ZINSSER: One of the saddest sentences I know is I wish I had asked my mother about that. I wish I had asked my father about that. Writers are the custodians of memory so it’s extremely important to get to people, interview your parents, your grandparents. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks. The important thing is to be a recorder of the past. But it’s very important work, I think, writing family history, whether anyone ever sees it or not.
If you have done any family history research, such as looking for records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org or conducting interviews with older family members, you may have pondered writing about your genealogy research. Here are 20 reasons why you should cease pondering and start writing:
You’ll feel wiser.
In 2014, ⅓ online adults used the Internet to learn more about their family history. 67% said that knowing their family history has made them feel wiser as a person. 72% said it helped them be closer to older relatives. 52% said they discovered ancestors they had not known about. Ancestry.com, Global Study of Users, 2014
First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents.
Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit.
“You cannot write our story. You have no right.” In 2004, Native Americans react to depictions of their ancestors in documents about Lewis & Clark. History News, Summer 2014
There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts.
“For members of marginalized groups, speaking personally and truthfully about our lives plays a small part in erasing years of invisibility and interpretation by others.” Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Judith Barrington, 1997
There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines.
“The traditional descendants-of genealogy usually begins with the immigrant and follows descendants for some number of generations. Often they have a paternalistic bent and follow only male descendants who bore the surname….In the future we hope to see less short-changing of maternal lines and collateral lines in published material.” Producing a Quality Family History, Patricia Law Hatcher, 1996
There is a need for more family histories about families who are not affluent.
“Genealogical publishing [in the past] was accessible primarily to the affluent…. Modern genealogists are researching ancestors who are relatively recent immigrants, landless, illiterate, living on the frontier or migrating. There seems to be a trend away from idealizing our ancestors.” Producing a Quality Family History, Patricia Law Hatcher, 1996
Family histories humanize the people you know or knew and remember for those who did not know them.
Information raises questions. Genealogy research has brought new facts into your life.
“They research and write down when and where mom and dad were married. I don’t want to say accurate facts aren’t important, but I do question priorities here. The facts, or at least the important facts, of mom and dad’s marriage were not where and when it took place but what they made of it.” For All Time: A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History, Charley Kempthorne, 1996
It may help you understand your current family dynamics.
“I spent a year writing my story which is also my mother’s story and the story of our family. It was a most enlightening time for me, one I treasure, because it forced me to look at my life, re-shape it in many ways, and to laugh at things that I had taken so seriously before. I matured in many ways and became more tolerant and caring. It also freed me from some of my doubts and fears.” Family Focused: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Your Autobiography and Family History, Janice T. Dixon, 1997
It will help you build or solidify a sense of family.
“Studies show that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory…. Writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.” New York Times, “Writing Your Way To Happiness,” Tara Parker-Pope, January 19, 2015
Don’t take for granted that the lives of your ancestors are lost. Evidence of the people they have been exists somewhere and is discoverable.
“It will have a wider impact than you might imagine.”
After publishing some of her family histories and donating to libraries and archives, author Penny Stratton heard from other researchers that they had found leads and data in her writings. American Ancestors, Spring 2014
Family members and even distant cousins may become more forward in contributing documents, photos, and stories for your genealogical research.
“It’s cousin-bait.” Genea-Musings, “Why Do You Write About Your Personal Research?” Randy Seaver, January 2015
You will be encouraged to archive and preserve the documents on which your family history research is based: certificates, letters, diaries, etc.
“These documents function within the family in the same way that important documents of our common history function within the nation.”
For help preserving your family documents, photos, stories – and doing genealogy research, please contact Personal Historian Patricia Hamilton at 831-649-6640 for a free consultation.
