Beryl O'Gorman's favourite quotation is 'the survival of any tribe or family depends on the ability of someone in each generation to pass on the stories'. As genealogists, we are in a good position to take on that role, to listen and take notes from those people in our family whom we know to be good storytellers, and others who are holders of vital information.
There are many reasons why you should write down your own story even if you don't think it is interesting. No one else will do it and in fact no one else knows your story the way you do. To write down painful memories might bring a feeling of peace. Things that you did when you were young, today seem quite alien to your descendants. Your grandparents may have told you stories about their grandparents. Even snippets of information help as a family story is made up of little tales added together. The more information your family tree holds, the richer it will be.
How to start your story might seem tricky but dividing your life into stages such as early childhood, school days, and adult life are some suggestions. Starting with a parent or grandparent might be helpful. What were their interests, mannerisms, personalities, and occupations? What illnesses did they get, and what caused their death? There are many memory triggers. Sights might include photos, books in shops, toys and household items in collectors and antique shops.
If you have a photo and you know when it was taken, what the occasion was and who or what is in the picture, you can write a story which will bring the photo to life. You may even know who took the photo. You should take photos of family heirlooms and make note of those who have been the caretakers.
Sound is a good memory trigger. Particular tunes can take you back immediately to an earlier time. Perhaps your family sang around the piana or pianola. Church bells and bird sounds can be nostalgic. There might have been someone in your family who could mimic bird sounds or who sang or whistled well.
Beryl (M.Ed.) obviously grew up in the country and went to boarding school. I noticed from her talk many differences to my life in the city. I had neighbours in Melbourne who had chooks but not a cow or horse, although there was the local dairy with horses. Beryl remarked on the fact that her Mother made clothing out of chaff bags. The making of a 'dress model' was novel. This 'model' came as a kit and was comprised of rolls of brown sticky paper and singlet material. The person for whom the model was needed stood in the bath and put the singlet material around their body. Next, the wet brown paper was wrapped round and round. The mould was then cut down the back and put carefully aside until it was dry.
Smell and taste are also triggers. Think of the lollies and medicines you were given. Did you like tripe, or cape cod with white sauce? Think of household polishes and the smell of mothballs.
Household appliances were different. Remember the copper being heated, and the man who brought the ice, carrying it on his shoulder, for the ice chest.
You could use a theme such as holidays, recipe books with details on the person who had written a recipe, or 'characters' from your childhood.
The essential thing is to carry a notebook so that thoughts can be jotted down when they come to mind. The rest is easy, and with tape recorders, computers and digital cameras you really just have to make the time.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )
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