Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 5, 2010

Be a Family Historian

   Heidelberg, Germany 

   Germany is a beautiful country – much more beautiful than I imagined. My Dad first introduced our family to Germany, and other countries, when we were kids. We all traveled abroad on the wings of imagination fueled by Dad’s black and white slides and colorful stories. One of the best things about growing up in my family was listening to stories about people and places beyond our hometown. These stories gave us a good understanding about the bigness of the world and the beauty of its people. God used Dad to teach us the importance of loving and respecting all peoples. I believe that travel strengthened my Dad’s convictions about affirming the worth of every person. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness — all foes to real understanding. Likewise, tolerance, or broad, wholesome charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in our little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” 

   After leaving Sonthofen yesterday, we traveled the picturesque road that winds its way through the Black Forest to Triberg. Overcast skies and misting rain deepened the green hues of the trees and the red-tiled roofs of homes in hamlets and villages along the route. Triberg is a beautiful little community nestled in a tiny valley surrounded by high peaks clothed in tall pines. Triberg Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Germany, plummets gracefully down granite outcroppings near the town. In spite of the rain, locals and tourists were moving about from shop to shop. Triberg is a great place to purchase a cuckoo clock, music box, or handicrafts skillfully carved by local artisans. We were happy to join the hoi polloi on the sidewalks of Triberg and found a quaint little place where we enjoyed a thick slice of Black Forest Cake! 

Dad enjoying Heidelberg Castle

   This trip to Germany has awakened many of my Dad’s dormant memories. Although it’s been almost sixty-years since Dad was last here, it’s amazing how revisiting the places he first visited as a young man has helped him to remember people he met and experiences that he had here. I’m sure Paul and I might never have heard some of these stories had we not brought him here. Today, we are in Heidelberg and visited the famous Heidelberg Castle whose previous visitors include the likes of Martin Luther, Victor Hugo, and Mark Twain. It was really cool to listen to Dad use his language skills today. He has much better language skills than I do. Dad and a souvenir shop-keeper at the castle got into a conversation that started in English, then German, then Spanish, and then back to English. I am glad to see him enjoying himself. He is a gracious and kind man. 

   This trip has reminded me of how much family history never makes it from one generation to the next. Sometimes that happens because family members die or live far away or any number of other reasons. Sadly, it’s often the death of a family member that causes us to ask questions about the people in an old photograph or about a name in a family Bible or about someone we’ve never met who attends the funeral. By then, it’s often too late to get answers to our questions. If you have not taken intentional steps to learn more about your family’s history, then don’t waste any more time. Here are a few things you can do to record and to pass on your family’s history. 

Interviews | Interview your grandparents and parents. Ask them to share stories about their childhood and your family that you can share with your children. If possible, interview them at a place that will awaken sleeping memories that might otherwise never be seen or heard. 

Photographs | Sit with your family’s elders and ask them to tell you the stories associated with old photographs. Record the stories and names of the people in the photographs. Use a photo service to create photo books that can be easily reproduced and shared with family members. 

Technology | Make video and audio recordings of family members. Use an interview format and ask them specific questions about your family history. 

Holidays | Use holidays, reunions, and other times when your family gathers together as a time to talk with older family members and to record some of your family’s history.

Journal | Don’t neglect to record your own history. If you are a parent, start a journal for each of your kids that you can pass on to them when they leave home or get married. Keep it simple and record colorful snippets of their childhood history. And, record some of the things that define you or that God has used to shape you.

   I’m glad to be in Germany to connect Dad’s stories with the photos I first saw as a kid. Being with Dad at the places where those photos were taken is beyond cool. You may not have to travel across the ocean to record more of your family’s history. But, if necessary, you must be willing to travel across town or across the country. Don’t lose sight of your past as you think about your future. Do what it takes to stay connected with your past. After all, you would not be here today were it not for those who came before you. For that reason alone you should want to know more about those who made your existence possible. So, consider becoming a family historian. Leave a record of your family’s history as a part of your legacy to the next generation.

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