I Believe in Writing Down Family Stories

Melissa - Christiansburg, Virginia
Entered on April 15, 2009
Age Group: 65+
Themes: family, legacy
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

This I Believe

I believe in recording your family history, not only with the dates, but with stories of people and events. Have I always done this? Not at all. In the early part of our marriage, my husband and I were more concerned with meeting daily challenges rather than recording them. However, about two years ago, my sister and I were going through some genealogy material compiled by my Great Aunt Catherine, and we came across yellow legal pads filled with handwritten stories. I stayed up late, reading, looking for stories of Virginia, my mother. There weren’t any. I consoled myself that I did have two of her diaries that another aunt had passed on to me. Mother had enclosed recipes, articles from newspapers, pamphlets giving advice about buying silver for a bride during WWII, and had written of me. She was 26 and I was four when she died, the result of a fall down some stairs. I had some pictures of her, her diaries, and a shadowy memory. My dad married soon afterwards and we didn’t talk of Virginia. I don’t remember anyone talking of Virginia and now there is nobody to ask. After her death, I went to stay with my beloved grandparents for a time, and while I was always in touch with them, I didn’t ask about their families or their lives either. How could I not have done that? Such a chunk of my heritage is missing. So, I’m determined to leave a family history for my descendants.

I spent some time trying to decide how to start. I decided that even the brief fragments I’d written over the years would be helpful, and I rooted through the boxes in the attic until I’d unearthed them. I had family Christmas letters. I gathered more information as I shredded old receipts and checks. I made some notes. For me a laptop computer was better than pen and paper because of my handwriting, the delete key, and the spell checker. Then too, I could insert things I’d forgotten. I began, “My name is —— and I was born on —–. My parents ——–. Some of my earliest memories are of ———.

I would never have thought about this project until I read Great Aunt Catherine’s notes, and realized how glad I was that she had taken the time to write for us. We may not have greatness in our lives or made earth changing decisions, but our descendants will have a record of what I thought and how I lived. Am I finished? Definitely not.