When you were a child, did your grandparents tell you stories about the way things used to be? Or how your family ended up living in the Birmingham area? Have you taken steps to pass along those stories and your own to future generations?
Seniors, in particular, have a wealth of experience and wisdom to share, the result of long lives spent working, sacrificing, making tough choices. The means for communicating those stories can be lost if they lack the means to express and preserve them.
If a senior begins to show early signs of the onset of dementia, it can be vital for families to take action so stories can be documented and remembered.
StoryCorps, an oral history project, has a memory loss initiative that encourages people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations. A commemorative toolkit available online offers an individualized reminiscence program that offers seniors and their families the opportunity to preserve the legacy of individuals living with memory loss.
Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews from more than 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Some seniors may want to tell their stories in written form, much like writing a letter or keeping a journal.
A life story does not necessarily have to be overly dramatic to be interesting. Many will dismiss the notion of writing things down because they feel as if their lives have been too ordinary, but even by virtue of having been around to see Alabama change over several decades, simply being a citizen watching attitudes and etiquette shift can be entertaining to read. Commenting on political campaigns or the ebb and flow of sports teams or how a community’s been affected by events – these are all potential topics for seniors to share stories about.
Today, we look at photos from a hundred years ago and imagine what life was like for the people in them. A century from now, people will marvel at our accounts of what it was like to experience one’s first television set or watch man step foot on the moon or go off to fight the Nazi menace on a foreign shore. There’s a reason why Birmingham’s civil rights struggle is documented in its own museum – imagine how rich that history comes alive when a youngster hears your first-person account of that turbulent era.
If a senior isn’t sure where to start, a good place is by engaging with a grandchild who may have questions. Storytelling’s about having a conversation, and potential topics include growing up in the 19__s, career experiences, family heritage, memories of a loved one, thoughts on religion, perhaps tales of struggle against adversity or a serious illness. The simple act of recalling someone who was a big influence on your life and what lessons that person taught you is keeping their wisdom alive. Funny family stories can spark fond memories and add a compelling angle to personal histories.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life? What are your favorite and earliest memories? Do you have any regrets? What are you proudest of? Is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to great great grandchildren?
These are the key questions that motivate us to put experiences into context and share what we know so the path forward might be better for a loved one walking in our footsteps.
There’s no reason to be intimidated against writing down or recording personal stories. It’s fascinating when celebrities put out memoirs, but everyday, average Birmingham residents have tales worth preserving as well.
With projects like StoryCore and seniors willing to share, there’s no reason a chunk of family history should become lost forever. Instead, with a little time and effort, we can create what will surely become a treasured heirloom and rich historical document that someone from the year 2115 might find helpful to understand what it was like to be alive at this juncture in history.
To learn more about StoryCore, visit http://storycorps.org/great-questions/