January 31, 2019

NSW: The power of storytelling – John Boeren

by admin in Uncategorised

A couple of months ago, I opened up a newspaper to read, and saw a headline: “It is time we stop thinking that storytelling makes the world better.” Later that day, I had a meeting with a board member of our local chapel. She was thinking of a new series of activities, called… uh-huh… storytelling.

It seems like storytelling is a contemporary phenomenon but, in fact,storytelling is old. Very old! Many generations before us already used storytelling techniques to keep memories alive. That is exactly what genealogists do; they keep the memories of our parents, grandparents and distant ancestors alive. Even those that they have never met or known. In some cultures, genealogy is primarily based on oral history.

In my presentation about my business in family history, I have included a sheet with three images. The first image, is of an art object, showing two men in bronze who place their ear against a brickwall. For me, this symbolises the genealogist’s task to search for stories. The second image, is of a grandmother telling stories to her grandchildren (or perhaps is it the babysitter with the children from next door?!). It resonates our goal to tell family members and others about our family history. The third image, shows a hand that writes in a notebook. If you do not wish to or cannot share your stories in an oral way, you should try to write them down.

But why should you tell stories? Well, mainly to safeguard your own work. In the past three decades I have seen so many cases, where a genealogist would spend a large part of life on discovering all kinds of interesting details about the family. In the end, relatives with no passion for genealogy would throw away all the notes, copies, artefacts and heirlooms. What a pity!

Another reason is – as I said before – to keep memories alive. Some stories about our past, only survived because a father would tell his son, the son would tell the grandson, and so on. Finally, I have found out that through stories you can stimulate others to take an interest in (family) history.

When I started with genealogy thirty years ago, many of my family members did not see the point of spending so much time and money on it. They had no interest in names, dates and places. However, when I started to tell them stories about our mutual ancestors, suddenly they were intrigued and wanted to know more.

There are so many ways genealogists can spread the word nowadays. You can write a book, with all kinds of details, pictures and stories of family members. You can write a (short) article for a magazine or newsletter. Social media platforms enable you to ‘publish’ the snippets you have found: a picture of your great-grandfather on his motorbike with three lines of text about how much he liked speeding through the streets of your hometown, or that last will of your 4x great-grandfather that mentions the three royal decorations he received for bravery, for example. Those of you who are not good with words, can use audio or even video recordings. You only need a computer, some software and a webcam!

Let us not forget that if you tell your part of the family history, other genealogists can use your story as a source for their research. This way you help future genealogists! (Hopefully, they give you the credits and cite you as one of their sources but that is a whole different discussion.)

Okay… maybe storytelling does not make the world better as a whole, it definitely makes genealogy better. So, this is your time, start telling your stories now!

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