Kate Farrell, author of Story Power, has written a new blog post on family legacy storytelling, read the blog post here.
Family legacy stories are the banner headlines of a family’s storytelling tradition. They are the stories everyone seems to know, or at least have some recollection of hearing them. These oft-told tales convey powerful messages from those who came before us.
It’s a great benefit to realize that our families possess a literary legacy above and beyond mainstream culture: That we own a unique store of wisdom drawn from the ancestral experiences of our family. The impact of our legacy stories is with us, whether we fully recall the stories or not. If it’s better to know them, it’s even better to tell them—and tell them well.
Because we share the intimacy of family, knowing the lineage of our family’s storytelling truths gives us a deeper connection to our roots. Our unique stories, the very particular experiences of our ancestors, give us an understanding of life that no other information can. We connect to these tales because they are so very personal; we feel the events close to the bone. No other family has exactly the same legacy stories, even if the truths are universal. These stories are empowering: they infuse us with a strength in hearing them.
Family legacy stories can stabilize us in our rapidly changing modern era and give us the long view: a return to the far past, to face the present, and imagine the future.
Legacy stories can often be the similar to family folklore stories or family secrets. But legacy stories are viewed through another lens: a look at the lessons learned from past generations and how they connect to history. A legacy story typically has a historical context and has been passed down through the generations with a significant meaning. They are intrinsic to family identity. Each legacy story has a memorable quality, because it is dramatic or because it speaks to a core belief.
If we want to make an impact on future generations, then we will be successful if we pay special attention to family legacy stories, and pass on their values and lessons through the art of storytelling, rather than by giving lectures or dire warnings.
Since legacy stories are an intrinsic part of a family’s culture, you might know a fragment, but the entire story seems to be just out of reach. You might not be sure if the way you remember it is accurate. Consulting other family members or reading over family records will help to fill in the blanks. It would be best, however, to first begin with what you do remember or think you know. That gives you a basis from which to build: by adding details, checking information, and creating the story with your own understanding.
Selecting a legacy story is a simple process, due to its prominence in the family’s tradition. Keep in mind the key features of a legacy story.
With these criteria in mind, I selected and retold my Grandfather Stadler’s legacy story. It is a relevant story today, with US immigration policy controversial, and the dubious treatment of unaccompanied minors who are sponsored by relatives already in the US.
About the end of the 19th century, an orphan boy, ragged and thin, wandered the cobblestone streets of Munich, the largest city in the kingdom of Bavaria, Germany. In spite of his small size and sickly cough, he went house-to-house, begging for old shoes and leather. This boy was my grandfather, Ludwig Heinrich Stadler, apprenticed to a shoemaker at age ten. He was often sent to scavenge scraps of leather for shoe repairs. Unwanted, a burden to their large family, his stepparents had neglected Ludwig, then placed him as a child apprentice in the city, without telling other relatives or his half-sister, Theresa.
On her Confirmation Day, Theresa’s godparents took her to Munich to celebrate and have a special lunch. While in the fancy, pastry shop, enjoying her treat, Theresa saw a boy, who looked like a street urchin, with his face against the shop window, peering in at the delicious cakes and sweets.
“Oh, look at that poor boy,” she said. “Why—that’s Ludwig looking in the window!” She ran to hug her older brother. “What has happened to you? Your clothes are so dirty.”
Her godparents came rushing outside. Sturdy folks, they gathered Ludwig up and took him inside the pastry shop where he was served hot chocolate and warm food. Ludwig, gulping his thanks, told them where he was apprenticed, and was soon glad to leave the shoemaker’s workbench with his small bag of belongings.
On their return to the family village of Titlling, Theresa’s godparents sent word of Ludwig’s weak condition to his surviving relatives. The Stadler family was in an uproar over Ludwig’s harsh treatment. The starving boy was ill, in fact, he was consumptive.
“What have you done to this child!” They accused Ludwig’s stepparents of child abuse, of stealing the money left for Ludwig, and then selling him into apprenticeship.
Furious, his mother’s relatives bundled Ludwig to a monastery in Innsbruck, high in the Austrian Alps. There he was to recover in the mountain air, perhaps to become a priest. Ludwig worked in the large abbey kitchen and learned dietetics. By age fifteen, he’d grown strong enough to emigrate by steerage to a South Dakota ranch, sponsored by his aunt and uncle, on his mother’s side—a safe haven at last.
From Grandfather’s story we learned the blessing of godparents, the unbreakable bonds between mother and aunt, between Ludwig and his sister, resilience, stoicism, and survival.
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.