The year is 1881 and my Great Grandfather (Theophillus Adcock) is 30 years old and his wife, Sarah, is pregnant with their 5th child. Queen Victoria has been on the English throne for 44 years and the Crown Hotel, which takes centre stage for this story, has already been serving the locals for over 200 years.
How do you turn your words into a family history? You write about them! If flashbacks to tortured school essays are the first images that come to mind have probably already decided that this post is not for you. But, it can be if you ignore words, like "autobiography", "memoirs" and "family history". Generations from now a simple sentence may offer an insight to your great great grand daughter that far outweighs any object wrapped in tissue paper or displayed in a cabinet.
Researching your family history usually begins with finding names, dates & places. It doesn't take long before you have a list of births & baptisms, deaths & marriages, occupations & residences. The thrill of the chase keeps us searching and our lists grow longer. But who wants to read lists? Now is the time to take those lists and turn them into something else. Something your family will enjoy reading!
In Downsizing Family Heirlooms I warned that you should "be prepared to be disappointed!" I wrote about "what is", "how to" and the history of family heirlooms. The more I wrote the more dissatisfied I became with my ramblings and explanations. It wasn't until I began writing my conclusion that I understood what I really wanted to write was the stories behind my own family heirlooms. Now, any blogger will tell you that if you make your reader scroll too far down the page you are in danger of them missing the punch line of your article. There is no way my mother's flying brass ducks were going to be relegated to blogger oblivion! In this post, family heirlooms are given back their stories that will go with them into the future for as long as those stories are remembered.
With it's roots in English Law, an heirloom is described as an item that is passed down the generations through family members. As heirlooms go, the Crown Jewels of the Queen of England have to be right up there alongside Monet's, Chippendale's and the Kohinoor diamond. They are perfect examples of how their history and their value guarantee their longevity as an heirloom. Ordinary family heirlooms, on the other hand, have a far more checkered existence. For some the emotional connection and life circumstances will see these treasures survive as family heirlooms. But, when the emotional connection is not shared and lifestyles change what then?
Be warned, if your goal is to research how to podcast your short story then typing "digital story telling" in the task bar is going to be somewhat disheartening as its use as a either a marketing tool or a classroom activity takes the lead in search engine results. Advertising, television and gaming are so well established in our 21st century digital age that it's not surprising that the media of choice for digital story telling is overwhelmingly visual. However, with today's baby boomers and their offspring taking up the fastest growing hobby of genealogy (not to mention the impetus derived from the publication of Alex Hayley's "Roots" in the 1970's) there is always room for new "players" in the form of story tellers who want to podcast their short stories.
Anyone engaged in writing family histories will understand the challenges in uncovering supporting documents. But, the bigger challenge we face, as amateur family historians, is finding the hidden stories behind those "facts". I can now declare that finding hidden stories in military records is a whole new ball game! During WW1 my Great Uncle Arthur Ilson moved around, a lot! Different battalions, different countries & various hospitals. I know all this because somehow, in all the chaos and mayhem that surrounded him, someone kept hand written records that have been saved for me to read 100 years later!
Military historians poor over the records to dissect, analyze and speculate about the places, arsenal and movement of the "troops". When a family historians pours over the same military records they will take on another dimension altogether. The "troops" include your Great-Uncle. The location becomes a place your visit and put your hand on the bark of an old tree. The speculations include the sister who receives payment every month for the efforts of her baby brother. The same military records will become the scaffolding for a story that has been hidden for over 100 years.
As family historians we can all agree that coincidences happen. Where we may disagree is whether they are meaningful coincidences or meaningless coincidences. Which you choose will depend on whether you believe in cosmic forces, outside the world of pragmatism, or not. If you are firmly in the "random" camp you can admit it's odd and move on with out any further engagement. But,what if you don't move on?
Some of you may set an alarm to remind you to get up from your computer, stretch your back and re focus your eyes. But then again you may be like me and only resurface when your bladder, partner, kids or hunger demand attention. I have found podcasts to be the perfect alternative to alarms that go off just when you're on a roll. It also has the added advantage that my research/blog is still making progress while I have my feet up and a cup of coffee in hand!