This is the third installment in our Maintaining Family Bonds series. If you missed part one, “Keeping the Family Together When the “Glue” is Gone”, it can be found here (https://goo.gl/0DLOE5). If you missed part two, “Facing the Challenges of Who will Care for Mom or Dad”, it can be found here (https://goo.gl/JJs45i). Our fourth, and final installment in this series will be forthcoming.
Throughout history, the legacy of those who walked the Earth before us has been kept through a tradition of “Oral History.” “Oral History” is an extremely wide-ranging term because throughout different cultures the value of “Oral History” has been held differently. In some cultures there are members of the community who are designated as “culturally sanctioned tradition-bearers” while in others, history is transferred from one generation to the next through informal fireside chats as people talk about the “good ole days” with friends, family, and loved ones. Our Judeo-Christian traditions, which we now read within various translations of the Bible, began as “Oral History” passed down from tribe to tribe and people group to people group. “Oral History” is important.
In today’s culture, “Oral History” has become something that exists in every culture to some degree or another. However, in the industrialized and modernized world that we live in, does “Oral History” still play an important role in our society? And, if it doesn’t play an important role, should it?
In previous parts of this series we talked about the disappearance of the family unit after the “glue”, the matriarch or patriarch of the family has died. We looked at the way family traditions tend to slowly go away as the family seems to go their own way, either because of their inability to face the grief that may come from maintaining the traditions that the “glue” had put in place, or from the realization that they need new traditions to pass along to their own children. Either way, we see that changes do occur. When these changes occur, when the family seems to go their own way to do their own thing, continuing a tradition of “Oral History” becomes that much more important to insure that upcoming generations do not lose historical connection with the legacy of those before them.
That being said, all written and recorded history begins through some “Oral History” tradition. As children we studied the history of our forefathers. We got to see the world of our past through the eyes of those who took the initiative to record the events of the past so that future generations could learn and grow from those recollections. Many of the histories we read about cultures around the world are there because someone, or a group of someones, made a record of the happenings around them and the “Oral Histories” they had been told. Our children today still go to school to learn history, arguably modified or slanted to indoctrinate them into a certain course of beliefs, because as memorable events continue to happen, they are recorded for posterity. But when it comes to the history of one’s own family, unless the family was active in making history in some way, stories about those with the closest ties to us are usually forgotten or reduced to family members trying to recollect things they had once been told but have now forgotten.
“Oral History” and recorded history, telling the stories of our loved ones and the lives they led, is a vital way to maintain family bonds and unity and is an important way to continue the legacy of a family, even when that legacy is not “history making” or “newsworthy.” Below, I have listed a couple of things any family can accomplish to make sure their loved ones are remembered for generations to come.
Tell the stories. As you have lived your life I am sure you have heard stories about what grandma and grandpa may have done when they were growing up. These stories are part of your family’s history and are important for future generations to understand. Without stories I would not know that my grandfather accidentally burned down his own community church because the fire he started that morning to heat the church up obviously got too hot. I also would not know that I had family that ran moonshine and were sharecroppers in the early days of our country. We also wouldn’t know that my father-in-law spent his time in the US military driving a general and his family in Germany.
Record your family’s history. My wife has become an amateur genealogist and has been able to track parts of our family back to Europe. But in other parts of the family there are gaps. Some of these gaps could be prevented in the future if someone in the family begins a tradition of maintaining a written family history that others in the family can read and learn from.
Take pictures. One of the most interesting thing about the genealogy my wife is doing is when a picture from long ago is discovered. Pictures that tell a story of a time when life is a lot more simple but much harder than what we live in today.
Take videos. If pictures are good, videos are great. Being able to see family members moving and talking, studying their mannerisms and style, goes a long way towards solidifying a connection to our past.
“Oral History” may seem like an ancient way to record the history of our loved ones, but honestly, without it, many families would have nothing. As loved ones die and new generations step up to take the leadership roles within a family, it is important for those future generations to learn about, and from, the ones who came before them. However your family chooses to pass along the history of your family, do so with intention. Make it a point to educate and inform the next generation so that they begin to see the value in doing the same for generations after them. Also, talking about our loved ones, telling their stories and sharing their lives, is a healthy way to process through our grief over their loss.
At Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home we value the history of families, and that is why we have been honoring the families of Newton and surrounding Counties since 1933. We offer a program which helps families “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” with their loved ones about what they want to do for their funeral, but also a way to interview and record, on video, the stories of loved ones. These can then be maintained and passed along to future generations to maintain that all important family legacy. We also offer grief support groups every Thursday evening (except the 5th) at the old Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home on Floyd Street from 6:00-7:30 PM. All of our services are free and open to the public at large regardless of which funeral home or cemetery you used. For more information about our Grief or “Talk of a Lifetime” programs please call, 770-786-7062, and ask to speak with Dr. Adam Cooper, our Director of Bereavement Services.
Portions of this article specific to “Oral History” were taken from an article entitled “What is Oral History” posted on the website “History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web”. Follow this link to learn more (https://goo.gl/EnbzUI).