I recently completed a course with Stephanie Kadel Taras from TimePieces Personal Biographies and she gave me a lot of really excellent insights into the craft of life stories. I want to share her metaphor of the skeleton, the flesh and the soul.
In terms of family histories the first port of call is often a search on ancestry.com. You can search all of the births, deaths and marriage registries, and electoral rolls to build your family tree. You might have some common ancestors with people who have already posted their family tree. It’s just the outline, the names and places of your ancestors, you could say a skeleton of your family history. It’s hard to make too much of the basic details, but it’s the backbone of the history.
If you have them, then the photos of your ancestors and their lives really gives a much stronger understanding of the who, when, how, where, and what of their stories. We can see the kinds of lifestyles that our ancestors have lived, and you could say, these really flesh out our understanding of who they were. If we look through a photo album we see what those major life events looked like, and the faces and feelings of those people.
The stories then complete the why, the values, the identity – you could say the soul of your family history. The only way for us to connect with the soul of our ancestors is to collect their stories either orally and then write them down, or for them to be essentially autobiographical write ups. Often the latter aren’t possible due to old age.
As a personal historian, it is a joy to weave the skeleton, flesh and soul together to create and preserve a unique legacy for future generations.