Regrets are common when it comes to oral history. Either you didn’t get to it while there was still time or, even if you did record some stories, you have to live with the knowledge that you missed so much more than you got. There will always be gaps and missed opportunities.
Avoid the paralysis of regret. Think of other people who might be able to shed light on your family past and have them share – while there’s still time.
In our last entry, Joe Da Rold, Director of the Plainfield (NJ) Public Library, suggested alternative means of preserving memories such as memoir writing and e-mail chains. But I left off a third strategy that’s especially close to Joe’s heart – creating a family memory book. Here are Joe’s personal thoughts on how this approach worked for his family:
“I’ve always regretted that I did not have sufficient interest in my own family history when I was younger. By the time I started developing an interest, too many of my family who knew the history were gone. I would urge family historians to collect whatever letters and photographs they can find, and authenticate them as soon as possible. Although I became the repository of photographs from both sides of my family, so many are unidentified and undated. The ones that are, are priceless.
“The most treasured document in my private archives is a Memory Book that my sister and I created for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. Going through their Christmas mailing list, we wrote to family and family friends to ask them to contribute a memory of our parents. Some sent photos that brought back our own childhood memories. Longtime friends of our parents shared memories of couples enjoying their years before children entered the scene. And family members shared touching memories of how our parents had touched their lives. My sister and I – only one year apart – each wrote one-page memories of our childhoods. You would think our stories would be nearly identical, but how different our experiences and observations were!
“Although we had hoped to make copies of this book, this was long, long before the days of desktop publishing. But now that my parents are gone, the original has come back to me, and what a keepsake it is. I recommend families consider doing this for every important family occasion because the friends and family who contribute memories will never be the same as the years pass.”
© 2010 Lee Price