Like the kind you might hear while watching an action-packed episode of a good police drama? Where the good guys have just concluded a thrilling high-speed chase and collared a notorious drug kingpin who, as he’s being led away with his hands securely cuffed behind his back, suddenly stops and turns to the hero cop, piercing his captor with a menacing gaze as he half shouts, half spits his warning, “This isn’t over yet! Your family is history!”
No. It’s not that. But I am a sucker for a good story, which is what this post is all about.
Family stories, to be specific.
What are your favorite family stories? Some were undoubtedly passed down from your parents or grandparents. Others you likely experienced on your own. And if your family is anything like mine, no family gathering is complete without taking a few trips down memory lane to share some colorful nuggets from the past.
Some stories might be from recent history. Others might seem like ancient history. And there is everything in between.
The point is this, your family has history. Your family is history... living history. And the more connected you are to the stories that comprise your family history, the more grounded you are in who they are… and who you are.
If you and your family are like most, you are not doing much of anything. Like the generations that preceded you, family stories are largely oral history, passed down from one generation to the next.
The stories might be accompanied by old photos, memorabilia, correspondence, or other artifacts, but the details are in the telling. They are spoken tales.
And if you are not present when the tale is being told, you miss out.
Let me tell you a little story. First some background. My mom was one of eight children, one of whom, my Uncle Carl, was a career Air Force pilot and veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He spent the bulk of his flying career as an aircraft commander and command pilot on RB-36s and B-52s.
Some years ago, my mom and dad were in Washington D.C. with some of her sibs. Uncle Carl was among them. While there, they paid a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. As they strolled through the museum, Uncle Carl started telling stories. He had firsthand knowledge and familiarity with much of what was on display at the time.
As mom later described it to me, a few people joined them to listen in as they slowly roamed through the exhibits.
A few people grew to a small crowd.
The small crowd grew to a larger crowd. Uncle Carl was a master storyteller, and that day people followed him around like he was the Pied Piper.
But I wasn’t there, so I missed it. I would have loved to have heard those stories.
I’m betting that you have missed out on your share of family stories, too. Maybe it was due to a schedule conflict with a family reunion. Perhaps you arrived late for a holiday dinner, or had to leave early to catch a flight, causing you to miss out on some lively kitchen table conversations.
Or if you weren’t the one missing out, I bet you know of someone who did.
How cool would it be if your family’s stories had a place to live? A place where you could discover stories you may have missed, inquire about additional details, or deposit memories of your own?
1. A place to gather so you can all participate in the conversation. A place that everyone can get to conveniently. My mom gathered with her sibs at the Smithsonian, but physical locations are rarely convenient for everyone. So, you need a “virtual” gathering place. Someplace that feels as comfortable as your kitchen table.
2. Conversation starters to help get the banter going. The Smithsonian was full of historic artifacts that triggered Uncle Carl’s memory. Old photos have the same effect. When you are sitting at the kitchen table with some relatives and someone passes a few old photos around, it never fails to spark some conversation. So, it needs to be easy for anyone in the group to share photos with the others sitting at your “virtual kitchen table.”
3. A convenient way to capture the stories for everyone to enjoy. Have you ever noticed how, when you try to capture an event live, you can be so focused on your recording equipment and technique that you are not fully present in the moment? It isn’t easy, and it often isn’t convenient. You miss out (at least partially) even though you were there! So, the key to capturing stories is to make it easy for the storyteller. He or she might be more comfortable typing a narrative or may prefer to make an audio recording. Ideally, you will have the option of doing either.
4. A good way to organize the content so it is easy to consume. Your brain loves organization. On the other hand, your brain dislikes chaos. When you walk into a bookstore, you are not going to react well if you can’t easily separate fiction from biographies from self-help from travel. In the same way, you will appreciate it if the content in your virtual gathering place has some organizational structure as you explore the stories and join the conversations about favorite people, places, times, and events from your family history.
5. Awareness of who is in a group with you so that what you share is proper and relevant. When you are participating in kitchen table conversations, what you say is often influenced by who is at the table with you, or at least it should be, lest you say something that you will later regret, or you share something that is not pertinent to the majority of participants. While the lines for what is proper or relevant are often blurry, you should be able to easily structure the size and makeup of your groups if you so desire. And you should always be able to see at-a-glance who is in a group with you.
These are the things we were looking for when we searched for a good, sustainable solution for capturing our own family stories a few years ago, but there was nothing available that checked all the boxes. That was our motivation for creating the TightKnit platform.
Oh, by the way, if you don’t take some initiative and start capturing some of those stories now, your family probably is history.
Memories fade. Facts get lost. Eventually, entire stories disappear.
And what is the next generation left with? Questions mostly. The answers to which were once known and most likely shared around kitchen tables at past gatherings, but never captured and, therefore, not preserved.
Don’t let that family be your family.
Cheers to the storytellers!
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