Wednesday, April 29, 2015

the family historian

This weekend, I got to see my Uncle Bradley, who was in town for a visit. I had a lot on my plate Saturday but I took the better part of the day to visit with him and boy am I glad! He started telling me incredibly interesting stories about growing up in the 1920's so I started a voice memo on my iPhone. I interviewed and recorded him for over an hour, asking him many (not all) of the questions I had always wanted to know about his and my grandparents' life.

Here he is with his grandkids, my second cousins. Uncle Bradley is my mother's brother.

Uncle Bradley told me about growing up dirt poor in Jackson County, Tennessee and working in the fields for 12 hours for 50 cents a day. He told me about meeting his wife when she was 12 years old and knowing she was the one. He told me about the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and he was driving a city bus in Washington, DC and 500 people filled the streets to protest (not riot) and stopped his bus, shaking it and scaring all the people inside. He finally broke free of the crowd, left the bus and a man put a gun to his head. I will definitely be documenting that and I will listen back to the recording to get the story.

While I was talking to him, I noticed that no one else in my family seems to feel the weight of responsibility that I feel to get these stories written down. I am fascinated by the history of my family. I want to know all the details. I loved hearing how Uncle Bradley made $35 a week on his first job when he was married and how he left there and got a raise of $80 a week to work at DuPont and no one believed he would really make that much. I never knew he worked at DuPont, where my Dad worked for 28 years. I loved hearing how he and his wife moved from the hills of Tennessee to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, simply because the weather was nice (he still lives there). It was all very fascinating and thought provoking.

Although I don't have time to take on a new project, I've decided my summer project this year will be to take on the job of Family Historian. My aunts and uncles are all getting so old it scares me. I'm taking my laptop and scanner around to all their houses and scanning photos and typing up stories and interviewing them. The only way I will get it done is to put one day a month on my calendar, starting in May. So if I interview one person in May, June, July and August, surely I can gather the stories I need to tell our history in a detailed way.

I know how I will feel if I don't do this. One of my biggest regrets is not interviewing my Mother's other brother before he passed. He was in the secret service and was First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's bodyguard. He fought in World War II and lived an incredible life. He was the most precious man you'd ever meet and would have been happy to tell me his story but I was too busy living life to take time to interview him and I didn't have the tools I have now, like the recorder on my phone or even a laptop. I regret it so bad! I love this pic of him on the left from the 70's, with his grandkids, more of my second cousins. :)

Do any of you feel the burden of responsibility for this? I WILL make this a priority this year. It's time to be a grown up and do the right thing, for posterity's sake. Who else thinks about this stuff? Please tell me I'm not the only one!

PS: To the blogger who goes by the name Granny Jenny and left me a comment on a page here, please e-mail me at! I couldn't find a way to contact you! The answer is yes, there is an oil for that. :)


Carrie said...

From listening to your podcasts, you're a wonderful interviewer, Tracie. I think a lot of people struggle with coming up with the right questions to ask to get this kind of information, and maybe even are a little hesitant to ask family members to give up time to answer these kinds of questions. What a pay off though, with all this new and interesting information you learned.

I'm in my early 30s and all my grandparents have already passed on (in fact, my last grandparent passed away when I was only 16). I wish someone in our family had done this because I really don't know much about my grandparents (I'd love to know more about my paternal grandmother, who met my grandfather in Germany during WW2 and moved back to the US with him!). If Caroline doesn't appreciate this now she will someday :)

Anonymous said...

I think this way of thinking goes hand-in-hand with being a scrapbooker and also, perhaps, reaching a certain point in your life as well. I want to do a simple family history project with my parents' help: I'm envisioning a very simple 8.5 x 11 page for various ancestors with a photo of them and simple information about each of them, such as when and where they were born, got married, worked, etc. and something about their personality, if someone knows. For example, one family relative my Dad refers to as "WL" -- I think he was a great grandfather whom I never met -- didn't talk much and advocated not saying anything (versus saying something that wasn't your business, etc.) So often in conversation, Dad will say, "Remember what WL would say." I want more details about relatives like that. I figure if I make the pages 8.5 x 11, then they'd make a nice book (even just photocopied) and would scan easily to post on Facebook for extended family, too.

Unknown said...

I have always been fascinated by the stories in our families. I'm fortunate in that my dad and now my brother have done a lot of geneology and have written down many of the stories on my dad's side of the family. Now I'm starting to feel the responsibility of recording my mom's stories and also my siblings and mine for my kids. My one worry is that there won't be anyone who really cares about this stuff and continues to share it going forward....

Barbara Eads said...

Yes, I, too am the family historian. There are so many things I wish I'd known to ask my grandmother. I love the job! I went to Salt Lake City a few years ago to do some genealogical research. In May of 2016, my sisters and I (there are 7 of us) are going to Italy to search further. I'm hoping to somehow make a connection with family to surprise them. I have no idea how to go about it. Maybe I'll start with social media! PS That photo could have been taken from my mother's house---macrame plant hanger included!