Great-Grandmother Pauline’s Legacy

People often ask if what I do as a personal historian is similar to what a genealogist does. I usually laugh and say, “A genealogist documents dead people. I bring them to life!”

Genealogy has become a popular pursuit as people are fascinated with discovering their family roots.  Websites like are hugely popular as people search for clues to expand their family trees. As more people have a desire to know the stories, not just the names, the website now allows you to link stories to the people on your tree. The tool Family Tree Maker in has a feature called Smart Story which can expand the information included on your family tree based on facts and stories you unearth about a person in your search. You can attach documents, photos, or write a personal story about the person.

Great-Grandmother Pauline on her wedding day in 1912

When I went to Iowa State in Ames years ago I had the added privilege of being near my Great- Grandmother Pauline who lived in Boone just 10 miles away. While I was preoccupied with school she was busy putting together a remarkable book full of family tree charts, maps of Sweden and Iowa, photos of my ancestors, homes where they lived, and churches where they attended. But the part I love the most are the stories of life in Sweden and Iowa in the 1800s. She had called all her relatives and asked them to send her their stories of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles. She had no computer, no scanner or printer and painstakingly typed up the stories and organized her material for a local printer. But alas, as a 22-year-old I politely feigned more interest than I felt, threw that precious book down in our basement and didn’t fish it out for many years. I avidly read the stories and scrutinized the family trees, photos and maps. The yellow, water stained book is now one of my treasured possessions. Her efforts fueled my love for family history, and were the inspiration for my business Memory Echoes, LLC.  This story is one of my favorites:

IMG_0059My great-great-great-grandmother Lena lived in southern Sweden in the early 1800s. She was an expert wooden shoe maker and taught her teenage son Sven how to make wooden shoes. She told him if his shoes reflected the quality she demanded, he could sell them and spend the profits on anything he desired. Sven was industrious and spent the long Swedish evenings making shoes. He sold over 400 pairs of shoes at 25 ore a pair, about 7 cents at the time, so he could buy what he wanted…passage to the New World.

He ended up in Fort Dodge, Iowa with only 2 accordions and 75 cents to his name and got a job helping to build a railroad. He worked with many Irishmen who helped him learn English, but they could not say his name Sven, so to please them he changed his name to Swan. He learned of a Swedish Mission Church at Swede Bend where a lot of Swedes had settled just 10 miles north of Pilot Mound, Iowa near Boone. He moved to Pilot Mound and partnered with another man building houses and barns. They prided themselves on doing their own cooking and living on just 15 cents per day. Swan eventually saved up enough to buy a cow, two horses, and a hand plow and rented a small farm 1 mile north of town. Later he bought an 80 acre farm which stayed in the family for over 100 years.

I love that story about my great-great-grandfather Sven and would not know it if Pauline had not taken the time to preserve her personal history stories in a book for her descendants. Your great- grandchildren will be so appreciative if you do the same for them!

Interview the vets in your family!

How about honoring a veteran by interviewing them and writing the story of their life? My Great Uncle Wayne was in WWII and his ship was torpedoed and sank in the Pacific. I always knew that was part of our family history, but how I wish I had talked to him more about his experience. Many of his buddies were killed or drowned. He’s gone now, too late for me to hear his whole story. Appreciate the amazing sacrifices that were made for our freedom by talking to the veterans in your family.

I’ve mentioned George and his Blue Yonder book. I also interviewed a delightful man named Elmer who was a paratrooper in WWII. He started his intense training for that elite group in March of 1945. They tossed big paratrooper-3

logs back and forth for an hour at a time, and jumped out of planes in full gear. By that time the war in Europe was over. They completed combat training so they could be dropped into Japanese villages for battle. Elmer grinned when he remembered the saying, “We’re supposed to be surrounded, we’re paratroopers!” He was based in the Philippines getting ready to leave for Japan for the invasion when the United States dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mid-August 1945 and Japan surrendered. Elmer said he felt a fleeting disappointment that he would not get a chance to utilize his training, but was as elated as the rest of the country that the United States had achieved victory.

ElmerBookElmer enjoyed telling his story and received his book as his familycelebrated his 90th birthday. Copies were passed all around and Elmer basked in the knowledge that his life stories would not be forgotten. (His last name has been edited from the book cover to preserve his privacy) What better way to honor a veteran? Don’t wait too long to interview the vets in your family.

Learning curve

Full confessions… I admit that I have been stumbling around FB and WordPress trying to figure out how to get them to jive together. Are they friends yet? I dunno. I wrote an “About” page so folks can know what this blog is all about. I am posting my “About” as a “Post” too. Just because I can.

I started a blog to convey my passion for storytelling. I will share stories I have heard from my clients and friends and hopefully jog the memories of readers. There will be opportunities for readers to post their own stories in the comments section. As stories are shared I hope to tease out the filigree of imagination both in my mind and the minds of readers. Often there is no intent to embellish a story, or stretch the truth, but a storyline can take a different direction as we strive to convey the unique way we experience life.

The telling of one shared event passing through the filters of two distinct people, filters of feelings, personality, maturity, or whether or not they had their morning coffee, can sound like two very different events. We’ve all had the experience of listening to someone else’s version and thinking,

“Were they really there with me? That’s not what I think happened!”

The story is truly in the eye of the beholder. If I share stories from my childhood I hope to engage my family to share their own versions which will often differ subtly or even dramatically from mine. As a story becomes part of a memoir it is important to validate that your memories, and my memories advance the storyline of our own unique lives. My life. Or your life. Human history is made up of stories, perspectives, visions of hope or cynicism, the deflation or exaltation of human egos. If you don’t tell your story, your version of your part in the human drama of history will be lost.

Memory Echoes had a great first year!

My new business Memory Echoes, LLC had a great first year! I love to interview folks and consider it a privilege and an honor to hear their stories. As I listen to them, a book forms in my imagination. They trust me with their precious family pictures and documents, I scan them, play in Photoshop, and weave them together with their stories to create a book layout. There is nothing as satisfying as going through the process with them over a period of months and then handing them the finished book. Their life stories are preserved for future generations and a legacy has been passed on.

George’s book!

One of my first clients is a 93 year old man named George. George had a dream. He could picture in his mind’s eye the cover of the book he wanted me to help him create. He was a bombardier in World War II and perched in the Plexiglas nose of a bomber as he flew from his base in Benghazi to targets in Italy. He dropped many bombs and is proud of the role he played in the allied victory.  From imagination to reality, his book cover pops with a bright blue sky and magnificent clouds as the background for his title Blue Yonder. At age 6 he played his own Blue Yonder game with colorful matchstick planes fighting for position under his father’s huge desk. He wanted the book for his memoirs to display the title commemorating the game that inspired his path to the wild Blue Yonder in the WWII US Air Corps. He enjoyed the whole process as I led him through interviews, helped him gather photos, war medals, and letters from his generals, and discussed layout/book production options. We became good friends. George said,

“Linda helped me create this marvelous book and it’s been so well received as I get feedback from my family and friends. She was wonderful to work with, the best.”

 I’m heading over to George’s soon. A tremendous benefit of my business is making new friends and being trusted with their life stories. He’s promised me a glass of wine and will regale me with new stories!