Monday, May 9, 2011

I Recommend...

...Bold Spirit. Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, by Linda Lawrence Hunt, if you'd like to read an example of how to place your ancestor in his or her contemporary environment. Hunt is not one of Helga's descendants but a researcher who dug deep to find as much as she could about Helga's family situation; about her walk from Spokane, Washington, to New York City in 1896; and about the cultural, religious, economic, and environmental times in which she lived. We also learn about people she met and how they influenced contemporary times and possibly Helga herself.

Helga's story was almost lost because of the feelings of her family members and community about her journey. In one of the last chapters, Hunt reflects on reasons why family stories are silenced and thereby lost. She gives several possibilities.

Breaking the code. The codes are values such as "mothers belong at home;" "fathers are the breadwinners;" etc. When someone goes against the code of the community or the family, others often choose to silence the story or event that took place.

Underestimating Worth. Others place little value on the experience or story, not only for how it affected the individual who experienced it but also how it could benefit others in the future.

Not Comprehending the Experience. When others can't quite understand or imagine an experience, it can be silenced. There's not a common ground for the retelling and sharing of the experience.

Sealing the Shame. Perceptions of improper behavior or incompetence can cause stories to be silenced, especially by the person who experienced the event.

Keeping the Peace. Sometimes it's just easier to be silent than to speak about an experience that will cause emotional turmoil to oneself or to other family members. Sometimes keeping peace in a family can be more important than sharing an experience.

Avoiding the Anger. Another's anger won't be voiced if the story isn't shared.

Sometimes we don't know about - and may never know about - stories in the lives of our ancestors for any of the reasons above. Sometimes there's a stray thread that, if grasped and followed, will lead us to more detail. In the instance of Helga, whose story was silenced for all of the above reasons, the smallest thread led to a deeper understanding and an interesting story which had been lost to her grandchildren and was found because of two newspaper articles. The story was then researched by Linda Hunt. Fortunately for all of us, Helga's story was chronicled in American newspapers and Hunt has made her story available to all of us.

Granted, most of us don't have family members who have done something so well-recorded in newspapers but we can use this book as an example of how to learn about the social, moral, and economic times in which our ancestors lived.

I especially like these thoughts from Linda Hunt.
The gathering and sharing of the rag-rug remnants of our family's lives gives a gift to the next generation, a community of memory in a highly mobile world. Through developing written and oral histories, creating scrapbooks, telling stories around a dining table or campfire, displaying photographs and making videos, every family can weave an enduring rug of memories. Capturing the hopes, challenges, actions, disappointments, successes, pains, and joys inherent in every family gives children roots and wings.
If you'd like to learn more, go to Bold Spirit Across America.



  1. Great Post Nancy! I will definitely get this book.

  2. Thanks for an excellent post, Nancy. I just read a little bit of the book at Amazon and ordered a copy. Also enjoyed the "Recent Findings" link at Bold Spirit Across America. This looks like a great summer read!

  3. This sounds like a really interesting book! I especially like your summary of the reasons mentioned in the book for why family stories aren't repeated or passed down. All too true, in my experience.

  4. Sounds like a great read, I'll have to check it out!

  5. That looks like a fascinating book and an amazing woman. Thanks for the tip.

  6. Nancy this is an excellent post and I will add this book to my reading list. I liked the summary of why stories are lost. I could relate to some of those reasons that happend in my family. Thanks for sharing.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...