Memories and History; do we share enough?

(The images: L to R my maternal grandmother; paternal grandmother and great grandmother).

History: the study of past events, particularly in human affairs. (Oxford)

Following this weekends celebrations for VE Day and seeing all of the photos online, shared by proud family members made me consider the issue about sharing history.

Do we share enough with our families?  Are some generations better at sharing than others?  

Why is it important to share our histories?

Sharing family stories is so important for us all to know who we are and where we came from. If we learn negatives about our ancestors then we can strive to do better, and if they were incredible people, we have someone to be proud of, and can only try to maintain their strength of character. Either way, they are still our family. 

As Zia K Abdelnour says, “Never erase your past. It shapes who you are today and will help you to be the person you’ll be tomorrow.”

We have so many sayings about learning from our past and for me remembering our past mistakes can help us avoid taking the wrong path again.  On Remembrance Day for me, it isn’t just about remembering the fallen, it’s also remembering why and how they fell; through the futility of war.  The events that lead to that war, and the atrocities that happened during it, should not happen again; although, sadly we are human, and war is already taking place in far too many parts of the world today.

Some parts of our society and aspects of their past are shamelessly, completely missing from our history books.

I’m talking about the lack of reference to the Commonwealth soldiers, who gave their lives for this country, and then those who survived were treated with total disrespect on their return.  That is a subject I could talk about in much further detail.

Is sharing our histories a generational thing?

At the time I worked in education (remembering I started 34 years ago), when it came time to projects about Remembrance Sunday, we had grandparents who had lived through the war, and were able to come into the primary schools and share stories with the pupils.

Obviously as time passes, there are less people with those memories.  

I think that part of the reason for our lack of talking about history is that few families have that type of conversation. 

Many families have moved away from the town or area where they grew up; so don’t have contacts with community knowledge so readily.

Before lockdown, people rushed around, working, parenting and possibly not having time to listen to family stories and ask questions of each other; the TV and screens have taken over as pacifiers.

My own father didn’t talk about his experiences during the war, and in fact, I know very little about his ancestry, beyond his own parents and brother.

When I shared some pictures of him on Facebook this weekend, my cousin told me where her father had been during the war. I had no idea of where he had travelled. She also mentioned that she had been told my dad was at Dunkirk. I don’t ever remember him telling me that.

When I wrote the autobiography of my husband and me, it took us a long time to recall some things from our youth.

I have no living parents, no siblings, and therefore had to rely on my memory and that of friends.

My husband’s family just don’t share!

My philosophy

Anyone who knows me, recognises, I’m a sharer. In fact one of the recurring comments on our reviews was how candidly I wrote.

I believe it is important to share with others, because many times in my life I’ve met people who have been through a similar experience to me, but thought they were the only one in the world with that issue.

By sharing ideas, people understand they are not alone.

This is also why I wrote candidly. What is the point of only half saying something?  My writing will be my legacy, as I have no children to pass things onto.

Hold on to your family history

Talk to your elderly relatives. Ask them about life when they were younger.

If you have some amazing stories in your family, ask if someone can share them with you, and if you can make notes (especially if you want to write about the story).

If you have old family photos, but you don’t know who the people are, ask an older family member.   Write their names on the back of the photo and their position in the family. (After my mum died I ended up with a whole load of photos, and I don’t know who they are, and don’t have other family members on her side to ask).

I have a writing friend, who is in her later seventies, and she writes the most wonderful stories of her youth.  She reads them to her grandchildren, and is making a large colourful family tree with their help. She is totally engaging them in the activity.  

“We’re all immortal, as long as our stories are told.”  

 The Scribe, Elizabeth Hunter