Episode 243 – Capturing Your Personal History
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to this Becoming Your Best Podcast Series, wherever you may be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger – and today, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Knowing that I needed to come up with a meaningful podcast, especially in alignment with the subject of Becoming Your Best, you put me to the test! So, what would be worthy of your time, significant, and something that would be useful to you in your journey of becoming your best? Well, the result is a subject that has enriched and changed my life. I see life differently, including becoming my best and seeking to make a difference for good. This experience has provided a new perspective on life.
So, here’s the story. Three weeks ago, at 5 AM, I woke up thinking about a podcast subject. And, for whatever reason, I started thinking about the individual histories of an individual. I did a quick mental inventory of my own family ancestors who had a personal history. So, my grandpa, John Robert Quarles, born in 1896 – yes, he had a life sketch; my mom, Margie June Quarles Shallenberger – Yes, checked the box; my great, great, great grandpa, Charles Stackhouse, who was part of the California Gold Rush in 1850, he captured the whole story – checked that one off. And my grandma, Viola Pearl Baker Shallenberger – well, she had one, so fun and inspiring! But that was about it! And I realized there’s no story for my dad, his dad, or any of the Shallenberger ancestors. And I was not aware of anything from my grandma Ethel Quarles or anyone else beyond that. I have been working on mine with our daughter, Anne. She’s been so helpful! And it’s coming along! But there is nothing, at this point, for my good wife, who, because of her illness, will never be able to complete hers. But I can, and we can!
And so, as soon as I got up in the hour that was a decent hour, I called my cousin Trudy and shared my early morning thoughts, and asked if there’s anything for our grandma Ethel Margaret Quarles. And she said she did have a few things and would send them along. And so, within just a short time, I received three to four pages of precious stories about my grandma’s life. And I followed up adding several stories I had regarding my sweet Grandma, along with stories from other cousins – and I put those all into one document. And this whole process took less than an hour. And then I sent this out to my uncles and aunts and cousins from the Quarles family. And literally, within a week, I had many stories that we were able to add to this life sketch from the family. And I’m happy to say, because of this collaboration, we have had an amazing life sketch of my grandma Quarles. I can tell you what was shared has already deeply impacted my life and tells me much about the character and nature of our wonderful and soft-spoken, courageous grandmother. This life sketch is now posted in an app called ‘Family Search’ for all her posterity, for generations to come to have and hold dear.
So, the invitation today to you – and continues to be to me – is to complete your personal history, your life sketch, and stories for your posterity and humanity. And number two is to help your loved ones – whether deceased or living – to complete a personal history or life sketch or share their stories.
Two years back, cousin Trudy Quarles Cunningham DeVries introduced our family to Family Search, which is one of the most comprehensive family history services – which is also an app – on the planet. And the good news is it’s a free app. And there’s some really great apps out there, but this is one that’s quite spectacular! And you can easily connect your family far back, in many cases, hundreds, if not 1000 years. Under the name of each of your relatives that pop up – so, you can show it as a family tree, or as a fan, a circle, everybody going out, it shows it in different presentations – but under the name of each of your relatives there is an icon called ‘Memories’, where you can save these kinds of stories and life histories for all your posterity. And it’s provided at no cost by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is going to be around for as long as mankind, I expect. In other words, a long time!
And this is where I posted Ethel Margaret Quarles’ life sketch. And since that time that Trudy introduced us to Family Search two years ago, we have now saved these stories and life histories under our various family names, the relatives, including all the ones that I mentioned. This is a legacy and no longer will boxes of family history materials be stored away in a closet, or an attic, at risk to eventually be thrown away from the uninformed of the treasure that they have. Well, no longer! This information can now be preserved, in a way, from around the globe, where people can learn about those loved ones and be inspired by others.
And so, as a result, today, the subject of this podcast is an entirely different dimension of Becoming Your Best. It very much relates because, of course, we want to become our best across the various roles in life – and family is a big role. This one is about writing or recording your personal life history while capturing and preserving the stories of your life and perhaps others dear to you, for your posterity, friends and family, for the vast majority, including future generations you may not now know but one day will!
And your loved ones and these people of the future will learn from you, be inspired by you, and take hope from you. Your stories can live on for hundreds and thousands of years to come and countless lives. Well, how many times, as a young person, have you heard such stories? These are family legends that are told from one family, one generation to the next. And they live on in so many ways and weave into our lives a tapestry of depth, color, strength, humor, inspiration, meaning, connection, and vibrancy. And unless these stories are written down with time, they will be lost. Their history, events, stories, and experiences of life, in turn, give encouragement, perspective, and hope, as we each work on living meaningful and fulfilling lives. We are not alone! We have company. Others have done this and they’ve made it. We’re not the first ones to have a terrible crisis like we’re going through right now. Others have gone through these and they’ve made it! And so, this is such great connectivity!
