The Stories that Really Matter

What are the stories that stay with you… the stories that really matter…?

This question was answered by Samwise Gamgee, or “Samwise the Brave” in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Two Towers. And what does he say?

 “It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”

The Great Stories

The stories that were filled with darkness and danger, the stories where folks kept going because they were holding onto something – those are the stories that mean something to us.

I think about this line often, and the images that now come with it from the movie, when it comes to my life, and the lives of everyday people. Sam and Frodo were everyday hobbits, after all, just wee folk from the Shire, before they began their heroic journey and saved Middle Earth. But they became a great story, because they kept going, because they persevered.

Our Everyday Lives

Most of us are everyday people. Most of our ancestors were everyday people. But each of us has a story, and at certain times in all our lives our stories are full of darkness and danger. But who do we really remember? Whose stories stand out to us?

It’s the people who kept going, who held on. It’s the people that even though they failed and faltered at times, they persevered, and they overcame.

Many of these stories are forgotten. This happens to many of our ancestors, and many of the ordinary, everyday people in history. But if it weren’t for them, where would we be?

This is why I think it’s so important for us to remember, to discover their stories, and to tell their stories, and share them with our children. Because without the perseverance of our forebears, many of us wouldn’t be here at all.

Kindred Spirits

This month I am hosting a blog link-up for family historians to write about ancestors or relatives who are their kindred spirits. We all have one, someone we relate to, who inspires us. So, who is my “kindred spirit ancestor”?

The first person who came to mind is my ancestor Almyra King Holslcaw. She was an ordinary, everyday woman, the daughter of a carpenter and wife of a poor orphan farmer boy, who lived in the backwoods and a small southern Indiana town. She was probably like many of the folks from her area. Nothing too extraordinary about her. She lived her life, and it was a hard one. Her father died in a tragic accident when she was a teenager, she lost two siblings in infancy, she faced poverty with her widowed mother, she married a poor farmer, and raised children in the hard years following the Civil War. Myra had a hard life. But she kept going.

 Almyra King Holsclaw, late 1920s 

Almyra King Holsclaw, late 1920s 

She sat down near the end of her life to tell her story. She wrote, “There has been much of sorrow and hardship but also much of joy in my life and as I look back over the past eighty years, I can see my life like a pattern woven in with the lives of so many others. It seems, as I look at it from here, now that it is so nearly finished, that there is plenty of brightness to offset the dark, gloomy part of my weaving.”

Almyra could see the patterns in her life at its finish – the dark parts offset by the bright parts, the losses as well as the love. I can just imagine her, old and wrinkled, sitting pensively in her rocking chair with an old coverlet made by her mother across her lap, probably knitting as she tells her story aloud to her daughter, who writes it down just as she hears it. Almyra recalls as she closes her eyes, thinking back to her childhood as the daughter and granddaughter of pioneers in the “poorest” part of the state. She tells how hard it was raising so many children yet says how much of a blessing each of them have been to her. She remembers the Civil War and seeing all the boys off… and her grandsons off to the Great War…many of them never to return. She tells of their awful fear during these wars, the terrible after effects of both. And so, she ends her life story, the one that she knows will be passed down by her descendants, with a prayer: “And so my prayer is may war be outlawed from the land. May peace and joy and gladness come to take its place.”

Perseverance and Inspiration

Almyra’s life story inspires me for her perseverance… how despite her many trials and sorrows, she kept going. She could see at the end of her life how the brightness offset the gloominess, and she left us with a prayer.

Life has been hard for our family lately. This is one part where the darkness seems overwhelming. It’s hard to see how any brightness could offset this dark, gloomy part, as Almyra would say. It’s been hard for many people lately. The world seems so hopeless, and so often we feel helpless to change it. We rely on the stories of those who have gone before us to show us the way - to remind us that, as Sam says, Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

We can have hope. There is hope. If we just hold on.

Our Vision & Mission 

My vision is to help families and children discover the stories that are held in their family history, and to share them with each other, to share them with the world. Because stories change our lives – they teach us how to hold on, they teach us about ourselves and about each other. They have the power to change the world. For this reason, I am creating a children’s picture book based on Almyra’s memoir, that will be released in October 2017, and bringing it to children’s groups as part of a Story time program that will include a read aloud of the book as well as an interactive lesson on discovering and telling the stories in children’s family history. Will you join me? For updates about the release of the book and Story time programs, subscribe here. When you subscribe, you also receive my free e-book: Writing Family History for Children: A Workbook & Guide, which will help your family discover your family stories.

Do you believe in this mission? Become a patron of Storybook Ancestor and be a part in bringing family history and stories to children everywhere, for as a little as $5 a month. In return for support, patrons receive access to exclusive content and updates from Storybook Ancestor (including videos of read-alouds and live feeds of Story time programs!). Visit our Patreon page for more details and to share in our mission. Thank you, friends! 

Happy storytelling!