Veterans History and Family History – Please Tell the Stories Now Before We Lose Them!

History Smiths

I wanted to share two quick stories with you – and two wonderful ideas from two friends!

Story and Idea #1

I attended the Memorial Day ceremonies in Ipswich, Massachusetts, this year, and I was very moved by the lengthy, small-town tribute to those who have served. I was particularly struck by the speech delivered by the veterans agent.

As you probably know, this year begins the commemoration of the American Civil War, and he talked about how much of the story we have lost over time – the stories of ordinary people who served or who managed daily life back home. We only have what was written down or photographed, and it’s a tiny fraction of what could have been documented.

Fast forward to today. We have the ability to document anything and everything instantaneously and in multiple formats. Are we capturing the stories of veterans and their families? Not enough. The World War II service men and women are almost all gone. Korean War veterans are getting up there. If you know someone, if you are related to someone, or if you feel motivated to contact your Council on Aging (or your equivalent), please do!

Sit down with a technology your subject will be comfortable with. Come from a place of deep and genuine respect, and start asking questions. (Please don’t say, “So, tell me your story.” Being more specific will help start and guide the conversation.)

Then, what will you do with the information? It should ideally end up with your public library and historical society, but perhaps there is another repository of information about veterans in your community. (The point is, people need to be able to find it.)

Also consider turning your efforts into a community project with a team of people, press coverage, and an event when you’re done. Many communities have done oral history projects with seniors, or a writing project. You could do the same thing but with a special focus on veterans and their families. Trust me when I tell you, the gratitude from your community will be huge.

Story and Idea #2

This idea came to me from a friend who is a grandfather. Every Christmas, and sometimes more often, he and his wife give the gift of written family stories to their grandchildren. These are stories about the family members they will never meet, a place that’s meaningful to the family, or some other special family “thing.”

Isn’t this a lovely idea? I can’t imagine a more valuable gift!

My own grandparents passed away when I was a teenager, and I would dearly love to have 16 years’ worth of their reminiscences to enjoy as an adult! But I don’t, and it’s too late. Such a shame!

So often “doing family history,” or writing even brief biographies, is a daunting task and people don’t do it. Instead, I love this personal, annual (easy!), story-telling method. You could be a real hero in your family by documenting and sharing your memories. They will love you for it!