I’d like to just share a couple of brief examples. One is, I talked about Charles Stackhouse from Illinois, where he went to California for the Gold Rush. I’ll talk about him again in a moment. John Quarles – that’s my grandpa – he was out in the field southeast Colorado, working among the corn stocks and he had melons. And right over him came a flying saucer! It was just a couple of hundred feet over his head and it just stayed there for about 15 minutes. He said it was quiet and silent, but it just hovered there. Many of the neighbors saw it and then off it went. It just was off in a flash. He told about that. Do you think our family believes in flying saucers and people from other worlds? Maybe. Well, that goes a long way. He talked about killing rattlesnakes, and he taught me how to drive a 1954 International Pick-up stick shift. So, these are all things that are in his life history.
Or Roxanne and hers, for example, that we’re working on. About, I’d say, 15 years ago, I was working in my office, and early in the morning, I got up and made some toast. And then I went out and did some exercise. When I came back, there was a sticky note. And the sticky note talked about the crumbs I had left on the counter, and wonderfully taught me how to wipe off the counter and make it crystal clear. “And p.s., whatever you do, don’t sweep them on the floor!” That’s what the little note said. I laughed. And this, by the way, gives you a chance of how to respond, right? Are you going to take responsibility and really listen and be upbeat? Well, I decided I would take the lesson. And so, what I did is I cleaned everything up, and I wrote a note back and I said, “Thank you for the lesson and the instructions on how to clean crumbs up. The vision – nice clean counters with no crumbs on the floor.” And I put a big smiley face. I went back to my office, I heard Roxanne come back in for her exercise, and I could tell she read it because she led out with a big laugh. But never again, since that time, have I left crumbs on the counter, or swept them on the floor.
And so, think of little stories like these that go from generation to generation. Or my wonderful grandma, Viola Pearl Baker Shallenberger talked about her horse Billy, when she was a young girl. And also wrote and had a picture about her and my grandpa visiting Egypt – and they each were sitting on a camel. I will never forget the impact that had. I wanted to do that. So, just a few years ago, my wife and I had the chance to go to Egypt and we have a photo sitting on camels.
So these are all stories that you can relate to, learn from, and in a sense, help you along your journey to becoming your best and living life to the fullest. And because they are, in this case, my ancestors, they mean more to me. And if they were written by your ancestors, they would mean more to you. They tie us together as a family, as humanity, and this gives me encouragement in my life. Now, here are just a few tips on how you can produce your stories, your life history.
First, just start with the basic dates: when you were born, and perhaps several other key dates in your life, such as where you were raised or lived, and where you were married, the birth of your children. Make a list of key events or stories that have been meaningful and fulfilling in your life; successes and failures, and happy memories, life-changing events, things that only you could describe, that may be a blessing for others. You may include photos to complement the stories because we live in a great age of digital photos that maybe our ancestors didn’t have the blessing of. And then, preserve this record for your posterity and others in a way that can benefit from your life’s experiences. You can store the materials under Memories on Family Search. One of my friends, Gardner Russell, a mentor, actually put his in a book, which can be digitized, of course. He printed it. The title was, ‘One Rough Stone’. It was magnificent! So, that’s pretty simple, right? It’s not complicated. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but the art is in the start on this one. And that’s what we do.
And then, the second aspect to this is to help with your ancestors. You can be the catalyst to get this going. I’ve told you about the amazing thing that just happened three weeks ago regarding my grandma, Ethel Margaret Quarles and her life sketch – and it is now an inspiring reality. We all have access to it. I’ve since asked my siblings to help get my father’s life sketch going. And I have three wonderful sisters and two brothers. It’s already in motion and extremely exciting because that currently does not exist at all. He died 28 years ago. Well, this is going to happen and I’m so excited! And I asked my living Quarles – uncles and aunts – to consider doing their personal life history. My uncle Ralph and aunt Bev, who are absolutely amazing. Uncle Ralph is now a young 86 and a half. Bev is just the best. And his brother, my uncle, my mom’s brother, Uncle Willie is now 85 and Aunt Shirley – they have such great stories to tell! And how about Aunt Betty? She’s 92! Well, this is Trudy’s mom and she’s on it.
