Scott, 47, began compiling his family’s history after he watched the television miniseries Roots 35 years ago when he was in middle school. In his earliest research days, he would interview family members and visit the genealogy room of the local library, painstakingly looking up census records on microfilm. After college, he would travel 60 miles to the county courthouse near his grandparents’ hometown to search birth certificates and cemetery records. These days, of course, most of that information is available online, but the stories that are most meaningful tend to be the ones he learned firsthand.
He’s still learning. This past spring, Scott organized a family road trip to take his 98-year-old grandmother back to rural East Texas where she was raised. That’s where many of the pieces fell into place. He documented the trip on video as his grandmother recalled earlier times: “Here’s where I got married. Here’s where your grandpa had a café.”
History came to life on that journey. “My grandmother is a member of the Greatest Generation,” says Scott. “Think of all she’s seen in her life. I want to know these stories. I want my children to know these stories.”
His documenting his grandmother’s story is more than a personal quest. “This is for my grandkids I may or may never know. It will live on well past when we’re alive.”
As the years go by, Scott feels a growing sense of urgency about his mission. “Every minute that passes is a lost opportunity,” he says. He was devastated when his father passed away a year and a half ago. “I was so focused on my grandmother because of her age, I didn’t focus on him. I thought there’d be more time.”
Every story matters, every voice counts. That’s the rallying cry of every family documentarian, and it’s also the mandate of StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing and preserving stories of everyday people. Since its founding in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded more than 40,000 stories from some 80,000 individuals nationwide and catalogued them at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has two permanent “StoryBooths” that operate in Atlanta and San Francisco where people can share their stories. Their “MobileBooth” is in Charleston, South Carolina, through November 17 before moving onto McAllen, Texas.
Four years ago, the act of sharing stories was elevated to a holiday called the National Day of Listening, occurring each year on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional shopping day known as Black Friday.
“We’re offering people a better alternative,” says Krisi Packer of StoryCorps. “We’re asking them to sit with a loved one and ask the questions most important to them.”
People are encouraged to record their interviews on a computer, mobile device, or tape recorder and then post them to an interactive “wall of listening” at nationaldayoflistening.org.
“Asking questions and telling a loved one, ‘I would like to know more about your life,’ is such a big gesture in itself,” Packer says.
Sometimes it’s the big questions: What was the most challenging time of your life? And sometimes it’s the small ones: How did you learn to make cream pie?
The birth of Ann Balderston Glynn’s first child was the impetus to ask her parents to tell their stories in the kitchen of her old home. Within 10 years of making the video, both her mother and father were gone. “The video is not meant to be sad. It is informative, loving and, hopefully, inspirational. So many of these stories and family recipes would be forgotten if not for this video. I’m grateful I’ve preserved these stories for my children and beyond.”
For informative videos and examples that will help you jumpstart your genealogy journey, visit saturdayeveningpost.com/genealogy.