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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Jenny Harrison on recording our stories

I stand a hundred percent behind Maureen Green and her stance on recording social or family history (see the previous blog). How we can know who we are or where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from? What are the lessons our history tells us? Who were the people who passed on their DNA to us and created the shell into which we pour our being?

I live in a small rural community where many retirees have settled. It’s a rich field for the writing of memoir and I hope in the coming months to encourage people who suddenly have time on their hands to begin the wonderful process of remembering and writing. It is a task that can be richly rewarding as well as very challenging. I know because I’ve been there.

In 2001 we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. It was going to be very special as our four children were meeting up for the first time in thirteen years. It was perhaps the only time when these busy productive people would get together as a family; at least with us, their parents. One son flew in from America, another from England. Two daughters came across ‘the ditch’ from Australia. We wanted to celebrate this event in some special way and so, a year before the family were due to descend on us, we came up with the idea of writing our story. We called it The Legacy and began remembering and writing.

I shall never forget the faces of our children when we handed round the completed book, one for each family member. There were tears and there was laughter, there was ‘do you remember?’ and ‘oh my gosh, where did you get these photos?’ All were overcome by the precious gift we had given them; their past.

Our book was filled not only with personal stories of our life’s journey but it was also the history of our time, the wars that were fought in our name, the technological progress made and how it changed our lives. It was a story of family and books and holidays at the beach. It was what we wore, what our homes were like as well as who we became.

I am passionate about remembering. My own father had a difficult past (he fought in World War II, was captured at Tobruk in 1941, he was a POW in Italy and then escaped and lived in the hills of Italy until the Allies arrived) but he never spoke of it and his story is now lost forever. My children and their children have lost a vital part of their history.

I have written one biography called The Lives of Alice Pothron, the story of an American couple who were trapped in France when the Germans invaded in 1940. It was immensely satisfying to research and write this book as it gave the American family back their past.

The book I’m working on at the moment is also about remembering. It’s about the Holocaust, not an easy journey to take. But the family whose past I am uncovering now have an understanding of who they are and where they come from. They have a history and I have the satisfaction giving them an immeasurable gift. I can think of no more sacred journey than that.


Jenny Harrison




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