Writer notes importance of family histories

Patricia Pihl, a personal historian who resides in Mayville, was the guest speaker during the Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville’s Zoom meeting last week. Rotarian Doc Hamels sponsored Pihl’s interesting “Writing Legacies” program.

Pihl stated, “We love stories. They are what connect us with other human beings.”

Pihl is a memoirist who founded Real Life Legacies in 2014 to help individuals and families preserve their memories and experiences in life-honoring books.

As a former feature writer and editor, she came to realize the importance of recording life’s experiences, which “has known benefits to the teller and is a great way to connect generations.”

In 2019, Pihl received a Certificate in Reminiscence and Life Story Work from the University of Wisconsin.

She is the author of “Lost Places of Chautauqua County,” a contributing writer for Edible Western New York, and in partnership with Chautauqua County Hospice, creates legacy cards for its patients. She is a member of the Association of Personal Historians, an international organization.

“Traditions, customs and family idiosyncrasies are a part of a family,” Pihl said. “We’re captivated by stories, which is human nature. There are a number of reasons why people feel it’s important to write their legacy.”

She noted that some of the reasons are that people are proud of their heritage, profession or military history. “A legacy connects across various generations. You may feel that your story is not interesting and that it is boring. I would say that your family will enjoy and treasure your stories. Tales of your past resonate so well with family members.”

Pihl discussed some of the benefits of recording personal history.

“Capturing those stories is your chance to set the record straight and to tell it in the way you want. Also, it helps the teller by bringing clarity to life’s events. It’s an historical record. In our current pandemic, many folks have been journaling their experiences of daily life during coronavirus.”

She added, “Another benefit is that recording your history allows you to tell the people most important to you how you feel about them. Some people have difficulty doing this face to face with their family members and relatives.”

Pihl noted the trend of capturing our history and the interest in genealogy and ancestry research. “It’s great and it has its place. You can get names, dates of births and dates of deaths, but what about the personal stories behind those names? Knowing family history is important, especially when family members live far away from each other. It helps folks know where they came from. When children have a sense of family history, they function better.”

How does one begin the process of recording personal history? Pihl said, “Start typing, writing or recording. Don’t worry about chronological order.

Instead of looking through thousands of photos, consider reflecting on a few family heirlooms, recipes, or photos that depict certain, significant events. Or listen to some music that may have significance. During family holidays, birthdays and special occasions, turn on the recorder and start telling personal stories.”

Pihl continued, “When telling your personal stories, you want things to be accurate, but memories are not entirely 20/20. What is important is that it is your version of things. There is an African proverb that says ‘When an elder dies, an entire library is burned down to the ground.’ I would encourage people to start documenting their personal history.”

When Pihl works with individuals and families in writing their legacies, she may send a few prompts in advance to help begin the discussion. She said, “I sit down and chat with them, like a friend. I ask targeted questions based on their experiences and things they know and have done.”

Some of the services which Pihl’s business Real Life Legacies provides are books, legacy cards and legacy letters. The books may be as told to memoir, an assisted memoir, or tribute. The legacy cards may be either a story card or a memory one. “Legacy letters outline your personal values, beliefs, life lessons, hopes and wishes for your family, friends and community.” For more information, contact Pat Pihl at the website of www.reallifelegacies.com or call 716-753-0987.


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