Telling the Tale and Keeping the Mind Sharp

There are many reasons to collect the stories from the older adults in your family. Family history disappears when there is no one who can recall particular events and make connections. Personal stories also enrich our understanding of history and there is no better way to create a legacy than to capture your family’s stories.

Recalling memories and recounting experiences also provides a good deal of mental stimulation. The activity of recalling events, putting them in order, setting the scene and telling the tale is a creative act that puts the mind to work. More and more research shows that it is important to challenge oneself mentally and stay socially active to ward off cognitive decline. What could be better than sharing a few great stories with others? Read3_DSC0078.jpg

In our senior communities we try to gather stories from individuals that can both capture a sense of the past and also provide some insight into today. In addition to preserving family history, often these stories have meaning for many others. Laureate Group embarked on a huge project at the turn of the century to capture people’s stories and published them in a book. It was a truly inspiring experience for our seniors and their entire families.

Laureate Group’s Portraits of the 20th Century, has stories dating back to the 1880s. Here is an excerpt from one story that offers insights on the changing role of newspaper classified ads over time as well as the impact of WWII on the housing industry and young newlyweds. It is very interesting to compare the post war years to today. 

My husband accepted a position in Milwaukee but was unable to even get a hotel room. Fortunately he had a brother living in East Troy, with whom we lived for two weeks. We commuted, my husband to work and I to apartment hunting. The first place we found was a large room with a private bath in a big old house that had been made into a rooming house. For six months we lived there and continued to search for an apartment.  In the mornings I would go to the Journal Building and wait, along with others, for the first edition of the newspaper and look for ads for apartments. If one were listed, I would either get a cab or a streetcar, hoping to be the first person to answer the ad. I even got my picture in the Journal in 1946, along with six other people who were waiting in line for an apartment.  Elizabeth. Z.

Storytelling programming

We continue the practice of sharing stories today, while not with a goal of publishing another book. Current events often uncover stories from the past. For example, the space shuttle Endeavour’s last mission in May might inspire stories of the Apollo missions or what it was like during the race to be first in space. Or it may bring to mind any of the space age TV shows like Lost in Space. Any of these stories are worth the telling. These are the type of tales, just of the everyday, that can spark many more great stories and good conversation. One of the benefits of living in a senior community is that we never run out of great stories and storytellers. 

Are you looking to get started preserving memories in your family? Here are a few tips to encourage your loved one to share some of their stories: 

  • Make a timeline of events in your family or specific to one individual.
  • Create a family tree to trace your family’s origins.
  • Write names and dates on the back of old photos.
  • Capture conversations about historic events on video. An upside of new technology is that more of us can take short videos and record stories on a cell phone today. And telling a story as opposed to writing it down can be easier for many people.
  • Compile short stories about family traditions, major events or childhood memories. 

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity. - Cicero