Personal History

The Importance of Telling Life Stories

Discover the Value of Individual Lives, Families and Communities

  • PART I

If genealogy connects the branches of ‘The Family Tree’, Personal Histories (PH) are the leaves. The tree comes to life with the rest of the story. The personal touches, that connects the past to the present and future.

We know Johann Heilmann left Germany in 1866 for America. He started a new life in Johnstown PA and began a family that produced my dad, me, my brother and three sisters.

What we don’t know is why he left Germany. We know he was the oldest son and would have inherited the family farm. But nothing was written down, no recorders to hear his voice. There are some photos with verbal stories and that helps, but there’s so much we don’t know about his times.

There’s more to his story and that’s PH. With today’s technologies, there’s no excuse for future relatives not to ‘know’ their ancestors. It helps us discover who we are today.

By listening to verbal family stories, we can recognize a part of ourselves. A sort of ‘Oh, I do that’ response. Fifty years from now as a great grandson watches a video of his great grandmother waving to the camera from great grandpa’s favorite boat he’ll say, ‘Mom, that looks like you! You act the same as great grandma.’

That’s fun!

A bound book which chronicles the stories, quotes and antidotes is wonderful to have. The videos, photos, computer files of pictures and clips of birthday parties, first steps, first day of school and first dates are all wonderful too.

Today anyone can learn to produce their own family story from websites like,  a place where ‘your story begins’. Or, start with your smart phone! ANY family member can document family personalities. It’s  a matter of producing it, saving it and sharing it with family members today so others will have it in the future.

Chronological order is where most people start…which depends if it’s going to be a personal history a family history or combination of both.

Why not begin with random thoughts. Keep them in categories to be organized later. Next write down or video favorite stories and memories. A good place to start would be a family trip, event or special occasion. The ‘story teller’ tells his favorite parts than gets his sister’s take on her memories of the special occasion. No doubt mom and dad have their take on it too. Make that an entire scene in a movie or a chapter in a book.

Many times, I’ve thought how neat it would have been if great, great, grandpa Heilmann had a video camera as he got off the boat at Castle Island, NY in 1865.