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University of Illinois Extension

Share Your Stories

August 23, 2012

We live in an amazing technological age. Historical information is recorded almost before it happens. Yet, ironically, many adults and children know very little about their own family history. Family mobility, geographical distance, and hurried lifestyles provide limited opportunities for younger and older generations to engage in family storytelling - an activity that used to be a natural occurrence in the daily lives of most families. Storytelling was often the responsibility of older persons in the family and was a way to make sure other generations learned about their family's history and heritage. Historically, the wisdom of older adults was highly valued. They were entrusted with maintaining their family's cultural heritage and were seen as "keepers of the community."

There are many benefits of sharing life stories with others. People who share their life stories:

So how do you share your life stories with others? It is a common trend today to share thoughts and stories through journal writing. There are many books available to help you start the journaling process. It is also not unusual for younger family members to video or audio tape older family members as they tell their stories or what is called oral history interviewing. Most people cannot share all their stories in one sitting. Every story represents a different chapter or episode in one's life. Each episode should have a beginning, middle and end. In reality, though, stories are not usually told in an orderly way. Typically, thoughts from one story will trigger the start of another story or topic. It is usually the responsibility of the listener to bring the unfinished stories back on track if the topic has changed before the story is finished.

Families have multiple ways of passing on their histories and legacies and no one method works for everyone. Some families have success with oral history interviewing. Others have devised methods for writing down Grandpa's stories or using pictures and narratives to document key events and activities. The advent of electronic tools has contributed to a creative wave of collecting and documenting family histories.

Share your stories with someone today!

Source: Cheri Burcham, Extension Educator, Family Life, cburcham@illinois.edu

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