What is Your Legacy?
Although family history and genealogy are two entirely different terms, they intertwine, offering a legacy of their own. Genealogy is simply tracing your lineage and attaching names to your relatives. Family history involves the stories behind those people, and includes birth and death dates, places they lived and worked, and even associations with friends and neighbors. Family history provides the essence of genealogy, offering substance that runs deep beyond the names, giving you a glimpse of family traditions and values that transcend the gaps of generations.
What does family history have to do with your legacy? Your family history is perhaps the best legacy you can leave your children and grandchildren for many reasons. It costs nothing. You provide a wealth of information more important than any physical object. Sharing family history also provides an avenue for seniors to connect with younger relatives. Many children love listening to stories, and older adults like to tell them. Doing so cultivates a bond between age groups that may otherwise feel they have nothing in common.
In todayâ€™s world of fast-paced technology, tracing genealogy and family history is much easier than ever. Web sites like Ancestry.com offer tools to build your family tree and connect you with relatives you have not found. Comfort Keepers reached out to Loretto Szucs (“Lou”), a seventy year-old grandmother and Vice President of Community Relations at Ancestry.com., to talk about families sharing their family history. Lou is a perfect example about how technology can help grow a family tree. Louâ€™s aunt adopted her and she knew nothing of her fatherâ€™s family. Years ago, Lou tracked down a living aunt on her fatherâ€™s side that was able to pass on valuable family history. The two corresponded until Louâ€™s aunt died, but were unable to meet in person, and Lou did not know what her aunt looked like. When Lou decided to build her family tree on Ancestry.com, a distant relative she had never heard of saw her tree and contacted Lou. It turns out, this relative knew her aunt and was able to provide a picture of her for Lou that she treasures to this day. Connecting with this relative also allowed Lou to extend her family tree in a direction she never knew existed.
Louâ€™s story is important in another way. As a senior with younger relatives of her own, she knows first-hand how difficult it can be for people from different generations to find something in common. But, her younger relatives love hearing how her great-grandfather made a hat for Abraham Lincoln, as well as many other stories she knows because her elderly loved ones passed them on to her. They have lots of fun building their family tree.
Why is it important for seniors to connect with younger generations? Lou says, â€śYoungsters need something that is not here today and gone tomorrow. Even playing cards or watching TV together is fleeting, but creating a family tree together is about connecting for a lifetime. Children and young adults need the stories and family values that have been passed downâ€¦from the stories that come through a relative.â€ť
Connecting this way can be fun and easier than you might expect.Â Comfort Keepers suggests starting with children interviewing parents and grandparents. Use recorders, journals, or video tapes, if possible. Kids are technically savvy and can help look up names and other information online to help extend the family tree. Parents and grandparents have the stories. That makes the connectionâ€¦and the bond grows from there!
â€śItâ€™s therapeutic for my generation because it makes us feel important that people are interested and gives a sense of worth,â€ť Lou confides. â€śIt feels nice to know my story is worth telling because it can inspire and help someone. It makes me happy because someone cares to listen.â€ť
What is your legacy? That is a good question and once you really consider it, you may find the legacy you wish to leave behind has nothing to do with money and things that may make up your estate. While many of us may have vast holdings to pass down to the family, just as many may not. The most important legacy you can leave behind does not consist of material things. What is more valuable are the stories and history of your family being passed down through generations. For the origins of family history, when patched together, make the colorful fabric of your life – who you are, where you came from, and the people who played a part in your being, whether you knew them or not.
When you give yourself the opportunity to sit down with an important person in your life and ask them about their past memories, it can be a life-changing experience. As most of us know, memories can be sweet and happy, sad and bitter, or simply reflections of contentment. Memories are abstract references of who we are, and how we came to be. Not all memories are deep and meaningful, but they are the colorful pieces of our lives that define us, give us purpose, and keep us moving through life, until its end. You can learn a lot – not just about the person you are speaking with, but also about who you are – by simply listening.
This year, take the time to sit down with the older people in your family and ask them about memories from their pasts. StoryCorps is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs, the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps believes, “By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.”
Since 2003, StoryCorps has provided an avenue for people to post and share life experiences on their website. It is as simple as recording conversations, and if you choose, archiving in the American Folk History section of the National Library of Congress. In 2008, StoryCorps spearheaded the first National Day of Listening, which now falls every year on the day after Thanksgiving. The goal is to inspire younger Americans to spend time talking with the important people in their lives about memories of their pasts. Whether speaking to a father, or a grandmother, neighbor or a teacher – the idea is to help people connect through the power of listening.
The experience of listening to your loved one’s story can lead to laughter and maybe a few tears, but, most importantly, you will learn valuable information about the person you are listening to, and gain stories to pass down through the generations of your family. Your great-grandchildren will delight in retelling the crazy antics of your grandmother, or come to revere their great-grandfather as a legend in a past war or other encounter. Younger members of your family will become familiar with ancestors they never met, and come to understand the fabric of the past that led to their being. The history of your family will be recorded, remembered, and talked about for years to come.