Can you recall, as a child, hearing family stories told around the dinner table, at holiday gatherings or just sitting with an elder leafing through an old family photo album?
I asked myself the question above as I was watching a video on YouTube.com one evening about a fellow marrying a woman who was set to inherit a century’s old manor house in England. About half way through the video, she was guiding the viewers through the home pointing out paintings of ancestors and describing in depth who they were and their contributions to the family legacy. Some of the stories were very positive and some of the ancestors did not contribute quite so positively, but the stories were told anyway. Before moving on to another video, I thought to myself, I just wonder how many people these days can recite stories about their ancestors?
“Family stories are tales about people, places, and events related to the members of our immediate family or their ancestors. The memorable stories of our lives and of others in our family take on special importance because they are true, even if everyone tells different versions of the same event. They are a gift to each generation that preserves them by remembering them and passing them on.” (https://www.storyarts.org/classroom/roots/family.html).
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When I was growing up, I would sit with my mother as she added new photographs to the photo album. It was an interesting process, the album was made up of thick black sheets of paper, a photo would be chosen and little black corners were inserted on the photo, then licked and placed on the page. She would be thoughtful of the images she chose to keep for posterity, picking images that showed an important event or something of consequence to her. Since these images were contemporary to me at the time, I knew the stories behind them.
It was after she was finished putting pictures in the album that really interested me. She would always take some time to reminisce about the old images, starting with the first page. I would point to a picture and if I did not know the person, it was time to ask “who is that?” and “where was that picture taken?” My mother always seemed happy to answer these questions and share much more information about each of the images. Like the one from 1952 showing her and my father before they were married having a snowball fight in the back yard of her home in Wetzlar, Germany. She would tell me in great detail how she knitted the sweater he was wearing and how the complex design was something she found in a magazine.
My father’s side of the family was a bit more challenging to learn about. He was working evenings most of the time and I was in school during the day. This left little time for him to be involved in family matters like preserving family photos and sharing of stories. Both sides of my father’s family were farmers dating back to the 1700s (at least that is as far back as I have found). Farm owners worked from sun up to sun down and had little exposure to picture technology. Photographs were expensive which meant that few were taken and mostly to mark special occasions. In my family, it was not until the 1960s that more images started to be taken and put in a shoe box.
My education of family from my father’s side came from weekend visits to the family farm. This is when all the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather to visit my grandparents. It was a time when all the women spent the morning in the kitchen getting the food ready and sharing stories and the men spent the morning outside smoking and telling stories. I would divide my time between both groups. In the kitchen I got to snack on various things that would later be on the table and hear the chit chat of past escapades. Outside, I would get a chance to start demonstrating my interest in what the men were doing and talking about – the adventures they shared of their youth and adult life.
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What do you think of when you hear the term Family Reunion? For me, it is all about extended family members getting together so everyone can get the latest news on births, jobs, opportunities being thought of and more, much more. It is also a gathering where people get to tell stories about the family history – so many times when I was young and attending, I would hear the phrase: I remember when . . . and then the story would roll off that person’s tongue. Sometime the story would be embarrassing about an individual, a story about the old farmstead, a special event that happened, etc. But you would always see people gathering around listening.
“Family reunions can connect the next generation to their past. From kids hearing stories about the family history and trying recipes that have been passed down over the years, family reunions help kids form identities about who they are. Even hearing funny stories about their parents getting into trouble as teenagers can provide kids with a sense of belonging and connection with their immediate family members. Your children will know who they are because of their family members.” (https://annamariaislandvenues.com/why-your-family-needs-a-family-reunion/).
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October 06, 2021