Read an Excerpt
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning there is always the beginning, and this can be the hardest part.
The message of the book you hold in your hand is that family history projects have no rules. Family history projects have options. Family history is fun. It shouldn't feel like doing your taxes. You can preserve your family history in absolute freedom, just by remembering moments.
But how to begin?
Begin by planting questions in your mind. The mind loves an assignment. Your brain will take over from there. Stories start to sprout like sweet pea vines. This book is meant to lead you through the process.
Your family history is not meant to be painted in broad brush strokes, summing up the meaning of the millennium. It is a description of your living room, of your grandmother's living room. Your life.
The original book in our series, To Our Children's Children, asks questions you already know the answers to. All you have to do is read them. Immediately, a story comes to mind. The book has helped hundreds of thousands of families preserve their history.
Some of those questions are interspersed through-out this book, set apart. You'll see that each one can be answered in countless ways.
Your life is lived in segments. They connect decade to decade and generation to generation by an invisible thread. This thread has been handed to us by everyone who came before us.
We will be following that thread, to see where it leads.
It leads us first to that old blank page.
No one should have to face it alone.
It's only a piece of paper.
The most valuable advice I've everreceived wasn't from my mother.
It was from a drawing teacher. I was thirty years old at the time.
I was in an evening class, studying life drawing. Life drawing is the class in art school where students sit in a circle surrounding a nude model. They study that person and try to portray her on the page.
One would think that the model in the circle would be the most nervous person in the room. This was not the case, although I've seen some nervous ones. One poor woman flushed into a bright red rash right before my eyes.
The most nervous people in the room are the art students. They are warriors come to battle with the page. It is the most fearsome of opponents and the single most effective thing that stops a soul from starting.
The blank page stands between the artist and his or her intention.
Here's the advice, uttered by this teacher, a man I remember nothing about except these words he aimed out into the room that struck a bull's-eye with me.
"What's the worst thing that could happen?" he said as he walked around the studio. The floor was hard and you could hear his footsteps. "What's the worst thing that could happen? Here's the worst thing that could happen: You'll waste a piece of paper."
That was the most freeing remark I ever heard.
It said, "Begin, and if you don't like it, then begin again."
It said the worst thing that could happen was not so bad at all.
It didn't say a word about the best thing.
This story has everything to do with preserving family history.
In art classes people say, "Oh, I can't draw! I can't even draw a straight line."
Of course they can't! No one can. That's why we have rulers. Drawing is a free-form art. It is not dependent upon straight lines.
Preserving family history is a free-form art, as well. Precise dates and places and researched data are available for your discovery, and they provide a strong foundation. However, facts are not all there is to a history of a family. There are treasures made of words. Stories.
Stories we may be fuzzy about until we get to thinking. Stories that we may not remember in detail, but we know how we felt at the time. Stories like the one I overheard the other day in the towel department of a store.
A man and a woman were shopping. I heard her say she was "letting him" pick out the towels this time. Be that as it may, you don't go shopping for towels and not get into a discussion. So she was discussing her own towel preferences as he was picking up navy blues from the table and putting them back down for beiges.
"I like these," she said, standing at another table. "I like these, but I'd never buy a striped towel. I'll never have stripes. They remind me of when I was growing up and we had striped washcloths in the downstairs lavatory. They were so thin and flimsy. I guess we couldn't afford new ones. But I hated those washcloths and I told myself I'd never have striped ones again."
Her trip to the towel table ended up taking her to a much more interesting place. If she were to go home and write that thought down, her remembrance of striped washcloths past, she would have begun her family history.
Effortlessly. Naturally. Painlessly. Without even realizing she had.
One thought begets another. The striped washcloths might lead her to the realization that maybe her family didn't have enough money to make replacement washcloths a priority. She could carry the thought further. Who lived in the house with her, what did their rooms look like, what did they all eat for supper?
Family history isn't hard. We do it every day without thinking about it. Our minds naturally travel in that direction. Our minds are always going home.
Nothing lasts forever unless we write it down. When we take the time to write, we are reviewing, and reflecting back like silver mirrors.
We are asking ourselves to do something important.
Which is the place we often stop before we begin.
* Beginning is scary. * The worst thing you can do is waste a piece of paper. * Telling stories comes naturally. * Nothing lasts forever unless you write it down.