In August, my wife went to Chicago to see her mom. Dolly Grace is an 82-year-old widow who grew up in one of those backwoods coal mining towns you might expect to see on the Beverly Hillbillies. She gives full care of her 62-year-old son, who is paralyzed from the neck down because of an auto accident 10 years ago. This woman’s got lots of pluck, let me tell you.
While my wife, Donna, was in Chicago, she took the time to sit down and record some of mom’s personal history. Her life was a hard one. She married a mean old coal miner who drank heavy and fought hard. Everyone knew John Grace and left the man alone. They eventually left the coal mines and moved to Chicago, where Donna’s dad got a job organizing unions.
Mom had such wonderful stories to tell about life in the “hollers”. When Mom’s dad died, her mother took the kids visiting one relative after another, day after day, always around lunch or dinner time. This is how her mother kept her kids fed because she never knew how to work. Mom had lots of stories about all the distant relatives and could tell us who was who. I marveled as I listened to my mother-in-law share her tender stories with her enduring twangy West Virginia accent. Her stories were a wonderful link to my wife’s past.
In October, Donna’s mother had a stroke. She survived, but can’t talk or do much. We can’t tell what damage was done to her mind, but so far it’s fairly extensive. She can’t hardly put two words together. It was tragic for Donna to go back and see her mom like that. Only time will tell how much mom will recover from this stroke.
We are so grateful that my wife took the time to sit down and talk with her mom and collect all those wonderful memories she had. She told her stories with such passion and feeling. Fortunately, these memories were not lost. They are priceless to us now.
What we recorded is especially important to me as I think back to an experience I had 23 years ago. At that time, I had two very old but bright and delightful aunts. Alta and Lucile were my dad’s older sisters. They remembered all the older immigrant relatives who came over from Norway and the old stories of when they were little girls on the plains of Minnesota at the turn of the century.
I kept getting the distinct impression that I needed to record their personal memories before they were gone. But so much as going on in my life and I planned on doing it when I could get a few more things taken care of. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Both Aunt Alta and Lucile died within a short time of each other. With their deaths, we lost literally hundreds of wonderful recollections of family stories and detailed historical events in the lives of my own family. My aunts knew them first hand. I still rue the day I didn’t act on that feeling to record their stories.
So, learn from my mistake and record the stories of your older relatives NOW. The holidays are a particularly convenient time to do this if you already have family gatherings planned. To prepare, read this helpful article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. It contains suggestions for the interview, as well as a link to questions to ask. You can also go to any Internet search engine and search on the words: “Oral history questions” to get a some great lists of questions you can use.
When you finish a session, transcribe the tapes right away. Time will get away from you and before you know it, your tapes will get lost or the quality of the tapes will deteriorate so badly that may lose priceless history. Then, share the stories you gathered with your family members.
Remember, when the old ones are gone, we can never get back what was lost. Don’t wait.