History, for many people, is something found in textbooks. It’s the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, the fall of Rome and the Battle of the Bulge. It’s large-scale, and often impersonal, though everyone is a part of it.
But that doesn’t mean that family’s stories are less important. If smaller pieces of history, personal ones, like individual memories passed down by parents or grandparents, don’t get recorded, they’re lost. At first, this may not seem like a major issue- there must be dozens of others just like them. But on closer inspection, the failure to record or at least remember these “little histories” can pose a problem.
Stories- like your parents’ experiences with the civil rights movement, or your grandparents’ service in World War Two, or your great-grandparents’ trials in immigrating to the country you live in now- are important within families. They provide a sense of connection to those who are no longer here, or a sense of the struggles that previous generations faced. They memorialize people who otherwise might not have been remembered.
Moreover, they’re an easily accessible, tangible connection to history. Stories are rich in detail, they often have a kind of character and vibrancy that the usual historical narratives lack. They pick up on the human side of things, or that which the accepted story would sometimes rather leave out. For many, it may be easier to understand what a particular event was really like by hearing about one person’s experience with it, one person’s story, than through a generalized eagle’s-eye view.
Lastly, history itself is just one large story formed of many smaller pieces. One family’s memory just may provide another dimension or piece of evidence to an emerging historical argument. It could be the hidden story of what almost never was, or what could have been. It may help illuminate the side of history than textbook authors would have skipped otherwise- the stories of minorities, the downtrodden, the illiterate who couldn’t make their stories known. Who’s to say that any particular story or tradition or artifact isn’t historically significant, that it isn’t important to the larger narrative? So share that story that your family member told you, no matter how much you may take it for granted. Even better, write it down, so others can see it. Otherwise, it may not be there to appreciate.