Why I Love Telling The Family Story

When I was in high school, I struggled with American History. I am not a poor student and when I enjoy a subject I usually am a straight “A” student. I was lucky to maintain a “D” average in history. Why? Because history, taught to me then, was a list of memorized facts and dates. Do not get me wrong, I have a very good capacity to remember significant data, when I am able to understand the context. By themselves, facts and dates were meaningless to me.

Fast forward a few years until the mid-1970’s, when the book “Roots” by Alex Haley came out. I read it with an intensity that I had not ever had before. I could not stop reading it. History came alive in that book and I have been hooked ever since. I am an avid reader and enjoy several genres, but the genre I enjoy the most is historical fiction.

My all-time favorite author is the late James A. Michener. You know, the one who wrote historical fiction at about 1,000 pages per book. The first of his books that I read was “Chesapeake” which of course is the history of the entire Chesapeake Bay area from before man set foot there, and up to and including Richard Nixon’s presidency. I found that book the most fascinating story I had ever read and I wished I could travel to the Bay area and see all the places that Michener told about.

The second of his books that I read was “Centennial,” which was the story of those individuals who traveled by covered wagon westward to Colorado, and how they settled Colorado and made it what it is today. I read it shortly after we had moved my family of six from Missouri to Colorado, lived there six months, and then moved back to Missouri. As I read “Centennial,” I kept finding myself saying “been there, done that” and that book came alive to me.

My foray into family history began after I read “Roots” and since I knew my mother was always collecting family history stories as well as doing genealogical research, I starting looking through her boxes and boxes of accumulated material and I have not stopped yet, nor do I want to. I love history, family history especially. Since the 1980s I have spent many hours on genealogy research, but always it took a back burner to my job and raising my family. After I retired, I have been able to devote the majority of my time to family history. My mother was always writing or compiling stories of the Swisher family and they were fascinating reading to me. I always wondered if I could write stories myself. One of the last requests that she asked of me, was to be sure to finish her “life story,” that she had been working on for years. I did that, and enjoyed it immensely, but still was not sure if I had what it took to write my own stories.

Then one day as I was digging through more of her accumulated family records, I came across an autographed copy of a book written in 1992, titled “Butter in the Well, A Scandinavian Woman’s Tale of Life on the Prairie” by Linda K. Hubalek, written in an historical diary format, set between 1868 and 1888. I read that book, which was describing an area in the middle of Kansas that sounded very familiar. The more I read, I starting commenting to myself, “I’ve been there.” She even included some township maps and as I studied them, I realized I had been to the places described in her book, even to the ancestral house she wrote about.

When I finished the book, I just could not let go of the fact that the places she mentioned were the places I had been as a teenager, so I called her up on the phone. Turns out, I had indeed been there. Her maiden name was Johnson, and her older brother was a good friend of mine from high school. Being in his home at various times, I remember seeing his little sister, although since she was just a little girl, I pretty much ignored her. That was Linda. She remembered my younger sister as they were closer in age than I was to her and attended high school together.

Knowing a real life author who wrote books in my favorite genre (she has several more books in the series by now) and realizing that I, too, have stories to tell as she did, has inspired me to act on my dream of writing.