Tuesday, June 23, 2009

History and Me

If you're like most kids, HISTORY of any kind is/was your most boring subject in school. I remember memorizing facts in elementary school on up to college just to pass tests while having no interest at all in the subject.

It wasn't until I matured (read aged a bit) that I began to see the interaction between HISTORY and ME. My awareness may have started when I became aware that I had Mormon pioneers who immigrated from Europe to America after their conversion. I was curious about their homelands and lives there. Also traveling in Europe and other places in the world made me aware of the great differences between countries and cultures. Which led me to say...How come?

Well, being a curious person, I started reading history books for my own personal satisfaction and not to fulfill requirements for a class or to study for a test. Now I was motivated to learn. Perhaps if I'd had a really good HISTORY teacher sometime in my school days, I would have had more interest in this subject earlier.

Nowadays, I'm amazed by what I don't know. Reading the newspaper or watching TV I keep finding subjects that I know nothing about. Lately, we've taken to watching documentary DVDs about the HISTORY of America and I have learned so much more about my own country's development and struggles. I never really understood much about the War of 1812 until I studied it more. Of course watching a well organized DVD is so much easier than reading a dry boring HISTORY book with few illustrations.

As I've studied the lives of my early ancestors, I realized their histories needed to be written so my family members would know more of our heritage and background. That's how my interest in HISTORY really developed when I began the search for my genealogical ROOTS 49 years ago while a college student. I think if I were to start over in college, I'd be apt to major in HISTORY and/or writing. I love HISTORY of any kind.

Tell us how you feel about this topic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dads are Different

Father’s Day might be a good day to consider starting to compile your dad’s life story, if it’s not written. Some men are journal keepers, most aren’t. When you finally decide to record his history, it can be a challenge. Remember to ask open-ended questions you want answered before you interview him. It does takes time for that special man in your life to feel comfortable enough to openly discuss his life.

Years ago, I compiled a history of my step dad who was a stoic WWII veteran. He didn’t say much unless you got him talking about the war or politics. No one had ever written his life story down. When he was in his late 80s and having health problems, I decided it was time to interview him and compile his life story for his posterity––many who lived in other states and didn’t see him often. I took notes which I transferred to the computer later for him to check for accuracy. At first I got just the facts ma’am. Later after he was more comfortable talking to me and enjoying telling his story, I started to ask more probing questions like…How did you feel about the war and the Japanese soldiers you were fighting?

His completed story was only twenty pages long and focused mainly on his war years, but I added some background information about his parents. His father was from Sweden and had served in the Swedish army. His mom was from Kansas and met his dad after he’d immigrated to America to work on the railroad. With family and military photos, my stepfather’s history started to come alive. From this project to preserve his legacy for future generations, I learned to understand and appreciate him more.

To be successful in writing a dad’s history, you need the cooperation of your subject. Finding a topic he likes to talk about is the beginning, whether it’s his military experiences, hobbies like hunting or fishing or his work. Listening carefully with genuine interest will build a relationship of trust. If your dad is deceased, it’s still possible to write a story of his life, but it will take more effort and research into his life and background. Interviewing your oldest remaining family members and others that knew him is important. Do it today, as none of us are getting any younger. It’s time to preserve your dad’s legacy.