Updated: Sep 30
There was a 90th birthday party in Northern Michigan.
Sixty relatives filled the restaurant in a pre-COVID era. Guests flew in from all over the country. Florida. Chicago. Texas.
For five of the adults, this was a celebration of Mom. For their kids, it was grandma. And for the three babies in the room, this was great-grandma, someone they’d hear stories about for the rest of their lives.
But to everyone there, the 90th birthday girl was lovingly known by one name: Nana.
Before digging into the plates of chicken and pasta, Nana - never one to lunge for the spotlight - humbly walked to the center of the room, a sheet of paper in hand.
She thanked everyone for coming and started reading from a poem she’d written titled "Family." Her kids watched with smiles on their faces, a few tears in their eyes. A few of the grandkids had cell phones out recording the scene.
Time stops in these types of moments. And you can close your eyes 20 years later and vividly picture where you were. The poem is timeless and if you're able to find the cell phone recording years later, that's great, but the memory itself will never fade away.
The Importance of Preserving Our Family Stories
Ancestry does an awesome job recording dates, information, and building out family trees. It's amazing how far back you can go.
Legacybox® also serves an important purpose. They take your VHS tapes and turn these into digital files. This alleviates the stress of losing the hard copies and makes it easier for future generations to sort through hours of video.
But, in both cases, you're only getting the outer layer of the person. The video of Christmas morning or a fishing trip, those things are great, but they don't get into what the person was like. What they thought about. What they cared about. It doesn't deliver their sense of humor. Their beliefs. Or the stories they told at the dinner table.
Using the example above, Nana's poem offers a deeper look into who she is as a person, a glimpse into what’s most important to her. The same holds true with a memoir, a book of essays, or a novel.
But writing is hard. Especially at the beginning
You'll see books in Barnes & Noble that have story prompts on one page and blank lines to write in the stories. They ask questions like: Where were you born? Who was your first kiss? Who was your best friend in elementary school?
It’s a great idea but, honestly, it feels too much like a homework assignment. It brings up old memories of a teacher saying, "Write 500 words on your summer vacation."
Writing gets easier once you get started
Writing is a lot like running or working out. If you can make it a habit for a few weeks, it becomes routine and it ends up being one of the most enjoyable hobbies in the world. We see this with people who finish their first book, they suddenly have five more story ideas and dive right into the next one.
But in every case, there was a little boost to get rolling. And, for that boost to work, it can't feel like a school assignment.
Writing doesn’t have to be the only option
We spent a good two years thinking it always had to be a person writing down their stories.
But in our two biography projects, the stories were compiled via phone interviews. In these scenarios, it was more natural and an easier way to get started.
We also noticed the audio stories were a better format than video. There's less pressure talking over the phone vs. staring into a camera. And, as a listener, there’s something powerful about hearing the loved one's voice. It's incredibly personal.
A New Product/Service in Time for the Holidays
This will continue to evolve, but in the spirit of just getting started, we're excited to announce a Version 1 of the Family Story Box. How it Works A family starts by sending us 5-10 digital photos of the parent, grandparent, family member they’re buying the gift for. We'll print the photos out, put them in the box. We then pair this with custom story prompts based on the photos you sent and also add our standard set of story prompts that help bring more stories to life. If you have questions you'd like to ask, stories you want to make sure they tell, feel free to send those too and we'll add those as well. Then we ship the box to your relative. Makes for a great birthday or holiday gift. Especially this year when it’s been so hard to meet in person, we hope this serves as a way to stay connected, even at a distance. But again, the hardest part is getting started. The box of prompts by itself would be just like the book of story prompts at the bookstore. So we also include a 30-60 minute phone interview. We'll play the role of talk show host, providing that little stoytelling boost. What Happens From There? There are many paths you could take as you continue this project. For example, you could continue recording stories as a family. Or schedule more interview time with Long Overdue. In terms of final products, we can help you turn your stories into a book. Or edit the audio into chapters so it's like having a podcast of your family's stories. If you have other ideas, we'd love to hear those too and if we can't make it happen, we'll point you to someone who can hopefully provide the service. But it all starts with that first story. Then the reunion begins. If you're interested in starting your family story project or would like to learn more about this new service, please fill out this form and we'll setup some time to chat. We look forward to working with you!