What a nice write-up about SOML today from this blogger who has been doing life stories of people in Australia for years. He discusses the importance of capturing the stories and how things change (quickly) and how we'd all be rich if we had a dollar for every time we heard "if only I'd captured the stories my grandmother/father, mother/father, sister/brother, aunt/uncle used to tell, before they passed on".
In what way have the changes to the way we live our life in the 21st century impacted on how we learn our family stories and preserve our life story?
Talking this week with a large group of retirees the subject of sharing family stories in an informal setting arose. As the conversation continued it drifted towards subjects concerning the time we share together with extended family and how those opportunities to create shared time for family story telling has changed.
Some participants in my conversation talked about sharing homes with two or even three different family groups from their extended families. Yet others recounted years of living in the same street or within a 10 minute walk of their extended family. In other words, in times past there were few “empty nests” and when a family member married they often continued to live in the family home or else set up their own family home not too far away from their roots, remaining in close contact more often than not. Over time, with greater household wealth, better transport options and the internationalising of work opportunities, families began to spread out over cities, countries and then throughout the world. Now I can logon to my Lifetime Memories and Stories facebook page and see siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends and their families spreadout in every state in the country and throughout the world in almost every continent.
What do these profound changes in the way we live our lives mean to family story keeping?
They way we are physically dispersed around the world and how we live today means that few of us will ever again spend as much time with in the same physical space with our extended families as those of earlier generations once did.
Grandchildren won’t spend as much time with grandparents, nieces and nephews won’t spend time with their uncles and aunts and, because by and in large it was the informal time that we spent living together or gathering for shared holidays, frequent family gatherings, perhaps today in the 21st century we are more distant from our families than ever before. We simply do not have the time to get to know each other on a deeper level as families once did.
When you know someone well and share experiences it allows for a safer and more comfortable space where personal story telling on an even deeper level can occur. What I mean is that the difference between a grandparent and grandchild spending time together when they are very familiar with each other and when they see each other once or twice a year is immense.
The meeting that occurs in a once or twice a year physical relationship does not necessarily reduce the love expressed or lessen the joy experienced when we do meet but it does mean that the time spent together is more of a “catchup” or a “treating” time together and our interactions tend to be concentrated on that level. When you know someone well and are comfortable just “being”, the opportunities to explore beyond the surface are more. This is what has the greatest impact on the traditional family story telling opportunities. Opportunities like summer holidays spent together when conversations naturally surface references to times past and we feel comfortable asking about “old aunt so and so” or what did you do when you were working at… or living at…
I am not suggesting that we can ever recreate the style of living we once had in simpler times past. I am, however, suggesting that we must be conscious to grab each opportunity that presents itself to get to know our greater family and family stories with both hands. And also perhaps take advantages of the technology that is now available to help supplement the face to face connections we no longer have.
Facebook is one example that can help you to stay in touch and build and maintain relationships with family and friends over distance. It cannot replace shared times in a physical space but at least it has the facility for us to share and reach out. Personally I have begun to use it to reach out to my extended family that is located throughout the world. I can see by the interactions I am having across time zones and generations that by doing so I have begun engaging and communicating with cousins that I have been able to share very little time with in a physical sense. We have begun to share little bits of our lives and tentatively comment on each other’s activities. From that we have started to share little bits of our family stories at a deeper level and I freely admit I am encouraging it wherever I can for I know that we each hold previous pieces of our family’s collective knowledge.
Recently I was introduced to another great website specifically created for the preservation of life stories.
“Story of My Life“ is an online place where the tools exist to preserve your life story in words, audio, video and images and preserve that for all time. There are other sites like it but in my exploration thus far I think “Story of My Life” is a pretty good one. You can keep your story private, share it with select people or the world and through the “The Story of My Life Foundation” they have created the means whereby they assure users that this data is accessible online forever. The foundation exists to do nothing else but to store and safeguard life stories, forever. And I think that is a pretty neat thing! In a future post I will blog more specifically about how I am going to use it and what I think of the technical aspects but I can see the unending possibilities of sharing my family story.
Together with my extended family I can see us building a really great repository for our future generations and perhaps rebuilding a family community in new ways for the 21st century at a “grass roots” level. Perhaps I can use facebook and “Story of My Life” to inspire new generations of the family to get together in the real world and build on something we have only just begun online and if by posting this I have started you thinking about the possibilities for your own family then I would be very happy.
There is no doubt that if we want to preserve our family stories into the future we need to adapt and change. I would be interested in knowing how you are currently using or plan to use the new technology available to you to build and maintain your own connections across your extended family.