Originally published 30 Mar 2014
Family researchers frequently hunger to know more about their ancestors than the facts they find in census records. What was important to them? What were their disappointments and triumphs? What kind of people were they? But often we can only speculate.
I am fortunate to have several diaries written by my ancestor, Ebenezer H. Robbins. Reading and transcribing his diary entries from the 19th century have been one of the most enlightening and rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. Because of the stories he left behind, I better understood my grandmother, my father, and myself.
When my other grandmother (Nanna) was in early eighties, she wrote a story about what life was like growing up in New York City as a child of immigrants. Her English father was a horseman and her Swedish mother worked as a domestic. Nanna wrote about what it was like to clean the house in the early part of the 20th century and having to stop school at the eighth grade to care for her younger siblings. She wrote about weekend dances she attended as a young woman and the treats she most enjoyed. I cherish this story. But, I don't think many people maintain diaries or write about their life history these days.
On March 15, 2014, the New York Times published an article about an Internet service called StoryWorth. Through this service, up to six family members or friends may be invited to write and share stories with each other. Questions of your choosing may be sent out weekly to the group or individuals in your circle.
Based on the article, I decided to try the service and so far, I’ve responded to the questions: What were your grandparents like? What was your mother like when you were a child? and, How did you get your first job? Subscribers may also write their own questions, if they wish.
Responding to the questions has been fun. Because I was responding to a specific question, it didn’t seem burdensome to write as it might have if I sat down to write a lengthy family history. I especially liked writing about my grandparents and remembering how they conspired to catch me when I left flowers on their door knob on May Day. I plan to share this story with other members of my family.
Researching and writing a genealogy article with citations for publication is a daunting and time consuming task. Facebook is a great alternative to connect with a large group of relations and share photographs. But, honestly I probably will never share on Facebook the way my grandfather mowed the lawn, though I could make my siblings laugh in the telling. Here’s where I think StoryWorth comes in. I can share and preserve stories that resonate with my family. I can record and preserve what people were like, their personalities, their hopes and disappointments. It’s history on a personal level. And that’s really what we family researchers want to know.