The required fields always seem to be the same: Name, DOB, Place, DOD, Place, Mother's Name, Father's Name, Spouse's Name. There may be a box for notes, or a field set aside for Mother's Maiden Name, or even a place to list marriage dates. However, when I sit down to record my family, the idea that my memories can be filtered into these small details of information becomes absurd.
Recently, while visiting my family, I was thrilled to hear my grandfather and father tell the same story, from their opposing points of view, while sitting across from each other in my grandmother's living room. It was in that moment that I wanted a way to show, graphically and anecdotally where each of them was speaking from. My dad spoke of being a military brat in Germany in the sixties, my grandfather spoke of being a father, working to support a large, and growing family, and yet it was the same story. I want to be able to explain it better. I want to have diagrams and timelines and maps to help any children I may have understand where they came from; I want my future children to know about my father and his father and why we all laugh and talk about being a family of black sheep.
The list of facts seems woefully insufficient for my wants. It is, however, a place to start. I was happy to come back home with a folded piece of paper tracing my dad's lineage back for several generations. I plan to put it into the computer and send it back out in to the world with requests for more information from cousins and aunts and uncles. But I was even happier to read the story of my grandad's life, set down in his dialect by my uncle and edited to clear up questions that arise from hearing someone else's childhood memories. Those are what I want to have and to be able to pass on.
Interestingly, I'm not too worried about leaving my life story around for my children because so much of it is already available here on the web and in the thousands of photos and videotapes and cds piled in my apartment. But I worry that we are losing so much because we just are not used to thinking like historians; we are not concious of the need to record the stories before everyone is gone.
Woefully inadequate though they are, those little facts are the beginnings of my family, laid out in orderly fashion across the pages of the official papaers and they are a place to start.