ALLOW EVERYONE THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE
By Josy DeHoyos
The thought of writing a family history has always been a somewhat intimidating task to me. That is, until I took a Sunday School Family History class that was taught by Eugene England. Gene had the gift of transforming an overwhelming project into something that was manageable. He did this by assigning small projects such as writing about a childhood memory or how we felt at a specific event or occasion. He did not advocate the proverbial “eat the whole elephant at once” but to break it down into manageable tasks. He was always positive and found something praiseworthy in each of our feeble attempts to organize and make sense out of a lifetime of memories so that they would be meaningful to our descendants.
One of the most important things Gene taught us was the difference between a personal history and a family history. When it came to personal histories, he encouraged us to write as much as we could remember and emphasized that it did not need to be done chronologically, but we could write this history as memoirs–random memories that would give others a glimpse into our lives. He reminded us that facts were important but should not come at the expense of our perception and feeling about the incident. And, of course, pictures and any memorabilia such as documents, certificates, etc. would only enhance our story.
Family histories, however, were a different matter. Gene emphasized the importance of adding as many photos, documents, certificates, etc. as possible but writing only enough about them to let others know who the people in the picture were and what the occasion was but not so much as to destroy the memories of those who were there. He emphasized that everyone has different memories and perceptions, so we need to be careful not to be so dogmatic in our comments and description as to crush the memories of others. This made sense to me and, thanks to Gene’s inspiration and encouragement, I ended up ultimately composing our family’s history, spanning nearly sixty years, and giving a copy to each of our children.
I feel blessed to have had Gene as my teacher, mentor and friend and to have Charlotte and Maren as my visiting teachers. All are great examples and an inspiration to me.