Family History Stories

Could I Be a Family Historian?

Last weekend was truly decadent. My car rested in the driveway from Friday after work until Monday morning. For two days I played. I felt like a child wrapped up in some important project like digging a hole in the sandbox and hoping it would lead to China or creating a dramatic play in the garage with all the kids from the neighbourhood. The work felt overwhelming, necessary, thrilling–just like the adventurous projects of my childhood.

Monday morning at work I bubbled and popped, telling anyone who would listen that I had started a new project.

“I spent the weekend researching my family tree,” I said.

“Ancestry?”

“Yes!” The popularity of the genealogy site is ubiquitous.

“My cousin is a historian. We have a binder with our whole family history. Both sides.” A newly married teacher smiled.

Another coworker said, “Someone contacted me yesterday about my family history. I didn’t learn anything new though. Our family history was compiled years ago. We have a family historian.”

A family historian. It sounded so official.

Last year I took a research methods course as part of my graduate program at University of Toronto. I read Lives in Context: The Art of Life History Research by Ardra L. Cole and J. Gary Knowles. They write:

“In as much as it is humanly possible, life history inquiry is about gaining insights into the broader human condition by coming to know and understand the experiences of other humans” (11).

By becoming a family historian I can serve my family, document their stories, learn about my family’s journey from arriving in Canada hundreds of years ago to today. But family history research can have a broader context too. We look to the past to understand the present. We search for resonance in stories that are shared among generations, across cultural divides. In learning about my family I will learn about humanity.

I have not earned the title of family historian yet. This is the beginning.

Deanna Corbeil notes the importance of the word “story” in “history.” I like that. Family Storian. This blog is as much about story as it is about history.

Do you have a family historian? What led him or her to life history research?

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