Quick Panic

In the warm summer days of 2010 when I agreed to do a talk to the local WI on 14 February 2011, it seemed ages away. I woke up this morning realising that it is not far away at all!

My subject is “You and Your Family History” and I have an hour. I’ve done talks on family history many times before and even taught adult education classes, but I decided that this time I want to stress the importance of our older generations recording their memories and family stories. Even a few thoughts in a notebook can be helpful. A family tree can be a dry thing, full of dates. Most people can construct one with a little research from birth, marriage and death certificates, and other readily available records, but for me the thing that makes it come alive is the colour from actual memories.

I am fortunate as my mother has now written two volumes of memoires from her diaries. These include all the stories about how she met my father and where, what her thoughts were on the day of my birth, descriptions of her childhood family home and the deprivations of the war years. Priceless! Maybe she should be the writer instead of me.

This Christmas maybe give a thought to recording the stories from your older relatives, even the ones that bore you to tears every year. You may not be very interested now, but there will come a time when you are and it may be too late to ask. The writers amongst you may even find some gems of inspiration for stories.

While I am on my high horse, please ask relatives to write on the back of family photographs to avoid being given a box of nameless faces. Meanwhile, I’d better get back to making some notes for my talk.

By Morton S. Gray

Author of romantic suspense novels. http://mortonsgray.com


  1. One of the most wonderful things my sister did when we were young was to write down stories of my grandmother's childhood. Grandma is long gone now, but when I read those stories I can still hear her voice.


  2. I love listening to my husband's granddad. He's 92 (I think) and he has some wonderful stories of mischief he got up to in wartime Britain. Actually, some so unbelievable you couldn't give it to a character in a book – the reader wouldn't believe it. But the way he tells it, and chuckles to himself, is priceless. I'm never bored. Last year he told me how he got into the Air Force, because he refused to join the army, (when they had to enlist). Maybe this Christmas I should get my notebook out 😉


  3. I'm sure your talk will be really interesting. The internet has really opened up the possiblities for tracing long lost relatives and ancestors, but you're right that it's the personal stories that are often the most valuable. I wish I'd asked some of my older relatives more about their lives, but I was too busy with the business of growing up! Often we realise too late the questions we should have asked.


  4. Good luck with the talk – sounds fascinating. And that's a great idea to write on the back of photos. I keep telling my husband to write stuff down as he's had such an amazing life..


  5. Hi Girls,

    Julia – how wonderful to have those stories about your Grandmother.

    Teresa – please get your notebook out this Christmas and record those stories for your children.

    Joanne – I know there are more records available now, but you can’t beat having an original parish register in front of you or the original vellum will in your hands. Write down any recollections you have about family stories. I heard a story about an 80something remembering a tale from her childhood. ‘They lived in a castle full of beautiful things,’ she said. It turned out when the research was done that her family were pawn brokers!

    Flowerpot – I hope my talk will be okay. Get your husband to write about his life. You can even get books now with a question on each page and space to answer it. Maybe an idea for Christmas?

    Thank you for commenting. Mx


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