Tell me a story

[Editor’s note: Vita Brevis will mark its fifth anniversary on Wednesday. The blog launched with some early posts on 2 January 2014; the official launch followed on 10 January 2014.]

Over the years, my efforts in tracing my family history have morphed from old-fashioned paper research to computer research to concentrating on the stories of my ancestors, whether I knew them personally or not. Family stories are what give life and voice to those who have “moved on.” And how much do you really know about the early lives of your living relatives, especially those with decades of stories to share? Talking to our “elders,” listening to stories of other families, or reading about other researchers’ exploits, techniques, failures, and successes are a few ways to dig out the stories. Reading posts on Vita Brevis is another wonderful resource.

Whether it’s through educational, informative, and instructive posts from Alicia Crane Williams; fascinating first-hand accounts from diaries of a previous era, such as that of Regina Shober Gray; or the humorous, sometimes sad, but always entertaining recounting of our own family stories, Vita Brevis gives us a better perspective of our own family history and our place in it.

It also provides an opportunity through the comments section to make new connections which lead to more stories and new traditions for future generations. After I described my grandfather’s childhood wooden blocks in a post, a new grandfather contacted me through his comment asking for details and measurements. He wanted to make a similar set of blocks for his new grandson. (See the result at the top of the post.) A new connection, new information, new tradition, and the basis for more family stories!

Happy 5th Anniversary, Vita Brevis! Now, tell me a story!

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

5 thoughts on “Tell me a story

  1. Just started receiving the Vita Brevis. Great information and stories. I did an extensive analysis for the Whiting family where birth records were lost from the church where first recorded. This analysis was accepted by DAR, Mayflower Society and Jamestowne Society. Hard work pays off. I submitted this information to NEHGS in hopes that it would help others.
    Judith Letchworth

    1. Congrats on that Trifecta Win. How did you submit it? Mss notes, article?? Did not see anything knew in library catalog for Whiting family. Colod you summarize your results here? Thank you.

  2. Have done (Thankfully with the help of my Father before his death at age 93) his adoption research, but also found his adoptive parents very interesting as well. At his request they not be neglected in my work. Have good information from both families and feel Blessed by both. It can be done, although will say it is maybe harder now than it was in the early 1900s, to find bits of information. When he was born, the adoption was not quite as big a secret as it is now, birth records then though were not even available. Research had to go around and around to so many sources before finding connections for proof.. He never lost touch with his Birth brothers and sister or some of their families..

  3. When my son was about 12 he gave a journal to my mother, then 77, saying “Nana, tell me your story”. She put it away for about 20 years and didn’t start writing until she was about 95. I began to help her write her story and after some interesting ups and downs we published her book about a very interesting lady, Evelyn Marie (Arndt) Skinner (victorian artisan, operatic soprano, Miss PA 1936, entrepreneur, antiques expert & restorer,etc): “Nana, Tell Us Your Story: Memoirs and Musings of a Victorian Artisan in the 21st Century” ( My son, now 36, has been “hounding” me to write my story. I decided to start further back and have completed family stories about some of my ancestors. I have completed my great grand uncle, James Butler Skinner (blacksmith, inventor, steamer owner), great grandfather, Henry Mead Skinner (Pikes Peak gold prospector, inventor, businessman), grandfather, Roy Henry Skinner (businessman & VP of large grocery company), and am working on my father (professional pipe organist and pianist, school teacher, entrepreneur. My objective is to wrap these and stories about other ancestors in a book on SKINNER descendants of John Skinner, Founder and Original Proprietor of Hartford, CT. And, yes, I might even include MY story if I have time.

  4. One of my favorite stories about my parents was a result of asking my dad when he first became aware of my mother. They were both at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., she as a young psychiatric nurse and he as a resident. But, residents there did general medicine as well, so he was in surgery when he first noticed her. “When she out an instrument in your hand, you knew it was there,” he said. “I looked over and there were those beautiful blue eyes over the mask, and that was it.”

    Another story was of my father’s grandfather, a country doctor in Missouri. His first wife died,leaving him with four little children. When his second wife, a much younger woman, served the first Sunday night dinner, a platter of scrambled eggs, evidently old Dr. Prosser’s comment was “Eggs?? Eggs for supper?? I never heard of such a thing.” “And you never will again!” she said, and threw them out the window.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.