Who, in your family is the Story Keeper? It’s usually the person who keeps the original family bible, the one who has a stash of old family photo albums or the person noted for their encyclopedic knowledge about at least six generations of your extended family.
Can you step into these shoes and become the “go to” person to whom other family members turn when they need the name of the chap who married Aunt Bessie in London during the Blitz, or what war service Great Uncle George really experienced and why any mention of cousin Gloria is always whispered?
These stories are the foundations of families and so often we fail to realise the importance of saving them and here I speak from experience.
My mother died suddenly a few weeks after her 60th birthday. I had 2 weeks in which to clear out her war widow’s flat and I faced the task alone.
Mum had saved many relics and mementos from her early life and had several suitcases full of old newspaper cuttings, photos, certificates, letters, old diaries and much, much more. I didn’t understand the reasons why she had kept these memories, most of which I had never seen before.
Being newly bereaved, and with no-one to advise me (Mum was an only child and both of her parents had also died) I have to confess that I threw away boxes of unmarked photographs, letters from people I didn’t recognise and old crumbling newspaper cuttings.
Now, 30 years later, as I try to trace my family origins, I regret my rash actions, realising that I am now my own family’s Story Keeper and in 1979, I disposed of the very items which could help me now.
You, as the family Story Keeper, will be entrusted with the stories, photos, memorabilia and ephemera (letters, diaries, certificates etc) of your family and you may well wonder how you can best preserve all of this to leave as a legacy for future generations. It is a good question.
Traditionally printed books, albums, elaborate family trees have been the most usual method. As good as they are they have a couple of weaknesses. First they are frozen in time – no updates, you have to do a new book etc. Secondly they can be lost, destroyed and age with time.
A colleague tells the story about a client for whom she had produced a very expensive one-off hand tooled leather bound family history for her mother’s 80th birthday. A month or so later she received a call from a frantic client asking if she had a copy (which she did not as it was unique) because her children had cut out the photos of Gran and presented them to her as a “present”.
Today we can gather, organise, digitise and upload our stories as documents, images, videos and audio. Increasingly I am urging clients and students to do this and then, if they need to produce an album or a family book, they can draw from the resources they have online – their personal library of family stories.
There are many sites that offer online storage from Ancestry to personal websites but the one I use is Legacy Stories which is one of the only sites I know where you can store all forms of media in a secure online Shoebox and share it with family wherever they may be around the world. Best of all – it’s free!
Being the family Story Keeper is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Try sharing the role with extended family members to get a broader view but whatever you do remember they are your life stories, your family memories, your legacy, so pass it on!