“It only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history.” This is a quote from Aaron Holt, from the National Archives and Records Administration. But how does this happen?
Can you recall a story your parents told you about their parents? Many don’t even know their great-grandparents' names, let alone any stories about them. Is it in our nature to forget? Do we lack curiosity about our roots? Most people have fond memories of their grandparents, from that special dish Grandma made for holidays to the funny stories Grandpa would tell. But often the details are lost to history. How are these memories lost, and how can we preserve them for our future generations to explore and enjoy?
Why Family History Matters
When we’re asked about “family history” these days, it is mostly in the context of healthcare. If you have a family history of heart disease, you’re more prone to having heart problems. However, family history is made up of more than simply genetics or biology. Your family history gives you perspective, and gives you a sense of connectedness that is essential to feeling complete.
We accept that our parents have a profound impact on how we live our lives. The behaviors and values our parents give us provide a structure to our lives. For example, if sitting down for dinner together every night is important to your parents, it will most likely be important to you as you raise your own children. But where did that come from? Did your grandparents insist on family meals? Or is this in response to a lack of that in their childhood homes?
We all have a natural curiosity about our ancestors and how they did things. This is why there is a popular PBS show showing famous people discovering their family roots. At some point, we all discover that who we are is more than simply our eye color or national origin. The traditions, stories, recipes, and wisdom that is passed down to us feeds our behaviors and personalities more than we could ever imagine.
How Family History Gets Lost
Ever play the game “telephone” as a child? You gather in a circle and one person whispers something to you. You then have to whisper it to the next person, and they the next. This happens until the entire group has done it, and then the last person announces what they heard. Often, the last person has not heard the original message correctly.
This game is emblematic of the way oral family history is passed down. A parent tells their child a story about their grandparents. Then that child grows up and tells their children, and so on. Over time, the story becomes warped or worse – completely forgotten.
Frankly speaking, most of us can’t remember something that was said to us earlier in the same day, let alone a story we were told when we were small children. Imagine trying to recreate a recipe your grandmother used to make only by memory. We rely on recipe cards to recall ingredients and instructions on how to make these dishes. The same is true for oral family history. If it isn’t recorded, it will most likely be forgotten.
The Problem With Preserving Family History
Most family history, if recorded, is written down somewhere. Your parents may have an old photo album with notes in it, or a journal where they have recorded stories and a family tree. Documenting the history of your family may or may not have been important at the time, so some of the records are incomplete or nonexistent.
The problem with paper is that it is fragile. A fire or flood, or even a leak in an attic or basement can cause these precious documents to be lost forever. With something so important, there must be a better way to record the information for posterity.
There have been a slew of products to help solve this problem released in the past few years. Some of them resort back to paper, like companies that will put your life story in a book. While these are beautiful products to give as a gift, they are susceptible to the same issues other paper products are. In addition, these items can often be misplaced and lost in a move or estate sale.
Saving memories in a Google or Word document might seem like a good idea, but these too become problematic. For one, files on computers can be notoriously difficult to find. In addition, it is a clumsy process to scan over a document to find stories or recipes. Imagine trying to find an email you received 20 years ago, and you can picture the problems associated with these methods.
Technology Built to Preserve Your Family History
Picture yourself as a child. You are helping your grandmother prepare a special holiday meal. Grandma is telling you how her mother showed her this recipe, and taught her the way to cook it just right. Now, picture yourself 30 years later, after your grandmother has passed away. You open your phone and you can see a video of your grandma showing you this recipe as you cook with your daughter or son.
This is the magic that can be done via CircleIt. A grandparent can record a video and have it delivered to their grandchild in the future, and then it is preserved forever. Instead of writing a long story on paper that can be lost forever, record your story in CircleIt and share it with your family. They then can pass along your story so future generations can preserve family memories forever.