Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: May 25, 2001
Ahh! The annual family barbecue! All the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents gathering together to consume vast quantities of charred meat, potato salad, beans and all those wonderful desserts. I'm gaining weight just thinking about it! The kids are running around faster than the flies on the cole slaw and everyone is broasting to a nice shade of red. A softball game might actually get through the first inning with a background of a steady clink, clink, clink as Uncle Fred gives his annual clinic on throwing horseshoes, showing everyone how it's done. The grandparents brag on their kids, parents show off the newest editions and the latest round of scars, lost teeth and new braces are oohhed and aahhed over.
NOW! Now is the time. Not next time, now! Share what you've learned about the family. Start verifying the dates. Start asking the questions.
Start sharing - It doesn't have to be a big production or a big deal. I have a couple foamboard sheets with the family tree pieced together on them that will stand on its own in a corner. A printout of the additional information that you have gathered about individuals, graduation dates, upcoming weddings, and past promotions can be kept in a notebook with newspaper clippings and announcements.
Start Verifying - A note on the corner of the board saying "Please Make Corrections" and a couple of handy pencils will get the ball rolling. Make an effort to put in a box for the new baby that you don't have a middle name on yet. Maybe a highlight of missing dates will draw attention to that person.
Start Asking - After a good meal, people are more willing to share. They're happy and probably on a sugar rush. Ask a couple of questions to get the ball rolling. The first time is always the hardest, but, it should never be your last. How the human memory works isn't fully understood. But asking a question will raise up things from the past, maybe randomly. By collecting information from the stories, and using that as the starting point for next time, you can help the process along.
When I asked my wife's grandmother about her family, she made a comment about going to South Bend to watch her cousin, Harry, play football when she was a little girl. A week or so later I did a search on football, Notre Dame and Grandma's maiden name, Stuhldreher. It didn't take too long time for the penny to drop! For the ten percent of you who aren't Football fans, Harry Stuhldreher was one of the famous Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. What a great addition to the family history!
The memory is also closely attached to smells, more than any of the other senses. And a picnic, with smells and tastes and old family recipies is an ideal place to trigger those valuable memories. Perhaps there are memories of other stories that were told way back when that will be re-told and shared with another generation of children.
So, while you're stripping the chicken off the bones, perhaps you can add some
flesh to the bones of your ancestors!