Capturing our History and all the Extra Little Bits

Capturing our History and all the Extra Little Bits

These days there is a lot of historical information available to us and we are fortunate to have it presented in interesting ways. Boring wordy old history books have been replaced by colourful and interactive books, there are movies, documentaries, and docuseries (yep, that’s a word). Fictional stories based in real world history also make fascinating and popular reads.

Making history come to life has become easier for those in the industry, and they make history much more available to us all. It is truly amazing the amount of research that must go into producing these glimpses of the past for all of us to experience. Did somebody have to read those old books?

One show I have watched is “Who Do You Think You Are?” (available on YouTube). Presented by celebrities, who of course are chosen because they are comfortable in front of the camera. But that’s where the need for celebrity ends. The majority of their families are not famous, but many of their stories are gripping. Many have a family history of unbelievable poverty and hardship, some even criminal. 

You don’t have to be famous to have an interesting story to tell.

Marathon Rubber Footwear Ltd, main machine room, Woolston, Christchurch 1968

It is intriguing and also seems a bit of a shame to me that within only a few generations people have lost their family memories. Do you know what your great-grandfather did for a living, or where he was born? These facts may not be very interesting by themselves, but if you know a few of the stories it opens up a whole new world. 

The thing is, we are all creators of history. We believe we are living in this modern world, but within fewer generations than we could guess from now, our lives and our trendy stuff will be considered as old as the hills - and maybe a little more interesting because of that fact. 

Much of what goes on these days, especially with the younger generations is being recorded. Possibly more than is necessary, with Facebook, website blogs and YouTube, to name but a few. There are also all sorts of easy ways to record with various apps on phones, tablets and computers alongside the old pen and paper.

Cornwall commercial college and shorthand school (1904)

I have heard there are many 60 plus bloggers out there recording their histories and I think that’s a very good thing.

For others computers are not accessible or they don't have the means or maybe the inclination to record their lives. Perhaps it's up to us to encourage these people to share their stories.

People tend to think their own life is just average and boring, but that’s just not true.

Years ago I remember speaking to a lady who had self-published a book about her family. From what I recall, it was based around her father being poisoned by asbestos - an interesting historical event in itself. During our conversation she mentioned her very large family and how they would fill the bathtub with warm water and then the parents followed by each child would take a turn from eldest to youngest in the same water. This may have been very run of the mill at the time, but kids these days would find it extraordinary. And that was just one brief slice of her story.

A life without computers, to a child born in the 2010’s, must be hard to imagine. What will a child think who is born in the 2050's?


Old computer that used punch cards

My niece has been investigating Jonathan’s mother's journey from Nazi Germany to England, for a talk she is giving at school. As a child Jonathan’s mother was one of the lucky few to escape Germany on the Kindertransport. She was 9 years old and spoke no English when she boarded a ship that took her away from everyone and everything she had ever known. It is an amazing story, and I think a healthy reminder to my 12 year old niece, and all the family, of how lucky we are in our lives today. It's also possibly a bit more interesting being about someone she has a connection to.

We are very fortunate to have a recording of Jonathan’s Aunt (in her 90’s) talking about the difficult time she had as a 13 year old trying to help get her father out of a concentration camp just before the war, and how she had to walk everywhere as the Jews were no longer allowed on public transport. Her recollections are little bits of history, from her own view point. Another Aunt has published her story, a very different experience from her two sisters, and another point of view. 

Unfortunately Jonathan’s mother is no longer alive to tell her story. Perhaps if she had lived longer she also would have shared her own little pieces of history from her memories.

Kindertransport memorial (Hamburg)

Being invited to share your story can be an important part of the process.

One of my local libraries was having an information day on recording oral histories last week. Various libraries and other institutes have also published tips and techniques on the internet to help people record as much historic information as possible. These are just guidelines meant to help and encourage of course.

It would be a shame to allow the idea that you had to record stories strictly as advised put you off giving it a go!

But if your plans to record historical information are for more than just personal or family interest, it may be a little more complicated. If you are interested in learning more about methods and ethical guidelines when recording oral histories, check the internet or ask your local library for information.

Every persons’ history can be interesting to someone. I personally would love to hear more of my grandparents or great grandparents' stories from their perspective. Even my own parents' stories are interesting to me, and I imagine will be more fascinating to generations to come. Yet could easily be lost if not recorded in some way.

The most important thing is to ask for the story. Many people just don’t appreciate that they have a piece of history right in front of them. History isn't just major wars and disasters, or life-changing inventions and achievements. History is also all the little wars and disasters, home-made inventions and achievements.

If you have a parent or grandparent, or anyone who has a life story to share, ask them if you can record it. They may actually appreciate it. Why not record that ‘tired old anecdote’ you get told every Christmas? You may roll your eyes now, but one Christmas you will realise it is gone forever (although you may also want to continue the "eye-rolling" tradition yourself to the next generations).

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog “How Reminiscing is Beneficial to those Living with Dementia” and I believe it can be beneficial to all of us. When possible, wouldn’t it also be beneficial to record those interesting little bits of history, so they can be shared in the future?

Who knows, one day Aunt Inge’s story could be turned into one of those new-fangled docuseries.

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Image 1: Marathon Rubber Footwear Ltd, main machine room, Woolston, Christchurch 1968. From Archives New Zealand Reference: AAQT 6539 W3537 80 / A85172

Image 2: Cornwall commercial college and shorthand school (1904), By Internet Archive Book Images, derivative work Lampel (No restrictions) via Wikimedia Common

Image 3: Old computer with punch cards. By Tshrinivasan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Image 4: Kindertransport memorial (Hamburg) By Alraunenstern [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons