“Does anyone bother to write down personal family history anymore?” asked Bob Brody, who blogs at letterstomykids.org, today in a San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum piece titled Connect Your Children with Their Family History (It will appear online on the paper’s sf.gate.com site Sunday, June 19th)
In his own informal survey Brody found that three in four respondents believed that parents or grandparents should write a personal family history for the younger generation. However, 40% of these same respondents said that they had never gotten around to doing it.
Dick Eastman, author of an influential Online Genealogy Newsletter cites a 1995 survey in American Demographics magazine which indicated that four in ten Americans were “at least somewhat interested” in family history as still the best measure of genealogy’s popularity. But Eastman believes that the number who actually do anything about recording theirs is much lower.
It’s not for lack of encouragement. Former President Bill Clinton said after completing his own memoir, “Anyone who's fortunate enough to live to be 50 years old should take some time to sit down and write the story of your life, even if it's only twenty pages, and even if it's only for your children and grandchildren.”
Oprah Winfrey told her viewers, “I urge you to pursue preserving your personal history to allow your children and grandchildren to know who you were as a child and what your hopes and dreams were.”
The rapidly growing popularity of websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and the success of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, suggest a recent increase in interest in family history.
Among those who had taken the time to get some of their family memories down on paper, Brody found three leading motives: leaving a legacy, rediscovering great memories and the opportunity for self-expression.
Brody recalls that he put off doing anything himself for years. Then, he “started to keep journals, one for my son and another for my daughter.
“Every other week I took an hour or so to capture a special memory …I also shared anecdotes about my own life, mainly about my parents and grandparents and my childhood.”
As a person who assists people in creating family histories I think Brody hit on the key to what will engage the next generation – stories. Facts are fine, but stories are the things that interest readers.
By getting your stories down on paper, I believe you’ll find, as Bob Brody did, that “…you’ll leave your children (or grandchildren) a keepsake even more precious than your wedding ring, an heirloom as valuable in its own right as your house, a tangible, heartfelt legacy for the next generation vastly better than any insurance policy.”
Brody closes by issuing a challenge to dads:
"Make 2011 the year you invest in your past. And as you summon memories to share, you’ll be surprised. You’ll understand more about your life. You’ll find out just how deeply you love your kids. And they’ll find out, too.”