Michael Hemp, Cannery Row Historian, at the opening of the Steinbeck Exhibit in the American Tin Cannery, Monterey
By Dixie Layne, from a story originally printed in the Cedar Street Times
It was an unseasonably warm Friday evening as Steinbeck fans, scholars, historians, students, and enthusiasts joined the artists in an upstairs suite at the American Tin Cannery for the Opening Reception of a brilliant new art exhibit – Steinbeck: The Art of Fiction. Whether by accident or with purpose, the American Tin Cannery is the perfect location for this exhibit – it is in Pacific Grove just across from where the last working cannery on the Row stood, at the edge of the shoreline with its tide pools where Ed Rickets gathered his specimens, a few steps from Rickets’ lab, Wu Chong’s market, and the lot where Mac and the boys lived. This exhibit space has been transformed to an exquisite gallery to showcase artistic interpretations of John Steinbeck’s most memorable fiction by featured artists Lew Aytes, sculptor; Robert Nease, photographer; Warren Chang, painter.
Upon entering the gallery, guests felt as if they had just walked into that place in Steinbeck’s mind where his fictional characters lived – in a real place, in a real time. Greeting them at the door was Steinbeck smoking his pipe, as if to welcome the visitors to his world. Next to him in the corner was a Star Phonograph just waiting for someone to wind it up so the music could play – perhaps Dora would get to that later so the girls could have a dance? Adding to the ambiance are photos from decades past of Cannery Row and the surrounding Pacific Grove and Monterey areas where Steinbeck visited and lived – Steinbeck may have been born in Salinas but Pacific Grove was his muse. Michael Hemp of The History Company displayed photographs of Cannery Row from the late Robert Lewis’ collection (1957-1958). Pat Hathaway complemented the Lewis collection with a display of historical photos of the area from his extensive California Views collection ranging in time and place.
As the guests started their journey through the exhibit, they found Steinbeck’s characters and places he had so artfully illustrated in words take dimension as interpreted by three California artists; Aytes, Nease and Chang – two of whom came of age in Pacific Grove. Documentary filmmaker Eva Lothar “particularly enjoyed the recreation of scenes and characters from Steinbeck’s novels, both as sculpted portraits (Aytes) and mood photography (Nease) and the very realistic depiction of fieldworkers (Chang). An exciting idea that works!” Such pairings that garnered attention is the sculptured portrait of Dora Flood and the themed photography of her “Nile green dress” (Cannery Row) and the Lenny and George portraits paired with the photograph of a brown mouse held in a large, work-worn hand (Of Mice and Men). Hemp remarked that his “most striking impression of the evening was how the Nease photographs had David Armanesco transfixed.” As the visitors further ventured into Steinbeck’s world they found movies screening of his stories that had been translated into film and a chance to sample one of Doc’s beer milkshakes – consensus is they were pretty tasty.
Peggy Logan and Elsworth Amos, Sr.
There was a moment when fiction came face to face with reality … writer and publisher Patricia Hamilton found herself admiring a Lewis’ photograph of “Lady and a Cop” – two people that looked like two characters right out of a Steinbeck novel. Hemp was happy to tell the story of the lady and the cop – Peggy Logan, manager of the old Spindrift Hotel with Cannery Row beat cop who was thought to be Herschel Amos.
Herschel Amos and Patricia Hamilton.
The cop was only recently identified as Elsworth Amos, Sr., when Hamilton revealed she knew Herschel Amos, who is now in his 70’s, from the library at the Masonic Lodge. Herschel, who is a retired Seaside cop, is the son of Elsworth, a Monterey cop who walked the Cannery Row beat for years. More stories of the 1950’s on the Row are sure to come from this meeting.
At the end of the evening Aytes was “very pleased with our opening reception; nearly 300 guests – and more than a few of them sampled Ricketts favorite drink, a beer milkshake.” He went on with some pride to say, “Avid readers seemed to enjoy the mix of Steinbeck quotes, art, and Cannery Row history. I’m pretty sure those who haven’t read Steinbeck will take up a book soon, and those who haven’t read him for many years will reread their favorite story.“
The exhibit is located in the American Tin Cannery at 125 Ocean View Boulevard, suite 201 – where Pacific Grove meets Cannery Row; the exhibit runs through March 31 and is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. In February the exhibit will begin welcoming special guests and events: on Friday, February 13, filmmaker Eva Lothar will screen her documentary film, “Street of the Sardine”, at 6:00 PM; on Saturday, February 21, Benjamin Brode will exhibit his original art work created to illustrate Thomas Steinbeck’s book, In Search of the Dark Watcher.