A Living, Speaking History Book

Louise - Wedding - 12.6.08Last Friday I had the most wonderful experience of interviewing the oldest living member of my extended family.

A Living History Book!!

Ninety-four year old Keith is my grandfather’s cousin, however, as he left my home town years before I was born and only came back to visit occasionally, I didn’t really know him very well. I had been told what a wonderful memory he had and that he was a great story teller, so driving the 1 1/2 hours to interview him had been on my ‘to-do’ list for some time. Finally a couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet and called him to make a date.

I arrived at Keith’s retirement home quite flustered after having got myself lost once I got to Bendigo (central Victoria, Australia). So a 90 minute drive had turned into a 2 hour drive. At that point, tired and flustered, knowing I had to get back by a certain time for other commitments, I said to myself – “I’m never doing this again!! This is ridiculous. I have so many other things I should be doing, and after today I’m going to be too tired to do anything”.

Then I took a deep breath, reconnected myself with the reason I was there – my deep commitment to capturing people’s stories and my own family history – and got out of the car to greet my patient interviewee who was standing nearby.

Of course I wanted to get straight into the interview as I knew we had limited time, but I took time to be shown around Keith’s unit, have a quick cuppa, and of course, set up my equipment. Luckily Keith was just as keen to get started, so off we went.

As always, after establishing the basic details of the person – full name, date of birth and where they were born – I started asking questions about Keith’s memories of his father, mother and grandparents. When Keith was born his family had lived in my home town, then had moved away, and had moved back when he was 5 years old. His account of their trip down from Minyip to Navarre via horse, buggy and foot-power was fascinating.

But eventually I got to asking him about his grandfather, who he knew very well – my great great grandfather. As Keith told me about the “jolly” fellow who was my great great grandfather, and then spoke of his great uncles, I was suddenly hit by an amazing feeling – it was like I had opened up a history book and was able to ask it questions.

You see, back in 1988, we had a Bibby reunion, where all the descendants of Thomas and Elizabeth Bibby (who had settled in Navarre from Lancashire) all gathered. They had had 11 children (I think), and so all of us had a different coloured name tag and a name up the top of the name tag of the child we were descended from. In my case it was William.

As I was 15 at the time, my friends and I laughed at being descended from “Willy” and “Peter” and “Arthur”. We had no idea who these people were. They were just names to us. I found it interesting to find that my cousins who I had grown up with in the same town were actually my 4th or 5th cousins. Many people barely know their first cousins and here I was growing up with my 4th and 5th cousins! An interesting quirk of my home town of Navarre is that we are pretty much all related, but some people who I share the same surname with are more distantly related to me than those with different surnames.

Anyway, I digress. The amazing thing about my interview with Keith on Friday was that he actually had known William (Bill – his grandfather), Peter, Arthur and Bert (my great grandfather who I knew quite well). A shiver went through me as I realised I could ask Keith about all of these people, and he would be able to tell me about who that person was, their personality, funny stories and so on.

Keith was like my time machine!! And a short time earlier I’d been questioning my sanity in using up a whole day to go and interview him! I silently rebuked myself, and was given a very strong reminder of why I do what I do. As well as being fascinating to me – especially Keith’s memories of his friendship with my much-loved and much-missed Pop – in a couple of hours, I captured some of the history of our family for every other member of my family. Keith’s immediate family now have a record of his life. My 4th and 5th cousins now have a verbal recollection given by someone who knew their great great grandfather. And Keith knows that those precious memories are now captured forever.

And guess what? Keith was no longer just a distant relative I hardly knew. He is now someone I know intimately and will not be someone I “wish” I had interviewed before they died. He is now a real, courageous, amazingly gracious man in my eyes, not just an elderly relative who used to visit every time shearing was on.

As I wound the interview up, Keith informed me I’d have to come back because he had at least another 2 hours of things he didn’t get to. And you know what, I’m going to get back there as soon as I can. He’s the last of his generation in our family. He’s willing to be interviewed, he’s interesting, his memory is great – he’s a living history book!!

So if there’s someone in your life who you’ve been meaning to get around to interviewing – or paying for someone else to interview them – it’s time. Get your diary/calendar out and pick a day. You will never have the time. You will always be busy. And you will always have better things you could be doing with your time. But pick a day,  make the time, and you will never regret it!!

Keep Smiling

Louise - Wedding - 12.6.08

Louise

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4 Responses to “A Living, Speaking History Book”

  1. Lizzy Says:

    WOW!! You hit the nail on the head! So very many wonderful stories my dad and his sisters used to tell, over and over, at family gatherings (an we all lived within an hour of each other!)..and yet, it never occurred to me in my young years that they’d be gone someday, and that I should be at the very least, writing it all down.
    No, I did not get it on tape….only a brief segment with my mom, as part of a family history as a hobby segment I did on a TV show I used to host…and nothing there I did not know–shame on me!

    Your post really struck a nerve and a chord. All I have left of my dad’s wonderful stories are poems I’ve written, in first-person voice, but they are second-hand stories from only my own memory. Sigh.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • itsmylifedvds Says:

      Hi Lizzy,

      Thanks so much for commenting so quickly on my blog. I only posted it last night, so I think that’s the quickest comment I’ve ever received. Moving up in the world of blogging ;-)

      I can really relate to what you shared. Despite interviewing my family members for the past 10 years, I’ve stilled missed my opportunities. A very sore point for me is that I didn’t interview my daughter’s grandmother (my mother-in-law at the time) before she passed away. Now there is barely anything other than photos (and not many of them) to remember my vibrant, very talkative mother-in-law. And my daughter didn’t know her as she was 9 months old when Cynthia died, so it’s so sad for her to only have her Mama described to her (or I think so!).

      But don’t get down on yourself too much either. It’s really quite a new thing for people to record their loved ones’ stories. I’m just trying to alter that view-point – ie that every person realises their story is valuable and it’s just natural to record it! And if you have even a brief segment recorded of your Mom, then that’s way better than nothing.

      I also think there is still definitely great value in second-hand stories. They’re not as captivating as first-person accounts, but still very valuable. What I actually do these days when I’m interviewing people who knew my Pop or other people I didn’t get to interview, is I ask them what their recollections of these people are. I plan to cut those pieces out and do a tribute-type video of my Pop, my mother-in-law (No.1), and other people who aren’t with us anymore. The other day with Keith, he gave a beautiful, emotion description of my Pop and his friendship with him. It was a real gem! So collecting second-hand stories is still an option for you. (And I’m sure your poems based on your Dad’s stories capture ‘him’ quite beautifully!)

      And guess what? I have a feeling you have other family members and friends all around you who you could record the stories of. So, yes, you missed some opportunities with some very close family members, but there’s still plenty of opportunities out there. So go get ‘em!!

      Thanks so much for YOUR sharing. Keep in touch

      Louise

  2. Susan Kitchens Says:

    Brava! I started doing family oral history when I spent a few weeks with my then-99 year old grandpa. That was 10 years ago.

    You totally nailed it — why we do what we do.

    Brava! Brava! Brava!

    p.s. I am SO blogging this.

    • itsmylifedvds Says:

      Thanks so much Susan. It’s great to hear from fellow oral historians – and to get such positive feedback. I’m hoping that soon everyone will want their own personal video biographies, which will mean all those wonderful stories captured forever – and my business taking off like a rocket!!:-)

      I’ll be checking out your blog now. Do you read Dan Curtis’s and Stefani Twyford’s (Legacy Multimedia). They are both fantastic.

      Keep Smiling

      Louise

      (UPDATE: I just went to your site and there I was looking back out at myself. Thanks so much for linking my blog to yours! I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know!!)

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