on at our local genealogical society is reminding me to include our own stories in our family history compilations. One of our members, who happened to be getting off work at exactly the point at which the Loma Prieta earthquake began its rumblings, recently wrote an article for our newsletter to share her personal experiences that evening. It just so happened that, this year, we held our monthly society meeting that very anniversary night—at almost the same time, thirty years later—of the earthquake. Recalling that event on this anniversary got everyone at the meeting recalling where they were at that precise moment, thirty years ago.

Now, we've started, as a group, sharing some of our memories of significant events in our own lifetimes. Some are stories of historical events, but others are personal memories—like one article recalling the elation of an unexpected college football victory.

Fast forward another thirty years—or one hundred years—into our own future. When we pass along our genealogical documents and one of our descendants—maybe even someone we never get the chance to meet—goes through our papers, will anyone be able to find the stories which were so important to us? Can our great-great grandchildren someday be pleased to report to their children that "a little bird" told them about our participation in a historic event of our own day?

Hopefully, in whatever way suits each of us best, we'll squeeze in the time to preserve the stories of our own lives to include in the genealogical record of our family.


  1. Now that's a great post. And you are right on the money. I take your thoughts to heart. Here are a couple of things I could write about: the day Kennedy was shot I was in junior high school. I remember it all, as does everyone from that day. The day the Challenger exploded, I was walking across a wide plaza in Orlando and looked up into the blue Florida sky to see a wide, awkwardly looped contrail that made my heart twist.

    1. When the news broke in California about the Challenger, I was sitting in an office, waiting to be called in for a job interview. What an experience it must have been to actually see the thing as it was occurring, Lisa!

      Yes, these are the types of vignettes we need to weave into our family history narratives. There are so many more we can include, if we stop to think about it. And our eyewitness point of view can become a very personalized way for our descendants to feel connected to history, if they have our words to enable them to experience it with us.


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