Who Will Champion Your Family History?

Every family has at least one. Who is yours?

By Kurt Rump

You can do a quick Google search and turn up lots of good articles that offer advice and “how to” guidance for capturing and preserving your family history. For example, I recently became aware of a piece published by AARP titled, How to Create an Oral Family History.

It’s well written, gives you some good reasons to tackle a project like that, and asserts that the tools to create a family oral history are at everyone’s disposal.

Great! Let’s get started, right?

However, before outlining the key steps, the author makes this keen observation, “Starting a family oral history project — and, crucially, seeing it through — requires a bit of preparation and time.”

And there’s the rub.

To say it requires “a bit” of preparation and time is… well… “a bit” of an understatement. In fact, in step one, “define your project,” the author acknowledges that “telling an entire family history in any form is a daunting project” (emphasis mine).

So, are you up to the task? And if not you, then who?

Let’s take the next few minutes to unpack that. Who in your family will champion the process for capturing your family’s history? Because let’s face it, like anything worth doing, some effort is involved. Someone needs to plan and initiate some activity.

It’s a bit like my first boss used to say. He had a passion for selling. To him, there was no job in the company more important than sales, and he encouraged his team with a simple message, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something!”

Think about that for a moment. For him, “sales” was the center of the universe. If you didn’t sell it, there was no need to build it, there would be nothing to install and service, there would be no revenue, no customers to educate, and no one would get paid. Sales was the engine that moved the company, and he was passionate about it.

That kind of passion is what you are looking for in your family champion. Chances are, someone in your family harbors a deep appreciation – a passion – for family history. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s someone else. If you’re part of a large, tight knit, extended family, you might be blessed with multiple family champions.

How do you spot a family champion?

They often exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Plans and instigates multigenerational family reunions.
  • Always packing a camera, snapping candid photos, and orchestrating a “group shot” before anyone leaves a family gathering.
  • Treasures old family photos, correspondence, news clippings, heirlooms, and other memorabilia that have been passed from generation to generation.
  • Digitizes and organizes old family photos, correspondence, news clippings, official documents, and the like.
  • Uses genealogy tools for research.
  • Relishes opportunities to visit with family elders, listen to their stories, and quiz them about what life was like “back in the day.”
  • Considers it tragic when old family photos are discarded at an estate sale or, worse yet, deposited in a landfill.

I think you get the idea.

If you are going to champion the process for capturing your family’s history, you are going to do it because you are passionate about your family’s stories and its history. It’s central to who you are. You know it will require some planning and take some effort, but you don’t view it as work. Classically, you might just call it “a labor of love.”

But isn’t that the case for anyone who has a passion for something? The athlete that aspires to greatness in her sport? The chef that yearns to satisfy diners in his restaurant? The entrepreneur that strives to improve lives and livelihoods with a fresh idea or a new approach? All of them are driven – willing to do whatever it takes – because they are committed to the outcome.

It’s not always clear where the spark for a passion comes from, and it doesn’t need to be. That passion is your gift, and it comes with built-in motivation.

But here’s the thing. No one is likely to successfully develop their passion in a silo. You need a supporting cast.

Just like an athlete has coaches and trainers, or a chef has mentors, or an entrepreneur has advisors, the family champion will need the encouragement and support of their family.

Some family members may be gifted storytellers, others photographers, and yet others historians. Creating a family history will be a team effort. The family champion will often be the instigator – initiating topics, organizing content, asking leading questions – but the more the rest of the family collaborates in the process, the greater the reward will be.

OK, let’s circle back to where we started.

If you accept that starting a family history project — and, crucially, seeing it through — requires a bit of preparation and time, then you know you need to find someone in your family who has the passion to champion the process. Capturing and preserving your family history is a worthwhile endeavor but, to paraphrase my first boss, nothing will happen until someone initiates something!

Are you that someone? Then what are you waiting for? Follow your passion!

And if it’s not you, then I’ll bet you know who in your family it is. Share this post with them, then give him or her a nudge and let them know you’ll be happy to support and contribute to their efforts.

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