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We all want our lives to be purposeful. But as technology grows and the world moves faster, our space can feel increasingly small. Exploring our family traditions and lineage can offer a sense of belonging, connectedness, and identity. When the rest of the world seems too busy to listen, we can tap into the voices of family past to realize we are not alone and begin to understand the influential people who made us who we are today. 

Today, I’ve gathered ten tips to help you tell your family’s story. 

Make a timeline of significant life events

Creating a timeline isn’t just for Type A personalities. It is a great way to get started telling your family’s story. Start by collecting major life events. Don’t worry if there are only a few on the timeline. There are tons of apps on the market for building timelines, but good old-fashioned pen and paper work great too! Remember, there is no right or wrong; this is a starting point.

Create a list of stories to tell

Now that you have your timeline in place, it’s time to keep collecting! Create a list of stories to tell. Don’t worry about remembering these stories chronologically. Just take a quick jog down memory lane and write what comes to mind. Create a bulleted list if you aren’t exactly sure when the events took place — you can always flush it out later. The important thing is to add to the list as a story comes to mind. You don’t want to let it slip away again!

People have mixed feelings about keepsakes. Some family members might feel like holding on to an object is unnecessary. The family relic is a cluttered reminder of a memory that will live on without an object’s presence. In contrast, other family members feel like family relics connect us more profoundly than a thought or memory can create.

The truth is our brains are hardwired to connect memories to objects and sensations. According to psychological research, the area of the brain that stores memories is also the same area that stores sensations and sensory information, specifically touch memory. Science offers a glimpse into why keepsakes are such a powerful key to unlocking shared memories.

What is your favorite food memory? 

Was it the time your grandmother made mashed potatoes and told you to lick the whisk before your mom came in the room? Or was it that special dish your aunt would only make once a year on a special occasion?

Whatever your history might be, your sense of memory and taste are as intertwined as the connections we create with one another around food.

Our family’s recipes are often the foundation of our shared history, nourishing our bodies and our spirit one plate at a time. But how do we hold on to the unique memoriescreated by food?

Approaching family members about their stories can sometimes feel awkward, especially when you don’t have a close relationship. But every person’s story has value, and it’s important to record your family’s history before it’s lost to time.

Here are a few tips to get the old stories flowing with family members, especially the ones you don’t know well.

Take the time

Life moves fast, and stories take time. Your family’s lineage took decades to accumulate, so now more than ever it’s important to be deliberate and take time to honor the past.

Have you ever been told, “Oh, you’re JUST LIKE __________!” (Insert name of older generation relative you never got a chance to meet).

All you can really do is hope that said relative was a good person, and the attributes you share are the positive ones.  Aside from saying, “oh, that’s cool,” there’s not much you can do except wonder about the person’s life.

In my own case, I used to be told that I had the same impish humor that my grandfather did.  He passed away when I was a wee babe, so any similarities have to be either coincidental or somehow passed down in the DNA.  I’m rather pleased to be known as a similarly humorous person, as the stories I’ve heard all seem to involve laughter and the odd mischievous prank.  The photos I’ve seen of him suggest that he was quite the card at parties (given the shots of dancing and drink pouring).  I don’t believe I live up to that level of outgoingness, but I find it charming, and hold the photosdear.

Okay, we don’t normally expect to learn profound philosophies in daytime television.  Normally we tune in to escape a bit, or to watch a show with characters whose lives seem more chaotic than our own.

I admit to being legitimately moved, however, when I was catching up last week on episodes of The Young and the Restless, a soap I’ve tuned into here and there since I was a teenager.  Normally the plot lines are rather ridiculous (long lost twins who suddenly appear, people with no credentials working at high-power jobs, etc.).  But on a recent episode involving the appearance of a long-lost relative, I took my thumb off the fast-forward button to watch a scene that resonated with me.

My work as a chair massage practitioner often took me to retirement communities.  One place I had a weekly arrangement with was a residence called Orchard Gardens.  When you entered, there was a kind of library lounge to the right, with comfy upholstered chairs arranged in clusters of three or four.

Bill would always be sitting there alone in one of those clusters, a book open on his lap but his eyes gazing elsewhere, often through the windows that looked out on the fruit trees that the community had been named for.

One day I finished a bit early, so instead of rushing to my car and to the next set of appointments, I went over to Bill and introduced myself.  He greeted me with a firm handshake, and motioned for me to sit down.  We began to chat, but I couldn’t stay long because of my schedule.  I promised I would stop and see him on my next visit.

In our Kin Keepers writing workshops we hear many incredible anecdotes as people begin to share with other participants before they start to write.  As a workshop leader with a weakness for stories, it can be hard not to sit down and spend the whole two hours listening to one person speak eloquently about a mother or grandfather—there are ten other participants with equally fascinating things to share!

Let me give you just one example.

Marlena came to the Kin Keepers workshop with a small album of photos.  They were a sampling, she said, of the larger photo collection she and her sister had found when they had to clean out their mother’s closets after her passing.

Fake news.  Spam emails. Hoax websites. Plagiarized novels.

What looks like information at first. . . turns out, isn’t.

How does anyone know what to believe?  There are strategies to determine if what you are reading is more or less likely to be close to the truth, but wow, what a lot of effort it takes.

It’s ironic that in this age of so much information, it’s hard to know what’s worth paying attention to, and so many people just don’t.  Young people today get most of their information about the world from social media.  What their friends and peers post on Instagram carries more weight, sadly, than a well-researched but long and dry article.

ABOUT THE KIN KEEPERS

The Kin Keepers are those family members who know all the family’s stories, and pass them along to the next generations.  They remember the birthdays, plan the celebrations, and make the calls to see that everyone is okay. Their spirit of kinship is what keeps the family together and strong

Learn more about us

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