ICYMI: The gift of family history

[Editor's note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 24 November 2014.]

Poppa and Brenda Lambert

When I was a child, I became very interested in family history. At the unusual age of seven, the stories of my forebears were more fascinating than the cartoons on television. I could listen for hours to my maternal grandmother as she told stories of her past.

Fifteen years ago this week I said my last goodbyes to my father, George Richard Lambert (1925–1999). My father grew up in East Boston, Massachusetts, at the height of the Great Depression, and he fought in World War II. When my dad died, my elder daughter Brenda was only four years of age. Now a college freshman, she still fondly remembers the stories I told her about the Lambert grandparents she hardly knew.

As a child, each night Brenda had a bedtime story read to her. But one evening shortly after my dad died, she asked me to “Tell me a story your daddy told you.” I struggled trying to recall one of the familiar bedtime stories Dad had read, but found that I was going to have to improvise. I said, “Why don’t I tell you about a story about your grandfather [her ‘Poppa’] when he was your age.”

So it began, with a story about my dad playing in the street as a young boy and having his foot crushed by an ice truck. Brenda then wanted to know why trucks delivered ice. So history and genealogy were combined. Another night, the story had Poppa going to Fenway Park to see Babe Ruth play against the Red Sox, or Poppa going off to fight in the Second World War. In effect, the tradition of conveying family stories had a different spin on it, and I realized that a fascination with genealogy and family history was being planted in my daughter’s mind early on.

The stories told to me nearly four decades ago shaped the course of my own career.

If you have a young child, a grandchild, or nephews and nieces, try sharing stories about their ancestors. The stories told to me nearly four decades ago shaped the course of my own career. I had a better understanding of social studies and American and even world history because I could see where my own ancestors fit into the context of what I was learning in school. It’s a gift I bestowed on my daughters, and in a greater sense telling and retelling these stories allowed the memories of my dad and mom to live on beyond the years they were given.

Share a family story at Thanksgiving, and make it a tradition that carries on throughout the year.

David Allen Lambert

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.View all posts by David Allen Lambert