Amanda Jurgens and her grandmother, Loree Jurgens, Thanksgiving 2014. Clinking glasses for family storytelling!
“I want my grandmother to tell me her stories! I don’t want them to be lost … they are valuable to me,” Amanda Jurgens, Manager at In-Shape Gym in Pacific Grove, said when I mentioned the power of ancestor stories. “She is the holder of all the knowledge of our family; no one else knows what she does and she needs to share these stories with me.
“It’s important to know about the struggles they’ve overcome, and not to take for granted what they had to go through for me to be the way I am. I am the result of their experiences—it just makes common sense! I am a combination of their nature and nurture.”
I offered to help Amanda work with her grandmother, Loree Jurgens, to tell and write her stories. Over Thanksgiving, amidst the clamor of cooking and the noise of other conversations, Amanda did speak with Loree—and so their journey begins.
Later when we met for coffee at Juice & Java, Amanda’s eyes opened wide as she described a four-generation family photo. The photo is of Amanda; her mother, April; her grandmother, Loree; and her great-grandmother, Ruth. “Oh, my gosh,” she said, “they were all powerful women—and so am I!”
I love these “Aha!” moments of self-knowledge and empowerment when familial connections become apparent for the first time.
A Son Reconnects With His Father
“That’s an interesting cabinet. It looks really old.” David Hill, owner of Bow Tie Carpet Cleaners, commented on the antique cabinet I was moving aside for him. Dr. Griswold, my great grandfather, kept his medical instruments in the cabinet, and now it holds my collection of family photos, books, and mementos. I told David that the Dr. delivered my mother, one of triplets, in 1909. And so began our conversation about family stories.
David said, “My father was a Marine Sergeant and then a police officer. I grew up in a very structured and controlled home environment. At his urging, I joined the Marines and was stationed at Ft. Ord. I never returned home after I was discharged and we lost contact. I can see his hand in the way I turned out, but I chose a different, gentler path.
“Recently I came across this photo of my father and as I held it in my hands powerful emotions coursed through my body—I was so surprised when that happened—just from looking at and holding his picture. I hadn’t known those emotions still lived within me. I have two young children and now that I know the value of a family narrative, I am going to make the effort to reconnect with my father, for all our sakes. Everything happens as it should.”
An Inventive Way to “Get the Story”
Janie Culp, Branch Office Administrator at Edward Jones in Pacific Grove, will be attending—in her mother’s stead—my “Guided Autobiography Books” course at the Masonic Lodge, starting in January. For two hours every Wednesday, for ten weeks, she will learn how to work with her mother later at home, to help her to write and share her stories.
Thirty days after the class finishes Janie and Opal, her mother, will receive published books of the stories written around important themes in Opal’s life, including photos they have chosen to put in. What a wonderful accomplishment and gift for everyone!
These young people demonstrate their eagerness and passion, through a variety of avenues, to develop a strong family narrative for themselves and their descendents. I’ve been reading, writing, and publishing books for more than 32 years and just recently, through my own sleuthing, discovered an interest in books woven through several of my family lines: teachers, academics, librarians, and several writers, readers and crossword puzzle aficionados!
Don’t Let This Happen to Your Family!
How many old books and photos have you seen at garage sales, in secondhand stores, or perhaps for sale in antique stores? I was fortunate to be given several books, some handwritten, by and about my ancestors, and many photos—that had lain forgotten in the papers and trunks of deceased relatives. I’ve shared some photos on Ancestry.com and can’t help but notice the lack of any photos on some public family trees. There are lots of requests posted for photos, too.
I would cherish a photo of my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Cloyd Gale, who is buried in El Carmelo. Can you help me find her picture?? The Methodist Church Archivist sent me a photo of her husband, the Rev. Sylvanus G. Gale, who served the church in PG, 1890-1893, but couldn’t supply a photo of his wife and helpmeet. To recognize her contribution, when I replaced their missing headstone, above their names the new one reads: Ministers in Pacific Grove.
There’s a Fortune to be Made/Realized
Today we can research and publish our family histories with little cost, even sell them worldwide over the Internet if we wish. On-line, the knowledge will not be lost but will be available for all time—to all future generations.
You do have the opportunity now to make money on your memoirs of course. But the real “gold” is in having the knowledge of who you are and where you came from. These young people know that. Classes to write and get published books in your hand begin in P.G. January 21, 2015.
Patricia Hamilton, 831-649-6640, is the owner of Park Place Publications in Pacific Grove. CLICK HERE for more information on the “Guided Autobiography Books” classes beginning in Pacific Grove.