Thursday, November 19, 2015


Grandma has an exciting story to tell about her life. Grandpa has told us how he walked three miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways. Your Great-great aunt has passed on exciting stories about her grandparents, who were born just before the Civil War started. These stories have taken up a special place in your heart, and you want them to survive. Keeping stories alive about someone in your family that was a witness to the Civil War is so important to you, but the genealogy bug hasn't gotten to your kids yet, and in order for family history to survive, we need to pass it on to the younger generations.

If you like classic television, you’ve surely seen The Andy Griffith Show. In one of my favorite episodes, Andy gets stuck in a bind with his son’s teacher over History homework. The teacher gets so frustrated with her students’ apparent lack of interest in their History studies that she is on the verge of quitting when Andy steps in and tells the boys that they don’t want to learn about all that “dull stuff” anyway –about “Indians, and Redcoats, and cannons, and guns and muskets and stuff.” The boys get all excited that Andy seems to be in agreement with them, and then they pause, turn, and look at him quizzically. Then one pipes up: “What about Indians and Redcoats and cannons and muskets and guns and stuff?” Andy brushes it off, saying, “Oh, you know. Indians and Redcoats, and you know…history.” And with that, the boys are hooked.

Andy then engages the boys (and his deputy, Barney Fife) in a heart-pounding rendition of the tale of Paul Revere, and with every word, the boys’ eyes grow wider, their jaws drop further, and they are drawn more and more into the story. “He says the British is comin’, the British is comin’, get your guns, we’re gonna have us a revolution!” When Andy is finished, they demand to know just where he got that story! Andy just replies, “Oh, your history book.” But the bait is already sunk. The boys have been won over. History has come alive for them through the power of storytelling, and they wanted to know more.

Barney and the boys listening to Andy's story

(If you want to see the entire episode, it’s called Andy Discovers America, and it’s on YouTube here: The excerpt I discussed starts at the 10:15 mark.)

Children need to know that their ancestors’ lives were a series of stories. There were times your ancestors probably picked up their son or daughter on their knee and told them the story of the time they did this or that. Pa Ingalls in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series was an expert storyteller. Laura preserved those stories in her books, always just as exciting as when Pa told it to her.

And that is what I want to challenge you to do with your children. Capture your family stories in a homemade storybook. Write out their stories in narrative form, with dialogue and action verbs and illustrations by your child. Turn that story your grandpa told you into a storybook. Turn the family legend of your ancestor’s crossing of the Atlantic into a storybook. Was your 7th great-grandfather a teacher in a small town in Germany? His story can be in a storybook. Was your 3rd great-grandfather a Union soldier? That can be a storybook, too.
An illustration by my daughter, Ellie, about our ancestor Jesse Vawter

Will you and your children join me? I’d love to create a community of people turning their family history into storybooks with the help of your children. Or you can do it on your own, and present the book to your children or grandchildren as a gift. It’s up to you! Whatever you do, share it with the rest of us! Use the hashtag #StorybookAncestor or simply comment on this blog with your link. I’ll be sharing the storybooks I create with my 7 year old daughter and I'll check in every week to share everyone else's. I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with. Best wishes!

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