What do baby boomers and elder Americans consider to be the most important piece of their legacy? The answer is family stories and keeping their family history alive, according to a 2012 survey by Allianz Life Insurance.
I read about this in a Wall Street Journal article by Andrea Coombes published Dec. 14-15 in the Bangor Daily News’ “The Wall Street Journal Sunday” section.
These same two groups told surveyors that personal keepsakes, family stories and last wishes were more prized as a bequest even than money.
I cherish my dad’s bandana handkerchiefs, his dog tags, the picture of his Navy ship and his service medals, the latter which I divided up so my sister and brother could each have one, also.
My sister has his World War II walking stick, my boys a drill and a set of nut-drivers, and my brother some fishing and hunting gear. Nothing of great material value, but the items mean the world to my dad’s descendants.
Even the almost-junk in the corner of the garage could be a family heirloom. Our oldest grandchild, 10-year-old Lexis Perry, is waiting patiently while Pepere repairs and refinishes a child’s roll-top desk that was used by me, my sister and her daughter. It was purchased 50 years ago for my 12th birthday and refinished then by my grandfather, Stanley Steeves.
With several of its pieces being replaced, the little desk will never really qualify as an antique, but a treasure it is.
Let’s go back to the family stories that so many of us love to collect — and, of course, the genealogy and family history. So many times when I ask people if they’ve done any work on their family trees, they say, “My aunt did that,” or “My cousin has all that.” But, do you have a copy for your branch of the family?
I confess, I have yet to learn how to put my stuff on computer into a GedCom, which facilitates sharing, but I have made printed copies of some pedigree charts and other items, especially the 17-page transcript of the 1994 interview I did with my dad to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II.
It was only one interview, and I’ve thought of so many more questions since he died in 2002, but I have that two-hour interview.
You know what? A 15-minute chat is a whole lot better than nothing. Some years back, I had a telephone conversation with one of my dad’s fellow sailors from the LCI 565 after I copied a few of my dad’s photos for him.
He told me about my dad’s favorite record of “Danny Boy,” which apparently he played all the time when they weren’t in battle. This guy grew tired of the record, so he broke it and threw it overboard, provoking my dad to then throw his records overboard.
Now I always sing “Danny Boy” to new babies in our family, as I did on Thanksgiving Day to my grandchildren’s cousin, 3-month-old Emmet Christopher Wilcox.
I also sang “Eh-Eh-Eh-Emmet, Beautiful Emmet,” based on “K-K-K-Katy,” the World War I song billed as the “Sensational Stammering Success Song Sung by the Soldiers and Sailors” after it was published in 1918.
I believe my class at Sangerville Consolidated School learned that in music lessons with teachers Alice Mossler and Ethel Sawyer in the early 1960s.
I didn’t know the origins of “K-K-K-Katy” until I looked it up recently, but now I have that interesting bit of trivia to add.
I’ve interviewed veterans from World War I to current military personnel, so what’s left to write? A lot of things. It occurred to me recently that I want to ask my mother about growing up during World War II. What does she remember doing without? Some of her older cousins served during the war — what does she remember about that?
Here’s the thing I know from experience. Even questions which don’t draw much of an answer at first may percolate a while, and later on she may remember more. Also, I hope to get together with her and another older member of her father’s family to hear them reminisce together.
Back to heirlooms for a minute. Aunt Marion Dyer passed on to me in 1990 Aunt Elsie Lawry’s set of china. Except for a few pieces I kept for my niece, I didn’t really see the dishes as something I wanted to keep for my branch of the family. I have boys, and I really thought they should be passed on through a female line.
Another niece of Aunt Elsie, one who has a daughter of her own, said she was sure her daughter would like to have them, and the plan was made. But I hesitated to ship them, so it wasn’t until this year that I actually gave them to my cousin, whose daughter now has a home and family of her own to appreciate the dishes.
A photo, a letter, a copy of military discharge papers, a few paragraphs about one of your earliest family memories. What may seem like a small thing today could become a cherished keepsake for the relative or friend, the historical society or library you share it with.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.