Monday, 12 May 2014

The Tales That Bind A Family

I was at the funeral of my great aunt and, like most farewells of this form I guess, there was a melancholy air about us. As a contrast to that feeling it was heartwarming to hear the many stories about my great aunt from my dad and his brothers and sisters.

Over breakfast on the morning of the funeral my stepmother threw out the question,

"What is your earliest memory of your aunt?"

Photo Credit: Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski
Mine was of her wedding day. I was a young child. I remembered a far happier day than the one we were gathering for that day. My dad's earliest memory was sitting with his aunt and some of his brothers in front of the 'wireless', an old radio. He recalled that she was their regular babysitter. A wonderful storytelling babysitter, enchanting and reeling them in with fantasy tales, captivating her nephews with stories of rich relatives in far off lands.

During the funeral service the priest shared his recollections of his first meeting with my great aunt, and how she ensured he was whipped into shape for his role as her parish priest. She played a huge role in the parish, despite being less than healthy for as long as I can remember.

After the service, in a local hotel, there was a board full of photos. Photos taken of her happy life. A life I realised I knew very little about. Smiling faces, people wrapped in loving arms in various locations, undertaking various activities. Happy days, happy years filled with family, fun and adventures.

In a few short hours I learned more about my great aunt than I'd heard in the forty years before. Funerals do that to people - bring back memories of happier times gone by, memories of the essence of a person. I also got to hear the story of how my grandparents met. A wonderful, simple meeting that was to lead to a marriage that has lasted 63 years and which is still going strong.

These stories, none of them earth moving or spectacular in the face of mankind's achievements, not world changing by any means except to those playing the starring roles, made me smile. I'm going to write them down and share them in years to come with my sons, so they know where they have come from. These beautiful little tales are the stories of how we came to be; how one generation turned into another. These stories give us our roots, give us a sense of our family history. They pass our culture and traditions on from generation to generation. They need to be cherished, to be shared with the next generation, to be remembered.

Our memories, the memories of our parents and our grandparents, are tied together. Bound together they make up a picture for our children of the family they belong to.  And I feel that having children born in a country different to the one I was born in, living away from their extended family, makes these stories all the more important. These stories connect our cultures. They connect family history to our family now.

These stories connect us, even when we live our life away from the rest of our family, even when we are expats.

So ask to hear these wonderful tales now; don't wait to hear them in a somber moment when everyone is reflecting on what was. Ask to hear those stories in happy times, direct from the horse's mouth. And capture them for your children, and the generations beyond.


  1. I've started the process of storycatching, but had run up against a wall. Thanks for the encouragement to get going again!

  2. I always think I must write that down, but I'll do it later. And by then I have forgotten. :-(

    I need to capture the things that trigger memories and stories right away......

  3. I love hearing stories from my family. What we did before my uncle died a few years ago is record him on video. He had my grand-parents wedding picture and explained who everybody was on it, how those people were related, what was their life about, who were their children and grand-children, how and when they died and so on. I'm so grateful to have this as a memory of one side of my family and I will definitely share this with my children when they are older

  4. Anne, that is a fabulous story in itself - and a wonderful idea. Love it!

    At my great aunt's funeral my gran was going through the photos and explaining who everyone was - what a treasure trove tucked away in her head!! So wonderful to hear about the family I never knew.

  5. Amanda, it makes me so happy when I find a young mother who recognizes the value of preserving family stories and memories. Also, remember to properly identify photos. When my parents-in-law died I discovered a box of old photos I didn't know existed, and no living person could help me with the dates, places and people in the them. Fortunately, through my genealogy work I was able to sort many of them out. And, being a food person, I like to keep alive the family food heritage as well. I recently shared a sandwich that my mother-in-law introduced me to many years ago.

  6. What a lovely post. Your so right that aside from the sadness a funeral so obviously brings, there is always that other side which is sharing the most lovely stories and learning so much about the people you love. It is lovely that you will pass these stories on, it's so nice to know family history.
    Thanks ever so much for linking up to 'my expat family'

  7. As an expat I often feel very disconnected from home and family and history, you are right about how important it is to capture and pass on these stories x #myexpatfamily

  8. You really must write down those stories. She must have led an eventful life. My Grandma passed away last year, and we always love sharing her stories with each other. #myexpatfamily

  9. What an inspiring post. I know very little about my family's stories and had never given it too much thought, but since my son was born I've felt more of a need to delve into our history and that of my husband's. We have such an eclectic family, it would almost be criminal not to record it all! This year will be the 100th anniversary of my grandfather's birth and though he is no longer with us, we plan on a big celebration. Seems like a good opportunity to start collecting some stories :-)

  10. Thanks all for taking the time to stop by. It's amazing what stories we all have hidden in our family if we delve a little. And you are so right Sara Murray - as expats it really is easy to feel disconnected from family and through stories we can build a bond between our children and our extended family even if they don't see them often.

  11. This is SO true! When I was in my teens I would often sit down with my great-grandma and ask her about this person or that person, this photo or that photo....I only wish I had recorded it somehow!!!