The Making of a Legacy – Part 2: The Evolution of Oral Storytelling
In this 12-part series, we’ll be showing you how we created a legacy for our late Uncle Al using his stories, and how you might approach doing the same with a loved one in your family.
The Long family had taken an entire afternoon to listen to Al’s WW2 and Ford stories. In hindsight, I wish we’d thought to ask him even more questions, or that I’d had some idea of his list of stories so I could prompt him to tell one he hadn’t told yet. On other occasions, while we were out at dinner, Al would launch into yet another story we hadn’t heard, but by the time I could pull my phone out to record it, he was halfway through the story. So not all of his stories made it into the videos that afternoon, and because none of us can now remember the details of the other stories, the unrecorded ones died with him.
There was a time in human history when Al’s stories would have been passed down from generation to generation all by oral tradition. Our brains would have been better suited to recall Al’s stories, and our children’s brains would have been better prepared to receive them and commit them to memory to pass down to their kids. But that just isn’t how our brains adapted to the modern age—and that’s okay. It’s okay because we have the technology now to record someone telling those stories. We can simply remember that the stories exist, but we don’t have to remember all the details ourselves. We don’t have to worry about Al’s stories being diluted by forgotten detail, changed with accidentally incorrect details, or forgotten entirely within a generation or two. As long as Al’s videos exist, his stories will be told exactly as he told them, and they can be passed down indefinitely from generation to generation. A thousand years from now, the Long family’s descendants will still know about Uncle Al tricking his commanding officer into letting him go to Brussels during WW2 and painting a Ford worker’s shoes while he slept. We have our Aunt Jan to thank for making it possible for that to happen for Uncle Al.
Do you have someone in your family like Al—someone with really great stories? Or maybe there are just details of a loved one’s life that you’d like to record for yourself, your family, or for posterity.
If you answered yes to any of those situations, check out Part 3, where we’ll talk about Memory and the importance of proactive passing of stories.
Or, if you’d like to read this series from the beginning, click here for Part 1.