Happy Wednesday!!!! In my last post, we discussed how we remember our departed loved ones. This week, I wanted to take time to discuss personal family histories. I’ve asked personal historian, Marjorie Turner Hollman, to discuss her experience putting together her father’s memoir. Please enjoy!
I’ve been a personal historian for a number of years, and have seen how powerful the experience of documenting and preserving one’s family stories can be. We personal historians often talk about the gift of passing on family stories to the next generation, assuring that you’re not forgotten and more. But I never realized that doing the work of preserving your family legacy—the photos that tell stories, documents, letters, and the stories themselves—can actually be a powerful time machine. My dad taught me this, as he taught me so much else.
I was ready to wrap up Dad’s memoir when my sister handed me a box of family papers. In the box I found the courtship letters Dad had written (every day!) to my mother as she finished her last year of college. They lived hours apart from each other, saw little of each other during this time, and were deeply in love.
I brought the letters to Dad to see if he was willing to share them with us in his memoir. He expressed trepidation: he had no idea what he might have said 60 years ago. Mom had been dead 12 years, and he had never stopped mourning her loss.
When I met him for breakfast the next morning, his 89-year old face shone. He thanked me for bringing the letters to him. And then he said, “I stayed up to midnight reading these, and it felt like I was sitting there writing to her, just like it was 60 years ago.” He handed me the letters “for safekeeping.” They had served their purpose.
With his blessing I transcribed and included his letters in his completed memoir, which Dad was able to hold before he died. A theme flowed throughout those notes from a 26-year old man to his bride-to-be. “We’re apart for now, but soon we’ll be together, as we were meant to be.” Only weeks after his book was complete Dad was, indeed with Mom again, as they were meant to be. But those letters had been a surprise time-machine, transporting him back to a time when he was young, and deeply in love with the woman he would be happily married to for 50 years.
There is no guarantee where the time machine of documenting your legacy will take you. If you’re very lucky, you may be transported to a time of great joy, which you just may be willing to share with your loved ones. But you’ll never know unless you’re willing to take a step inside.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman’s history degree is from Bridgewater State College. Her fifteen years as a professional storyteller have given her personal history work a unique perspective. She is the Chapter Coordinator for the Association of Personal Historian’s New England Chapter, is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project.