Nearly thirty years ago, I came across a project by the US military.  Because the armed forces realized that WW2 veterans were beginning to die in ever-increasing numbers, they created a project asking veterans to film interviews with their memories or write down those memories on some forms.  The forms weren’t bureaucracy, just standardized questions and prompts to spur memories.

After running into this, I asked my grandfather if he would do something similar.  Since my mom’s family are immigrants, this was for his service in the German Army from 1939-45.  I asked for more than that though–I also asked if he could write down stuff from when they came to the United States in the early 1950s.  Initially, my grandfather didn’t want to do this, but partially because I was the favorite grandchild, he did so–with some handwritten stuff and typed stuff that totaled 30-40 pages of material, things none of us grandchildren knew about our family and in some cases things he had not shared with his own children.  The document shed an entirely new perspective on my family and also serves still as an inspiration to keep working hard–that there’s a bigger picture out there I/we are part of.

So–how does this relate to the Foundation?  How does it relate to you?

Consider your family, your parents or grandparents.  What do they remember of being kids and events of their childhood?  Did they serve in Vietnam or protest it?  Did you have relatives who lived through the civil rights movement?  Did they participate?  This isn’t just about tracing lineage–that’s not really important.  It’s about connecting with your family–it’s about learning history through stories of people you know.  Learning about the Tet Offensive in a book is far, far different than talking to a Marine who was in Hue or Khe Sanh.  9/11 is a different experience for someone who lived in New York or worked in DC rather than was harvesting crops in Missouri that day in 2001…or maybe that inspired your dad/relative to join the military in response.

The thing is–this is how you learn about history, how you interact with history.  Personal stories are powerful, they are often moving.  They shape your way of thinking.  If you are a teacher, have you considered how you can harness something like this in your classroom?  Could you create an assignment to take advantage of this–asking students to record interviews with a grandma or to write down what Dad said–and then do a 3-5 page research assignment comparing his personal experience to ‘the big picture’?