How often have you looked at a picture and wondered, "When was that?" or even, "Where was that?" My grandmother (Oma in German) documented names and dates on the back of all of her photos. I love this one of us when I was 2 years old--hand in hand, on a beautiful summer day. For years, she and I planned to visit her hometown in Germany when I graduated from college. Unfortunately, she died quite suddenly 5 months prior, and I never got around to visiting Heppdiel, the small town of about 200 people. I was extremely happy to collect my family's memories about the town via email recently, and then visit with my husband this weekend.
When I moved temporarily to the Netherlands last July, I told my husband that one of the trips we had to take was to my Oma's hometown. I immediately asked my father; he contacted both his sister and brother for more information. My aunt wrote, "Miltenberg is a picturesque town on the Main river with half timbered houses...Mom was sent on a paid internship to the Hotel Riesen there to learn/master cooking. It's generally thought to be the oldest hotel in Germany." We booked two nights at the Hotel Zum Riesen, which can be documented as far back as 1158. Talk about a history! The building itself stands out on Hauptstrasse, and there is a restaurant on the first floor in the front, but it is not owned by the Hotel. We ate a late night snack there when we arrived at 11 p.m. on Friday night. When we explained to the waiter why we were visiting, he held up his closed thumb and forefinger to describe how small Heppdiel is!
During this trip, one of the things I regretted not doing in the past, was taking notes, or even recording my Oma's and other relatives' stories. Over the years, I've done a pretty good job with organizing photos, both in scrapbooks and labelled albums, but I made a pledge with my husband on our way back home, to start documenting more of my family history, immediately. My iPhone has a voice memos app. There's no excuse.
My advice to you, however young or old you are: Start documenting your favorite memories. Put them in emails to friends and family like my aunt and uncle did for me. Make recordings and store them in the cloud! Phone calls and Skype sessions are wonderful, but when you hang up, the memories can start fading fast, unless you write or record. Start today.
What's the first story you want to document?