What makes writing a family history one that others will really want to read? Why should you even consider doing it? I believe it is largely because of the people in your life.
J.K. Rowling, who lived in poverty as a single mother, wrote the initial chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on napkins — which describes the creation and mega success of the blockbuster series. And that series has now become the international best seller of all time.
According to Wikipedia:
“Having sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling is the best-selling book series in history. The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has sold in excess of 120 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.
The series has been translated into 80 languages, placing Harry Potter among history’s most translated literary works. The last four books in the series consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books of all time, where the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold roughly fifteen million copies worldwide within twenty-four hours of its release. With twelve million books printed in the first U.S. run, it also holds the record for the highest initial print run for any book in history.”
Many can’t wait to discover what’s next. That is a natural response to the anticipation of an interesting story and forthcoming information. Does that make sense?
Rowling’s vision has become a household name for many. She has the ability to take a difficult situation and make it fascinating, beautiful, and interesting. That is quite a quality, particularly in light of our current pandemic. Have you ever known anyone who could do that—envision the best in the status quo and improve our surroundings? I still do.
My friend Ryan takes beautiful pictures and frequently shares his digital masterpieces on Facebook to the surprise and delight of many—including his raving fans. But this remarkable skill of capturing beauty in simple things that others miss is not really surprising to me. I have seen and benefitted from this quality in Ryan from our earliest days as friends. What makes this skill so important to me is how it influenced my life both then and now. This quality attests to his artistic character. Art has been said to be the mastery of simplicity and naturally flows from gifted artists, but in Ryan, the source is also kindness. Vision and skill are important qualities, no doubt, but they are eclipsed by the quality of character that comes from the heart. And luckily for me, Ryan has that important quality in spades, and it is kindness.
I know that I couldn’t adequately share the value and meaning of his kindness at that point in my life. I was young and anxious. But I certainly remember and appreciate it—especially now when it is even still working it’s magic in my life. And I am not alone. He does this for many others every day.
Our high school was small when compared to the massive structures and enormous student bodies today with thousands of pupils attending the high schools in our neighborhoods. We were just a 2A school at the time, as I remember. This gave us many stimulating opportunities living in a small town, and that makes the interesting people we met in our community a lucky circumstance.
My 9th grade English teacher, for instance, was an original. He could be described as the teacher who changed my life, though he is probably still unaware of that fact.
His way of teaching connected with my needs, and his strategy literally helped shape my future. In our class, we studied the regular principles of grammar that had somehow escaped me previously. He had unique ways of making the class time interesting and engaging. I started to actually enjoy it. When I had questions, he simply told me the answer, instead of demanding I struggle over the various possibilities. The seemingly impossible puzzle started coming together for me. Slowly, metaphors, adverbs, and dangling participles—and all the parts of speech—became understandable and clear to me, and even fun.
That year was a launching pad for the rest of high school. Instead of squeaking by with barely passing grades, I started pulling A’s in all my English classes. And it didn’t stop there. His influence launched me into college, my chosen degree, and my career. I have always wanted to thank Mr. Merritt, but it took me years to realize the influence he had on my entire life. Since then, my efforts to locate him have all been in vain. He doesn’t know, and he will probably never fully realize what an impact his teaching had on me—but I know and will forever be grateful.
I hope someday to get the opportunity to thank him in person.
Next I would like to share with you a simple story about a young man in high school. He was always a great storyteller and particularly thrived on sharing true incidents that included life lessons. I remember this instance well, but my retelling it would be simplified at best. So many years have passed. But I have the good fortune of being able to share this incident from his journal, because he recorded it for posterity:
About this time, the officers of the R.O.T.C. decided to have a yearend party. I was to organize it. We set the date and time and made assignments. The officers were responsible for all the food and were to bring a date. It was planned for a particular evening at Fairmont Park in Sugar House. When the day came for the party, we got there early to set up tables, put the paper plates out, the drinks on ice, etc. We had different kinds of soda pop, and there was never any thought of serving beer or anything else of like nature. Just as the cadets and their dates started arriving, to my great amazement, the assistant principle and the dean of women came walking briskly down the lane. They walked immediately to the tables and looked to see what our drinks were. As soon as they saw it was all soda pop and not any beer, they turned around and walked over to a couple of us. The assistant principal said, “Richard, I should have known that with you in charge, we didn’t have anything to worry about. Have a good time, and good night,” and away they went. It pleased me that she would think of me in that way.
I always loved that story when my dad shared it with us. I was proud he lived his principles that way. I still am, though it was years later that I came to fully appreciate his influence in my life.
Perhaps you have dreamed about doing what you really, really enjoy every day. So have I. Do you know someone that wakes up excited every day to go to work? Some think this is unrealistic—a myth, really. Consequently, people get up each day and go to a dead-end job for a dead-end company and repeat this cycle this day-in and day-out with no end in sight.
A change in attitude can make all the difference. Rather than letting our circumstances dictate our joy, let our happiness command our circumstances.
Influential people transform our lives. I could write about so many. I actually have. These individuals constantly influence my life for good. Capturing their stories has become my hobby, I guess you could say. It never gets old. On the contrary, new realizations motivate and inspire me every day.
So what makes writing a family history one that others will really want to read? It is the people in your life and the attitude you have about their influence on you. Good relationships are everything.
I can’t wait to discover what’s next.
“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” —Mark Twain
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.