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Welcome to AARP Iowa's version of "Throwback Thursday"

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Larry Lehmer



In case you’re not familiar with the term, it’s commonly used in social media to describe some sort of post about one’s past. It usually involves sharing of a cherished photo or story about a meaningful event from someone’s personal history.

For several years I worked as a personal historian, helping people preserve for future generations those important moments from their lives. During this time, I wrote hundreds of articles on the subject of personal history. Starting today, I’ll be sharing much of what I’ve learned with weekly “Throwback Thursday” posts on this blog.

I'll tell you about some of the many people who have made researching family history the No. 2 hobby (behind gardening) in the United States. I'll give you tips on how you can save your own family history before it can slip away. I'll also share with you stories from my own family, the very people who inspired me launch my own personal history business.

The main points I want to make in this initial post are that preserving personal history 1) is a huge reward with zero risk, and 2) anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a great writer to jot down your memories and someone out there wants to read whatever you have to say. There’s no reason to be intimidated by the prospect of sharing what you already know with an audience that’s eager to hear about it.

One of the most common rationalizations I hear from people for not preserving their own family history is that "My family isn't all that interesting."

Are you sure?

Truth is, most families have a very interesting history and just don't realize it. For one thing, most of us grow up hearing the same family stories over and over again. For us, they're nothing special. To someone else, however, those stories can be spellbinding.

In my own family, an uncle carried around in his family history the story of his grandfather serving time in a Danish prison. One of his sisters, my mother. who shared the same family history, was unaware of this part of family lore until my uncle casually mentioned it at a family gathering. Perplexed, she asked him why he hadn't mentioned it before. His reply: “I thought everybody knew that story.”

How many family stories are lost because they aren't shared, even with their closest relatives?

And it’s never too late to get started.

Don Crowdis, a resident of Toronto, began writing his “Don to Earth” blog when he was 93 years old.
Crowdis wrote his blog posts by longhand at his kitchen table, then mailed them to New Brunswick where a family member typed them and posted them. Crowdis, who died in 2011, just short of his 98th birthday, created a devoted readership with his recollections of a lengthy and colorful family history and claimed the title of  “the world's oldest blogger.”

What are you doing to save your family stories for future generations?  If you're interested in tracking down your family roots, check out AARP's getting started resources.

AARP Iowa volunteer Larry Lehmer is a retired Des Moines Register editor and author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. He is currently working on a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. You can read his Bandstand blog here

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