Answer Questions With Stories

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GenForward is all about leaving a real legacy for future generations. Until very recently, the predominant method for passing on tribal and cultural knowledge, has been through the passing on of stories. Be it the rich verbal histories of the native American or Aboriginal peoples, the countless myths and legends of of Europe or Asia, or Jesus using parables to communicate his message to the masses, people just respond better to stories than simple facts.

GenForward’s questions are really just meant to be an aide to help provoke memories, and to get to your own stories that future generations will understand, and can relate to. It’s not the hundreds of questions that make GenForward what it is, it’s your answers and how they resonate with you friends, family, and future generations.

On the face of things, many questions could simply be dismissed out of hand and given a one word answer, and if that’s all you have time for on any given day that’s fine, as any answer is better than no answer. However if you really want to make your legacy something that people will respond to, trying to give more depth, colour and story to your answers will engage people much more, and ultimately help give them a far better understanding of what really makes you special.

To use an example from my own Q+A page, the question was “What was your first car”. On the face of it, a fairly simple question that could easily provoke a simple answer of, “Austin Allegro”. Factually accurate in my case, but not exactly riveting for the reader and not the kind of answer that would make anyone want to dig deeper, and find out more about the person who wrote it.

Another way to answer that question is to use it to start off a memory and then impart as much of the richness, texture and feelings associated with that memory. At the end of the day, nobody knows your story better than you; you were there for all of it!

If I were to take that approach my answer becomes more like this:

“It was an Austin Allegro, can’t remember the year but it must have been mid to late 1970’s as it wasn’t exactly in the best of shape, but there’s a limit to what you can afford on an income of basically nothing. The bit’s I can remember clearly were that it had an automatic gearbox (which was really why I was driving it as I had only had one driving lesson, hadn’t passed my test yet and wasn’t properly able to use a manual box), and the colour. I believe the Austin factory paint charts would have described it as “Chocolate Brown”, however anyone who saw it tended to make up their own interpretation of what it should be called and it certainly wasn’t chocolate.

Anyways, I lived in a small town in Norfolk and wanted to get over to see one of my friends in an even smaller village, which was about 10 miles out in the country. Given that the car was automatic, it drove pretty much (and to be fair looked pretty much like) a bumper car, so the journey over to my friend’s was uneventful, despite the levels of stress I was going thorough behind the wheel as a totally inexperienced driver.

Then came the journey home. It was past midnight and given that I was really out in the country, it was dark as hell and the road was totally unlit. In terms of driving conditions there’s nothing I dislike more than driving in total darkness on roads I don’t know well. Anyway, the road was deserted and I was barreling only at just over 60MPH when I came to a long, straight stretch of road which had a railway crossing on it.

As I reached about 150 yards from the crossing, the lights began to flash, warning that a train was approaching and the barriers were about to drop. Given that it was late and I was tired my “Reaction Time” and “Thinking Time” seemed to be working in another time zone as I was caught in the dilemma of either accelerating to make the crossing before the barriers drop or braking hard to come up short and wait.
Eventually, given the possible repercussions of the wrong decision, my teenage brain finally got round to deciding that braking hard was a better option than exploding in a fireball of death and destruction attached to the front of a speeding train. I stand on the brakes, HARD….

For about the first 10 feet, all is well. The next thing I recall is an almighty bang coming from the left front of the car. Then I am facing backwards. Then forwards. Then Backwards again. Repeating this process until running up the dirt verge at the side of the road and grinding to a halt just a few feet short of the crossing.

As the train blasted through the crossing, I tried to pull myself together and release the seat with my buttocks. I am sure the inside of my trousers were now the same colour as the car. I shakily climbed out to survey the damage. Looking back down the road I could see the pretty spiral skid marks I had left, along with a big gouge out of the road.

I got to the front end of the car and the reason for my recent 100 yard spin down the rod became clear. The front left wheel was basically lying horizontally. The King Pin holding the wheel in place had basically snapped under braking, flipping the wheel out and leaving me driving on the suspension. Obviously this is the kind of thing that’s NEVER supposed to happen.

Anyway, I walked away, wobbly but unharmed from my near death experience. There are many more junk cars in my driving history (as well as some really nice ones) as I lived in a world where parent buying first car was never going to happen. Although there were faults ranging from brakes that only had 2 settings (off or jammed on) which occurred independently of the position of the brake pedal, needed a gallon of water every 5 miles, had seats that flew towards the window at 30 miles an hour every time you applied the brakes hard, to no working reverse gear and on and on, there wan never anything as near fatal as the train crossing incident.

The world of sub 200 pound cars was a varied and interesting one in the 1980’s. Much as looking back on it it’s a miracle I ever survived to buy my first car that didn’t fall apart inside 6 months, I do think that period has made me a better driver overall, as it kind of makes you be mentally ready for anything at any time.”

So, back to my point of this post. As you can see there’s a world of difference between the first and second answers. Both factually answer the question. The second may be a bit drawn out and you don’t always have to go to those lengths, but I think you would agree it says a lot more about me and my life and experiences that a reader, especially close family or friends, might find interesting or amusing enough to make them want to find out more.

Your legacy is only as valuable as you make it. Don’t try to rush thorough hundreds of questions in a day. Take a little time out each day to answer one or two questions properly. That way you will be creating something of real value to share and leave behind. Something that truly represents the incredible and improbable journey that is your life.

UPDATE!

Since this article was written we have added much more functionality to the site. Not only can you create and share online family photo albums, but it’s now also possible to embedd images and photos into your answers to the questions. Any photo that you add in this way will be automatically stored into the appropriate photo album as well so you can build up a complete pictorial history to go with your stories!

Enjoy!

tom@genforward.org

Start building your living legacy with our free genealogy website today!

 

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