Recently at a networking meeting, a woman mentioned that an album created for a deceased loved one was put into the casket—for safe keeping. That was a new one for me. Were her stories gone forever?
Before printing, before virtual communication, stories were kept alive orally. Across cultures, shamans, troubadours, minstrels, yarn spinners, tale spinners, orators and narrators held prominent roles in tribes and nations, passing on their skills to the next generation.
In this oral history tradition, “storytelling was never done for sheer entertainment, for the stories were a record of proud nations. Stories contained information about values, ways of life, patterns of environment, growing seasons, and religious detail,” writes Ojibway author Lenor Kesshig-Tobias in All My Relations.
Story redundancy was key to their value over time as they were repeated through decades with little variation. Embedded in the tradition were the words used and the time told. Seanchai (Irish), Shamachie (Scottish), Cantadora (Mexican), Cuentista (Tejanos/Texans of Mexican background) to name only a few, sang their history forward. But in our fast paced world, is the role of the designated storyteller lost? Who are the present day conduits of our story?
There are a multitude of vehicles to pass on stories, from the spiritual to the practical, old school and new school, the arts, analogue to digital, senior living environments, funeral homes, cemeteries, documentaries, and organizations. There is pioneering research in the area of memory. We’ve only just begun to find new and creative ways to share the human story.
Where will all the stories go?
As personal historians we have the responsibility to actively bring our history into the life of new generations. We need to teach young’ns to listen and learn about their history. Hundreds of family history projects and ideas for all ages (including teens) can be found in libraries and with simple online searches.
Old techniques have become new again as millennials who are coming of age begin to own the value of nostalgia and reminiscence.
Remember, because of our work, this time and place in our history will circulate as long as we continue to give wings to the stories. I think of the African-American spiritual Children Go Where I Send Thee (author unknown). Where will our stories go? They will go where we send them. It’s up to us.
Where will all the stories go?
On my website, I have compiled a list of practical and personal ideas for how we can “capture and release” the stories of our lives and the stories told to us. http://www.legaciesstories.com/legacies-blog I’ve included ideas for spiritual sharing, oral history recordings, practical advice on places and ways to save stories online and elsewhere—with both “old school” and “new school” methods. The options are as varied as the stories and the story tellers. Remember, we can never really know where the stories will go—but we must do our part to make sure that they continue on their journeys for generations yet to come.