Family History

Family History vs Family Story

Of all the projects at the end of Dad’s life nothing was more passionate to him than the history he was writing of my Mother.

He attacked it in typical Dad fashion. He wrote an outline, he gave each salient section an objective, he selected pictures and started jotting down notes of things he did not want to forget.

He began writing and re-writing. Dad also warned me that he was going to need help in the way of perspectives from each of his children.

In a conversation I held with him the last Sunday of his life about this and other family history projects Dad said he felt he owed Mom to do this right.

For all his efforts, for all the fantastic detail he left for me, especially about their early life together and their courtship, it pains me to think I will need to finish this project.

I have had more than two years and it has occupied my thoughts a great deal.

As is my way, I spend part of Rootstech weekend every year doing maintenance to this site and catching up on things that need to be taken care of.

In that process, I came across this video we did for Mom and Dad on the celebration of their 50th anniversary:

Of course, that event and this video were produced 14 years ago.

It was a collaborative effort. Voices heard in that video are considerably younger. All those images had to be gathered from my siblings and their families. It left no one out up to that point in time.

In seeing it again I marvel at how much has changed since we made this video.

For example, all ten of my grandchildren came after that video and that event.

Of course, since that time, we have lost both Mom and Dad.

So very much has happened. Some hard things have been experienced. The world, inside and outside of the family, has changed.

Their story, at least as we would view it in a slideshow like above, has changed. It has continued. It has expanded. It has taken on new twists and turns.

And, of course, it continues still. Their story is not complete.

It makes me wonder: how do I catch up?

History, to me, is an accounting of what happened. The story, however, is how and why it happened, and it includes far reaching consequences Mom and Dad did not live to see (well…maybe).

Which is more important? The history or the story? And if you want to tell both the history and the story of a person or a family, how do you do it exactly?

As I have mulled these questions, even as my own history and story takes on new twists and turns, I’ve decided to deviate a bit from Dad’s original plan he outlined of Mom’s history.

I’m still going to use it – all of it – but I’m going to include his history into a new effort.

I don’t believe I can tell Mom’s story without Dad’s story included. And vice versa. Mom and Dad sometimes had a passionate and even volatile relationship. Together they could sync in mad creative fits and at other times be so at odds they could hardly look at each other. I believe Mom and Dad, together, were much more than what they came to be individually.

How do you convey that? How can I share all those complexities and still get the history and the story right?

At Rootstech I went to two classes dedicated to writing family history. I left quite unsatisfied.

Like with most things I find associated with genealogy, there is something of a strict format to doing this “right”. There are rules. There are set ways to go about this.

Nearly every idea I have had in considering this seems to break those rules. What I am thinking of how to do this does not fit within what family historians are supposed to do.

We have some outstanding family history records left from generations past. I appreciate those things but I don’t want to leave the same kind of record. I think we can do better. I think we should at least try.

When I reach back in history and try to piece together the lives of family from 500 years ago I’m limited by the fact that no matter what I do I cannot capture the essence of these people.

I was not there. I didn’t know them. I can only piece together the facts and comment on what I see.

That’s not true of my parents.

I do know them. I have had not only my own life experiences but I have talked at length with both my parents about their lives. I know their feelings.

More importantly there is a dynamic (or two) between my parents that needs to be included in any history written about them.

I want to give my best in helping my children, grandchildren and generations beyond to know my parents and the family that surrounded them in as intimate detail as I can.

It’s something of a dangerous prospect.

So many histories we read tend to glorify individuals. My parents deserve to be honored but can we do that while being real? Is it possible to create a life record that reflects weaknesses, imperfections, mistakes, missteps and failures as a part of telling their glorious story.

I believe we can produce that. I believe we can leave a better record.

Being me – my mother’s son – perhaps this is to be expected.

In my work life I have long trained my people to follow their instincts with some things. “You Don’t Have to Do What You’re Told” is a lesson I preach over and over. The idea is that in many cases there several right ways to do different things. “Rules” sometimes constrict us – and at least with some of them, they beg to be excused.

And why should I conform? These are my parents. Their history and their story is not only vitally important to me but for my grandchildren, who are too young at present to understand many things, I want them to experience my folks and not just retrace the cold statistics of their birth, life and passing.

So, casting aside all the formats and the rules, I have decided the following:

First, like the video above, this needs to be collaborative effort. I will seek out others who knew my Mom and Dad for their perspectives.

Second, my father being the ultimate geek and my mother being the mad-creative family historian, this record needs to include as many of their creations as we can include. I have literally tens of thousands of images, documents, artifacts and other associated “stuff” to help create the record.

The record needs to be more than just written words. It can include a book. It most certainly can be digitized. But it can also, in some way, include a little of what they left behind. Remember, it can be a better record.

I also feel this needs to include, where possible, grandchildren of my parents. What a rare opportunity stares at us here by getting their perspective.

How long will this thing be? I have no clue.

How long will it take to come together? I have no idea.

Just how will we get the completed projects in the hands who will keep it and share it in the years ahead? I’m not sure.

But since I’ve come to these conclusions I can tell you I’ve found an energetic groove. I can get this now off of step one – and maybe check off a few of those boxes representing the family history projects Dad left for me to complete.

Jeff Westover
Jeff Westover

Husband, father, Latter-day Saint, 11th generation American, and web geek currently residing in Smithfield, Utah. Please visit my website at JeffWestover.com

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