There is an internet meme that says, “Nobody cares about your story until you win.” The advice then is to go win. Although motivating to athletes or competitors, this adage is false and needs to be quashed by family historians.
A sweet woman named Elizabeth who hailed from South Carolina, said “Why should I bother writing a memoir or keep a diary? I haven’t done anything special.”
Reasons Why Your Family History Matters
While pondering Elizabeth’s question I thought about the post 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History, found on the New York Public Library Blog. One reason listed in the article applies to Elizabeth.
There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts.
Elizabeth is a Baby Boomer from The Palmetto State with brown skin with cool, jewel undertones and an effervescent smile. Incorrectly she believes nobody would care what she wrote. Thinking about the 20 Reasons article, she has it all wrong. Her story could provide a diverse perspective on South Carolina’s history.
A Strange Wish To Bless Elizabeth, or You
Oh, how I wish I could blink myself into Elizabeth’s memory bank for an objective audit. Imagine replaying the movie that features life with its “ordinary, everyday experiences” that are truly “extraordinary.” I wish I could do the same for you if you think no one cares about you since you’re ‘not a winner.’
Average individuals have not cornered the market on feeling unworthy of biographies or biographical sketches. Professionals, who have contributed to their fields of study or industry, often think their story isn’t worth sharing.
One scientist told me his biography didn’t matter because he hadn’t impacted his field as much as other scientists.
From the inside looking out, perhaps that’s true. From the outside looking in, I wish I could shake him and say, “Are you kidding me?” Each cog in the system is valuable.
Small Moments Make Great Family Histories
The smallest moments in the lives of average individuals have more depth of meaning that any documentary on a celebrity or political leader imaginable. I know because my ancestors’ stories are some of my greatest treasures.
My Uncle-In-Law Steve was too tall to be an Ewok for the Star Wars movie. He’s an absolutely hilarious dwarf. One small moment in his life is a treasured story in our family. It’s entitled, “Why I’m Better Suited For Fishing.”
For dwarfs, things are challenging in the world of “big people.” One camping trip ended his hunting exploits. He was camping animals that have white fur during the winter. He had to cross a stream on a log, wearing a backpack nearly as large as he was. After setting up camp, a heavy snowstorm set in. That much snow could make a lot of things challenging when you’re only 4 foot 2.
Uncle Steve then details how he attempted to cross the stream again by straddling it. He did not succeed because his legs wouldn’t wrap around the log. The tragically funny mishaps continue until Steve declares he’s not cut out for hunting.
Notice how small the moment is. You can’t tell me you don’t have similar small moments that your family wouldn’t love to revisit again and again if you’d just write them down.
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Even Bad Family Stories Are Worth Recording
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, the Trumps, and the Kardashians receive a lot of press for their antics both past and present. However, the celebrities do not compare to a conference attendee’s hilarious retelling of what her grandma did after discovering her husband was cheating.
Grandma put her wayward husband into the truck, drove him into the middle of nowhere, and left him there to rot for all she cared. Upon returning home, she unceremoniously removed his things from the house and began the divorce proceedings.
The storyteller peppered her account with details that were just as shocking as tabloid accounts of the folks I just mentioned. I wish I could relay all the comical elements of this story, but I promise they were worth recording. I laughed so hard and could only say, “Good for you Grandma!”
This Grandma’s tenacity impressed her granddaughter.
Stop Letting Celebrities and “Winners” Get all the Press
How we and our ancestors handle the challenges and trials of life can provide inspiration or a cautionary tale for our family and others. Let’s stop letting the well-known celebrities have books dedicated to their stories and their ancestors' stories.
I remember Donny Osmond’s RootsTech 2015 Keynote when he said, “Has your life been documented? If not, why not? The legacy you leave behind is just as significant as anyone else, including me.”
Fans enjoy reading Donny Osmond’s story but your family will enjoy reading yours. If you don’t believe me, check this out.
When I published Papa: The Story of Lewis Sherman Brown, my aunt bought several copies for her children to have as a Christmas present. Two of the three have thanked me for the project and now want to learn more about their family tree. This happened because I wrote a family history for cousins who I thought would never care.
Write your stories – the good, the bad, and the funny.