So, you can see how the snowball goes. Each one has interesting, wonderful lives. And the challenge is, once they are gone and have graduated from this life, we may be able to describe our experiences with them and the stories of experiences with them, but we can never again capture their own feelings and thoughts that could be written by them while they are still alive. And so, that’s why there’s some urgency about this. And I might add, this is a leadership function, all the way: to form an idea, something that does not exist today and make it a reality! This is what leadership is and does.
And, by the way, for those that may be interested, I have an outline of ideas on how to put together your personal history or your story. And the same for loved ones. So, if that may be of value or interest to you, just write to firstname.lastname@example.org – and we will be happy to send that outline along to you.
Well, another enormous benefit of writing your personal history and that of others dear to you, is that it provides you with a perspective of life in a sense of gratitude for all the blessings that you’ve been able to enjoy. In a way, your personal history will have a profound impact on your vision, as it causes you to think about what matters most in life, and how to distinguish yourself in becoming your best from beginning to end.
So, today, I wish to conclude with the stories of two of my ancestors who left their story. The first is my great, great, great grandpa Charles Washington Stackhouse. He was born in 1827, and he died in 1909. Grandpa left a 47-page life story, which included some extraordinary things! For example, he and his family settling 160 miles west of a new little town in the Midwest, by the name of Chicago, Illinois, in the Village of Cambridge. In 1846, at the ripe age of 29, with the vision and desire to have enough money to buy a farm and raise a family, he headed west as part of the California Gold Rush. He described it all! He stayed there for two years, and then finally made it back home to achieve his vision, which he did in an amazing way! His story chronicles his six-month trip across the plains, going to California. His story rivals anything that Louis L’Amour wrote in his novels. They encountered Indian attacks, stampedes, the heartbreaking death of traveling companions, attacks by grizzly bears, seeing Sacramento, California when it was a tent city, and the excitement of finding gold for the first time! The biggest nugget he found was 1.5 ounces in a single find. One big nugget! Charles relates his story of returning home through San Francisco, through Panama, hiking across this narrow little stretch to the other side from the Pacific to the Atlantic, traveling by steamer then to New York City and home. He bought the farm. Well, he didn’t buy the farm. But he bought the farm of his dreams. But he knew something was missing: a wife, a partner and his companion. And so, he found and married a beautiful Swede named Hanna Elm – and they were married for 54 years. He pays such great tribute to her in this story, among these 47 pages, and what a wonderful manager she was and how much she added to their life and how much happiness she brought.
So, if Charles would not have written this, firsthand, we would have lost his entire experience. We could have described what he did but we would have never have had the firsthand account of him standing face-to-face with hostile Indians, armed with bows and arrows and rifles, and then knowing what it felt like. Just think of all the lessons I’ve learned from my own flesh and blood. Good is to write the story of your ancestors. Better is to find personal stories written by your ancestors. And best is writing your story.
So, today, I conclude my comments with the last paragraph from my grandpa John R. Quarles’ life sketch, written in his own hand. It was on a pad of paper of about 15 sheets. I might add that we totally revere and adore my wonderful grandpa. Here is the final paragraph of his life sketch: “I wonder if I have done any good in this life?” Maybe this is a question that you or I may have considered before. I know that I’ve asked it sometimes. Well, rich in family blessings, but modest in earthly possessions as a sweet corn and melon farmer in southeast Colorado, grandpa has made a difference! But he wondered. We hold a Quarles family reunion every two years, and that usually lasts for about three days. We have giant horseshoe tournaments and we dance and we sing and we laugh and we have a great time together. Our last reunion, we had about 130 in attendance. Direct descendants from John and Ethel. This is just the start! How about the next generation and the next? Imagine how many they’ll be! We find in this generation alone, extraordinary individuals, families that have now lived all over the world doing good. They’ve been individuals and parents in our home, quietly serving individuals that have served as leaders in the government at some of the highest levels, public service, teachers, nurses, farmers, construction workers, doctors, leaders in business, and so forth. And then, I think about my grandpa’s last comment, “I wonder if I’ve done any good in this life?” Yes, grandpa, you have!
Thank you, once again to you, for the chance to have had this experience. If it were not for you, the listeners on this podcast – those interested – I would have never had these thoughts, ideas, desire, and experience. And so, I hope in turn, you too, will have a desire to not only complete your story, your life sketch, but where possible help to bring the past creating the life stories of your parents and grandparents and others special to you, that may not be able to complete their story, or that just need a little nudge. You will have a more profound impact, not only on your own life but on countless generations to come. Wishing you a great, safe, and productive day. You are amazing! I compliment you. We compliment you. We’re grateful for the example you are to us! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger for Becoming Your Best Global Leadership.