One of the items on my “101 Things in 1001 Days” task list is:
18. To chase up family history from some older family members before it’s too late.
My Mother passed away some twenty years ago and now with children of my own I started to realise that there are soooo many things I wish I could have asked her, not only about her life but also about my Grandparents on her side of the family too.
My Mother-in-Law is approaching 90 years of age, and whilst she is becoming becoming physically frail, mentally she is still capable: to the point where she still lives independently, albeit with ever increasing assistance from family members.
My Father recently married his partner of a decade and I realised that since I have now lived a substantial part of my life on the other side of the world, and only see them intermittently, that I know rather little about my new Step-Mother too.
To this end I have sent Himself out with a shopping list for books… the “Oma / Opa vertel ‘s” books to be exact. (the ‘s is the shortened form of the word “eens“= a kind of filler word in Dutch that doesn’t have a really literal translation in this particular instance, but the title translates literally as “Grandma tell us…” “Grandpa tell us… (a story)” and these are separate books that you give as a gift to your parents or grandparents to fill in.
As far as I know these are a fairly recent innovation and I think, a brilliant idea. These books are of course, (naturally enough since we are in the Netherlands) only available in the Dutch language, but since my Father is Dutch he will help my non dutch speaking Step-Mother fill hers in.
On various pages there is space for free texts, but on many pages there are various prompts to get the thought processes going.
Basic stuff is covered, like where the person was born, how many brothers and sisters they had etc but there are also many prompts about childhood games, toys, celebrations, family traditions, typical food they ate, what their school days were like, work and social habits, how holidays were spent, differences they have noticed between when they were young and now, their studies, apprenticeships or first work experiences, how they met their husband/wife etc.
All of this is designed to build up a picture what their lives were like as children, teenagers and adults.
I like that this gives an insight to our parents and grandparents lives on detail, issues, and experiences that are often, for many many often complicated reasons just aren’t discussed when we are together in person.
Today’s life is very much lived in the “here and now” and we don’t tend to sit down and talk about the past, let alone document it.
By giving my Father, Step-Mother and Mother-in-Law one of these books each, I hope that they will be inspired to jot down many things that will enlighten me about their lives and to give their grandchildren (my children) an enduring record to treasure when they are old enough to appreciate it.
Family history is more than just doing a genealogy search and labeling a Family Tree (sigh. that task is however still on my long list for “one day” but a too large and complicated task for me right now). In the meantime I hope to make the people who are alive today, into real human beings with personal histories and not just a date of birth, marriage and death.
If course, once my 1001 Days is up and I sit to make a list of new 101 tasks, I’m sure that one of the new entires will to be to buy a copy of this book for Himself and myself, (yes I know, we aren’t Grandparents yet, but the principle is there) and for us to start making entries of our own, (especially the more private stuff that doesn’t go into this blog) to fill in our kids about our own lives as children and things about their parents that they might appreciate when they are old enough too.