RootsTech 2016: Lessons in the Power of Stories

Lessons in the power of stories

“The grace, the courage, the beauty we can find in the stories if we simply take the time to listen.”

~ David Isay, Storycorps founder

Earlier this month, I attended RootsTech 2016, the world’s largest family history and genealogy conference. Over 25,000 registered genealogists, amateurs and professionals alike, converged in Salt Lake City for several days of seminars, labs, networking, and just plain fun. As well, there were 7,000 young persons under the age of 18 in attendance! Even 30 countries were represented and all 50 states. This was my first genealogy conference—ever—and I attended the granddaddy of them all. It was a privilege to be there and a whirlwind of information!

In a recent entry, blogger Tony Proctor wrote, “Meeting all those people that I only knew by name or profile-picture would have been enough on its own, but the overwhelming message of this year’s RootsTech was of particular importance to me: stories and memories. I have long bemoaned the industry’s focus on lineage at the expense of stories and other forms of narrative, and this limitation was a major force in me developing my own software. As Steve Rockwood, the new CEO of FamilySearch, said in his Wednesday Innovator Summit keynote, it’s less about ‘facts of the chart’ and more about ‘stories of the heart.’ His emphasis was primarily on preserving stories for future generations but this new focus still gets my vote.” Tony graciously provided his approval for me to copy from his blog. For the entire post, click here.

I heard over and over, from different speakers, the same recurring theme at RootsTech:

      Big Stories Can Come from Small Moments–                                  Consistently Recorded!

Even today’s Millennials are amazing family historians; they just may not realize it. Today’s teens and young adults call “keeping family history” social media! Their small bytes of daily recordings of life repeated over time in different formats— whether it’s Snapchat stories, Instagram posts, or their parent’s Facebook page they hacked and uploaded a silly selfie to (or a text that has been screen shot and shared)—become an online scrapbook of life.

Tony Proctor goes on in his blog to state, “A particularly moving presentation that demonstrated the power of stories was the Friday keynote by David Isay, founder of Storycorps. The premise is for two close people to record a 40-minute question-answer session between them as though it was their last chance to say something important. David presented a number of these recordings in the keynote and they were so moving that I found myself discretely reaching for my pack of tissues, only to realize that from the folks around me there was an inordinate amount of gentle coughing, nose-blowing, and dust-in-the-eye maintenance. The amazing thing about these stories is that they told themselves; they didn’t need any hype or advertising, and that’s just how stories should be. Whether we’re telling personal stories or recounting historical ones that we may have researched then that potential to tug on the heart-strings will always be there. David was obviously aware of this as his introduction was a mere 3.5 minutes before the first story. Perfect!”

One argument David made for recording and sharing stories was something along these lines: “You might just hear or see a bit of your own story in someone else’s story… stories build bridges of understanding even among strangers. Those strangers who may seem so different up front really aren’t so different.” We all could use help sometimes in building and crossing bridges of understanding.

New York Times bestselling author, Bruce Feiler, then presented some of his blueprints for modern, healthy families. This author of The Secrets of Happy Families noted that one aspect of high functioning families is that they know their history—they talk about where they come from and about their past; they talk about what it means to be in a family. According to Feiler, the number one predictor of a child’s happiness is a sense of well-being; a sense of being part of a generational system helps to develop that. Children who understand that when they hit hardships others before them have gone through it and survived bounce back faster from trauma. So make passing down the lore and memories of your family a regular part of your life. Remind your children of your past, and of their ancestor’s pasts. Scribble them on paper or record your voice or simply share your narrative at bedtime with a beloved family member. Doing so is sure to touch the heart of your family.

Shortly after leaving David Isay’s speech about Storycorps a dear friend texted me that she was cleaning out her aging mother’s home. I strongly encouraged her to carve out the time – soon – to record her mother’s voice. To get the stories from her mother recorded while she still could. My friend indicated how emotionally hard that would be to do but she understood that, if she didn’t make the interview happen, the day would come that she would regret it. I promised to help her.

At RootsTech 2016, I loved the narrative: You have a family history– family stories– just waiting to be told!  So find a way to tell YOUR story.

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