by Public Service Associate Juliana
The U.S. has commemorated Family History Month every October since 2001 when Congress passed a resolution for its annual observance. Did you know that here at the Bexley Public Library we have our very own Memory Lab for preserving photos, documents, and audiovisuals into a digital format? The lab features a photo scanner, VHS converter, slide/negative scanner, and more. Come cross something off your to-do list this October and preserve your family’s history for future generations.
Additionally, our upcoming program “Explore Your Family History with Historic Newspapers” is a great way to discover your roots. BPL’s Local History Librarian, David Distelhorst, will share tips for getting started with family history research and keeping your discoveries organized. Also learn how to find your relatives using historic newspapers such as the Columbus Dispatch and Bexley High School’s The Torch. Register to attend the event here.
On a personal level, Family History Month has inspired me to dig up oral history notes I started taking five years ago. I had intended to interview my grandparents, and the project went no further than those notes. I’m using this month to spark where I left off and actually follow through. I’ve decided that if an interview feels too formal, at least with my notes fresh in mind I’ll have some good conversation starters. I often wonder, as I age and create home and family for myself, about how my grandparents lived, the structure of their days, the rituals, routines, and minutiae of their daily lives, and what mattered most to them.
I’ve got lists of thoughtful questions, a notebook with snippets of true stories I’d like expanded upon, and paper to draw a timeline so that I can finally unite where they were in time and space. They left Kentucky; they were in Iowa; when did Poppy live in Washington state? What year did they come to Ohio? There’s a lot I know about their history, but it all floats around a bit untethered. I’ve got certain milestones in place, but I’m craving more details.
In an article for Columbus Monthly, local author Linda Kass describes a similar biographical pursuit. Kass says, prior to writing her historical novel, A Ritchie Boy, “I gave myself the assignment of interviewing both my parents to ensure that my children and grandchildren would understand where they came from. Most of all, I needed to understand my heritage. I audiotaped these conversations, hoping that an objective approach with prepared questions would finally connect the dots of my family history.”
- A Ritchie Boy by Linda Kass | print
Have you felt the same? Like you want to give yourself an “Interview Your Relative” assignment so that you can capture some specifics, get some things straight, learn about who you are and who and where you come from? Everyday, individuals embark on investigative journeys to recreate family histories and answer certain questions. Countless authors, Kass included, have used this type of inquiry as a jumping off point, working to collect information and then craft it into a narrative.
Examples of such inspired works exist across genres and/or blur genres. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, a personal favorite of mine, is what Walls refers to as a “true life novel,” inspired by the hundreds of hours of interviews she conducted with her mother. Fanny Says by Nickole Brown is a poetry collection honoring the author’s grandmother, that is “both a collection of oral history and a lyrical and moving biography” that happens to read like a novel. My favorite nonfiction examples tend to include personal archive materials like journals, letters, and other ephemera. The memoir Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller exemplifies this technique incorporating the author’s deceased mother’s documents, diaries, and photographs in attempt to understand her family’s history.
- Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls | print / digital
- Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller |print
- Fanny Says by Nickole Brown | print
If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Family History Month, we’ve got you covered. But just in case you need a few more ideas, check out Creativebug. There’s a class to make a Family Book of Everyday Life and another to create a shadowbox collage which would be a thoughtful way to commemorate a relative.