Gareth St John Thomas is the CEO of Exisle Publishing and the author of Finding True Connections, an essential guide to assembling the life story of your family.
Today, Gareth is on the blog to talk about the book and about his own process of discovering his family history.
As services such as Ancestry.com grow and libraries overflow with people researching their family history, it’s time to look at the legacy that will be left by those living now.
Wherever your DNA may come from, it’s the combined values and experiences of your family that is more likely to determine you and your own children’s actions and beliefs.
My grandfather Gilbert Thomas turned out to have Welsh origins, but that doesn’t mean he ‘was’ Welsh and it’s not clear what in practice the DNA tells us. Grandad certainly couldn’t sing and may not have even visited Wales. What I do know is that he was a writer, reviewer, and a poet, and as conscientious objector he spent the first World War in a British jail. He died when I was just becoming old enough to realise that the strange old man in the corner who smoked, snoozed, and smiled had a history worth knowing about. I am fortunate because some of his legacy and thoughts are left in his books and clearly he was, one way or another, a great influence on me as I am now a writer and a publisher. So we can see his story continuing, but what about all those marvellous stories that are being lost as their owner dies? We all think that we will remember but we don’t, and facts gets distorted and things get forgotten about.
One of the most commonly talked about, started-but-never-finished projects in families is assembling a family member’s life story. It takes some work and some planning. But the benefits are huge, not only for the immediate relatives, but future generations can benefit too from a properly assembled and recounted story. One of the things we have found is that the person whose story is being told gets an immense psychological benefit from telling it. Firstly, it can affirm a life (just about every body’s story is interesting) and it can help clean up the memory by ensuring that the story is understood in the correct chronological order. Telling it also gives a voice to an older family member which may not be heard enough during the normal processes of busy family lives.
Finding True Connections has all the questions you need to ask in order for your family’s story to be related to you. Each of the 100 core questions has a set of prompts and follow-on questions so you can explore an area in depth or move on quickly if desired. The questions and the advice have been worked out and tested on a variety of people and checked by psychologists and historians. The book encourages you to record a few other things as well, such as the story behind some of the photographs and artefacts that will be left behind. Caring for your family members and finding out their thoughts will connect everyone through the generations.
Finding True Connections
How to Learn and Write About a Family Member's History
Our individual memories define us. Our tribal memories unite us. If these are missing, parts of us are missing too.
Now, Finding True Connections clearly and simply sets out the steps necessary for you to undertake this process yourself, without an external interviewer. Designed as a series of double-page spreads, on the left-hand page is a prompt question while, on the facing page, notes provide context to the question and tips and guidance for how to gain the most meaningful answers...