Sunday, November 29, 2015

Passing on the family history

Jean Murray Parker is 86 years old and very frail. Barbara Jean and I have been talking about making a visit to Norman, OK, where she lives. Aunt Jean is guardian to us both, serving that role since our Catholic baptisms, and she is the oldest living relative in our family.

I've often told people that we all have a story to tell. My aunt is the keeper of the Murray story, the story of growing up third generation Irish Catholic with an alcoholic father. She also is keeper of the early stories of her siblings--my dad and Barbara Jean's mom. Those stories are sketchy because Daddy and Aunt Kay were 13 and 10 years older than Aunt Jean. But they are long gone and any hope we have of getting any facts to go with the mythical tales our parents told us rest with Aunt Jean. So we plan to fly to Oklahoma as soon as the college breaks for the holidays. We'd drive, but the roads north of Dallas are icy and better weather is not in the forecast. With ISIS on a killing rampage in Paris, Yemen, Tunisia and Turkey and threats they will bring the bombings across the Atlantic, we know flying is risky, but we remember the terrorist who bombed Oklahoma was an American.

I'm a great believer in recollecting and recording one's life experiences, challenges, triumphs, and yes, even--and maybe especially--family secrets, so the generations to come will have access to their family history. I often give workshop participants a quick quiz, which includes questions like these:

  1. What was life like when your grandparents grew up?
  2. Where did they go to school? What were their interests?
  3. What was their hometown like? Their home?
  4. How did your grandparents meet? What was their courtship like? Their wedding?
  5. What were their biggest challenges as parents?
  6. What job(s) did they have?
  7. Did they struggle or thrive during economic hard times?
  8. What were the  traditions of the family?
  9. What was the hardest lesson(s) they learned?
  10. What were their values?
Can you answer these questions about your grandparents? Can your grandchildren answer these questions about you? It's only been recently--with the popularity of FaceBook and other social media--that people have begun to track their happy moments and sad times. Going public, however, isn't necessary. There's a reason we all know what TMI stands for. Having said that, I believe your family should know about the lives and lessons of their relatives. Family history provides a moral compass for descendants.