Congratulations! You have become a family historian. when did THAT happen you ask?
You probably have not considered yourself in that role but hear me out.
What is your favorite movie featuring historians, archeologists and/or adventure seekers? For me, it’s a toss-up between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone (yes, I am going w-a-y b-a-c-k). And based on a 100% non-scientific poll on Twitter, it seems many others have the same tastes in this genre movie.

What is your life mindset?

That question is to put you into a mindset of thinking about how and why we – as a society – choose to chase and document history. And when I say history, I mean everyday stories. OUR STORIES.

I’ve always considered our lives to be grand stories with each chapter overflowing with locations, scenes, characters, plot twists and turns and hopefully, only minor drama and with plenty of romantic comedy.

So what does any of this have to do with caregiving and aging? Well, consider this: if you are a family caregiver you may find yourself becoming an historian and archeologist for your family.  And it is your elder(s) who become(s) the subject matter(s).

As my mother, Miss Nellie aged and began declining, I became keenly aware that every little moment was unique and that once she was gone… all of those moments would be as well

That fact took hold within me even more because my father passed years ago; long before it was common for all of us to have our phones attached to our hands.

It was only years after his death I realized, I have NO video or audio recordings of him. That means something as simple as hearing his voice is not possible.

Over the years I tried capturing as many video vignettes as I could of my mother but she hated being on camera.

Voice Mail Messages

I did, however, have the wherewithal to save some of her voice messages on my phone. They provide a glimpse into what was happening during this time frame.

As a journalist, I have always been overly aware of wanting to capture what may seem to others mundane ‘life moments.’ Thank goodness for our digital world in helping me do that.

Miami Dolphins Game/ South Florida

Beauty of technology

It is easier than ever to have photos, video, audio recordings and more. (We truly are spoiled in that way) and I encourage all of you to take as many pictures and videos as you possibly can! You’ll be thankful you did and you will quickly realize that yes, you have become a family historian.

One of the great aspects of Keeping it REAL Caregiving is that as we evolve on this journey together, I hope to have the opportunity to capture more of YOUR stories and share those with others in many different formats.

Case in point: the nothing short of fascinating life journey of Charles M. Boyett, who at age 91 and battling dementia still exudes an air of charm and elegance.

Just imagine the tales our elders are able to share and the insights we can learn? It has been a long-time desire of mine to focus my story telling skills on documenting real-life accounts from our elders. Now that vision is materializing with all of you along for the journey and it feels amazing!

The great thing about this is that I am not the only one who recognizes the value in collecting these personal accounts before an elder passes.

That same approach is part of the mindset (there’s that word again) of entrepreneurial storyteller Nancy Leve. The South-Florida based business owner is moving into her own ‘new chapter’ by focusing her skills on documenting individual histories and perspectives she calls Video Journals Online.

Nancy Leve & Julia Yarbough/Storytellers

I spent some time chatting with Leve about her ideas. She says several years ago she began recording stories for clients. Her original business idea did not sustain financially but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, forcing most everyone to stay inside and work from home. Leve says that motivated her to revisit the concept.

Be sure to check out the Podcast version of our chat!

I caught up with Leve to learn more and discovered we are of the same mindset: we believe we must catalogue stories of our elders.

Learning from life stories

“I did hundreds of interviews and I heard such incredible stories and different mindsets. One woman had been living in Italy during World War II and she became an orphan and was hiding out in a cellar.
She used to come out and had to climb over dead bodies trying to get to garbage so she would have something to eat.
At the end of my interviews, I would always say, ‘How would you describe your life in general? Has it been a good life?’ She said to me, ‘I’ve had a fabulous life!’
At this point she was living in Coral Springs [Florida] and had grandchildren. And I thought, isn’t that a great mindset? She came from such really traumatic experiences and she was able to turn it into something positive.”

I asked Leve what motivated her to revisit this concept. She said it was a combination of factors – not only the pandemic, but also realizing that time was marching forward in her own life. She added that previous clients had expressed gratitude, which provided even more validation to the concept.

“A young woman contacted me and said, ‘I just did an obituary for my grandmother’s funeral and people wanted to know, how did you know so much about your grandmother’s life? And I said because I have a video journal.”

Leve explained, “I’m 67 years old. I don’t want to retire and do nothing. I said to myself, now everybody knows how to zoom!”

Beyond the business element, Leve says she values the concept of preserving family history.

Her answer to my question, “What do you want to accomplish with these segments?” traveled straight from my ears to my heart.

“It would eliminate the regret of not having asked the questions of someone we’ve lost that we loved.”

How to become a family historian and archeologist

Wow, well put! At this moment I’m now thinking about all the things I will never know about my father, my mother and others who have passed. I suspect they all had incredible stories but sadly, many of those experiences and stories were never shared.

With that in mind, I offer you a challenge: decide RIGHT NOW you will become your family historian and archeologist. If your elders are still alive you have time to dig into the past, ask questions and work to document your elders’ history; capture their unique stories!

Need some suggestions for how to deliver a set of questions in a way that will evoke meaningful answers? Keeping it REAL Caregiving can help.

Shoot me an email and I’ll send you some guidance as well as suggested questions to ask (remember – I’m a broadcast journalist by trade – I know how to do interviews)!

But if you don’t think you can handle it yourself you now have two professional storytellers who can help you out!

Now, get out there and go hunting for some family history!