Recording Your Family Stories

June 6, 2020 – Katie Hill, Library Director

If you’re like me, this pandemic has made it harder to see family. I’m lucky that my maternal grandparents are alive and healthy in Southwest Kansas. While both are in their mid-80s, they are quite healthy. My grandpa is an avid golfer and still plays almost everyday when the weather cooperates, and my grandma has been cursed with the inability to sit down for too long before getting up and tackling some household chore. Both are active in their churches, volunteer at their hospital’s gift shop, and play in multiple weekly bridge groups. A few years ago, we all jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon. My grandparents were thrilled to use the app and track our steps. My grandparents are so active that they routinely outpace me with the weekly step count. Anytime I have a lazy week they are quick to text to make sure everything is okay and ask why I’m not walking as much as I should. It’s been a great way to keep us connected with one another from a distance.

This past Christmas my mom and I gave them an unusual gift. In early fall 2019, I came across the Storyworth company. Storyworth markets themselves as a service to help you preserve your family’s stories. Each week, Storyworth emails your family member a new question that you choose from a master list of recommended questions or one that you write yourself. Your family member is then instructor to write a response, encouraged to upload pictures that go with the story, and after Storyworth receives a response it’s uploaded to their servers for compilation. At the end of the 52-week project, all questions, answers, and associated pictures are compiled into a book that you can have as a keepsake.

My mother and I were concerned with my grandparent’s willingness to participate and their comfort level with answering the questions via the email system, but we decided to give it a shot. I was so excited to give this gift that I waited with bated breath and they opened the Christmas present. Of course, there was disappointment and confusion on their faces as they discovered a lone piece of paper in the box instead of the coveted gift cards to Applebee’s or Amazon that they prefer. The piece of paper detailed the project that we were asking them to complete. It seemed more like I was assigning them homework instead of giving them a gift. But after they received their first question they both realized that the gift they received was allowing them to pass on their family stories in written form that would survive even after they passed. And truly, this will be more a gift for my family than it is for my grandparents, and at their age that has more meaning than any trinket or gift card could ever give them.

We are now 20+ weeks into the project. I have mostly made use of the questions that Storyworth has recommended. But as answers come in and I learn more about my grandparents I have been able to draft some of my own questions. As the giver of the subscription, I receive an email every time they submit an answer. The rest of my family knows about the project, but they will not get to read the answers until the project is over. I plan to purchase additional copies of the keepsake books to give out to the family. It has been such a blessing to receive the answers to their questions. I have learned so much about their lives; what’s influenced them, what’s brought them stress and pain, and what’s brought them joy and pride.

I highly recommend that everyone do this with their family members.  While you don’t have to use a company like Storyworth to record your family’s stories, they have made it an incredibly easy process. This project has also made me more interested in my family’s ancestry and tracing our genealogy. For anyone that is interested in learning more about Storyworth, I would recommend you check out their website. I would also recommend, for anyone who would like to research their family history, that they should make use of the numerous resources we have available both through our subscription to Ancestry.com and our in-house collection in our Genealogy Room (once we open to the public, of course). Also, be on the lookout for the Library’s Genealogy classes. This summer, we will offer some beginner courses (here & here) for those starting out on their genealogical journeys.

Lastly, I’d like to share one of my favorite responses my grandpa has given me as part of our Storyworth project, posted here. Grandpa answered the question, where did you go on vacations as a child? Spoiler: They would pull off the side of the road and the kids would sleep on the ground next to the car! Wow, have times have changed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Cape Girardeau Public Library

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