As someone who has been involved in instrumental and choral music since I was a teenager, I enjoy Glee. This week’s episode was a particularly powerful one. It was the first time a show geared towards teenagers dealt with the issue of school shootings. No spoilers here, but the episode ends with the kids together on the stage singing Say What You Need to Say.
This made me think even more about how times have changed. When I was in high school, the worst thing I had to worry about was getting shoved into a locker. Or trying to fit in with the other kids. My nieces, however, have to worry about crazy people carrying guns in and shooting people. It is a fact of life for them.
So what does this have to do with genealogy? Plenty. Genealogists spend so much time researching our ancestors. After you find the details of birth, marriage, and death, you move on. You dig through resource after resource to build a picture of your ancestors’ lives. And then you bump into a nagging professional like me, who reminds you to gather all your research and share it with the family. You want your ancestors’ life stories to be remembered.
If you are lucky, in your research you will come across family letters, diaries, journals, or other personal papers that give you direct insight into your ancestors’ lives. You can hear first-hand they felt and thought, what their experiences were as they travelled through life and what it meant to them. Unfortunately, many of us do not have those resources available to us. And without those personal insights, it is difficult to know what really happened.
But how often do you think of your own life story? Do you keep a diary or journal? Have you written down vignettes from your life. What was it like for you as a child in your family? How did things change for you as an adult? Was there a “black sheep” in the family? If so, why was he or she considered to be that?
Personally, I think it is important to share these stories. I want family members not yet born to know what it was like for me growing up knowing I was different from everyone else. What was it like as a gay kid in an era when it was considered wrong and shameful? There is no doubt in my mind that within another generation, people will look back at that as we look on the proponents of racism and slavery, and family members in the future won’t have first-hand experience with it anymore.
I want them to know why I am the only family member to not appear in my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary photograph. I want them to understand the good times and the bad my family has gone through dealing with my brother’s degenerative disease that will cut his life short. I want them to know what it is like to have a sister who stopped speaking to me years ago because of her prejudices. I want them to know how grateful I am to have parents who support their children so strongly.
Sometimes talking about ourselves and our own lives is something we are afraid to do. We worry too much about what other people think. The reality is that your story is your story, your truth is your truth. No one can better explain what your life was like than you. If you are afraid that living people will be hurt or angry with you, that’s fine. You don’t have to share those stories today if you don’t want to. But you can write them down or record them. Then give them to a repository. You can even restrict access to them until after a certain time period has passed (such as 75 years after your death, when most people old enough to care now will also be gone).
It is so important to share your stories with the future. Think of you feel when you read a diary or journal from someone long dead. It gives you insights into them that you cannot get otherwise. And your family’s descendants will love you for having left a record of them. None of us knows how much time we have here, but we do know that it is always a finite amount. So say what you need to say, and leave it for posterity.