Our Elders: Our Links to the Past — The North Star Reports – by Tasha Engesser. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
During the spring semester of 2014 I was privileged to be assigned to write an end of the semester project with a greater purpose than just getting a grade. The assignment was to research my own family and history and to connect it to the class. The truth is, most papers, finals, and projects we work tirelessly on in high school and college are forgotten about once they are turned in, but this project was much more personal and lasting.
Throughout all of my research and interviews with family members, several points stood out. The first point is the importance of storytelling in my family, the second is the prominent role my family plays in my life, and the third is the realization that my elders have such interesting personal histories I often forget about.
I have grown up on being told stories. Sometimes these stories were fictional and other times they were nonfictional anecdotes (usually with an element or two of fiction added for effect). The stories I grew up on taught me life lessons, entertained me, and gave me a great love for stories in general. I think this one of the greatest gifts given to me because it allowed me to become the avid reader that I am and helped influence my public speaking style, both of which helped me thrive in school.
I should have known all along how important a role family plays in my life, especially with all the stories I was told about them, but I continue to realize their importance more and more each day. This past year has been one of the toughest times for me because I was away from my family. This project allowed me to feel connected again. I gathered during this project that family was one thing that no matter what else happened I could fall back on. Throughout the school year I have surrounded myself with family photos so as to feel at home and comfortable in this new place, and I found that my family does the same. I received a picture of my grandma’s coffee table that she sits beside daily. On it rest pictures of my aunt, mother, and sister’s weddings. I noticed a family trend of taking group photos whenever the extended family gets together so that we can always remember the day.
Before this project, I would look at my family photos and see only the people in them, but now I see so much more. The final point I realized through my research is the one I hope will stick with me ’til the end of my life because it is such a great realization: my grandparents and other elders are such impressive people. I have always known this but haven’t really given it much thought until this project. I never knew how much my parents and grandparents did before they were my parents and grandparents. I think many people forget to acknowledge that these people that we think of as old and traveled were once young and inexperienced like us. It is quite marvelous to be able to learn some of what my elders did back when they were young.
I hope that the new information and the insight I have collected and shared throughout this semester give me a new sense of direction with my family. I hope that I can continue to learn about who my family members were and are outside of just being my family. It truly is a gift to me to be able to share these stories of my family’s past. [From Professor Liang’s 2014 World History II class.]
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.
We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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33 responses to “Our Elders: Our Links to the Past — The North Star Reports – by Tasha Engesser. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
I will totally agree with you the point that we forgot sometimes of the great memories of the family. Also I like how you give importance of family in this article. It made me think of the times when my family would all get together. I will agree it is hard being away but when you explain it with bring family photos it helps and that is a great idea.
Thank you so much for sharing this incredible reflection and what impact it had on you. I could totally relate with some of the stuff that you mentioned especially the storytelling part. My grandparents always tell me stories of their past, when they were young, what they did and how they cherish those moments. I absolutely agree with you that we should not see them as just old people, they are truly gifts in our lives.
This article is very relatable for a lot of people who read it. We never really focus on what the past means until we have to. I especially like your point about how we may forget that our elders were once young too and that they too had to find their way.
I can relate to this article because I am doing a family history project in which I have had to do a vast amount of research to find where my family is from. I just started a couple days ago and I already have a new profound meaning of family and what they all mean to me.
When you talk about being away from home and how hard it is for you to have your family in a different place, I feel identified by being an international student. Being away from my family has made me value more the elders in my family, and all the sacrifices that my parents have made for me. Now every time that I go home, I value every second I am with them, and try to help them in any way I can.
First I would love to comment that I have done the same project and felt the same exact way you did. Second Camila’s comment about being away from home making her value her family more is a similar feeling i have everyday. When i came to a realization that everything my parents say was not just to piss me off but to help me i felt so happy to grow up in an family that cares for me so much.
I really like how you talked about how important story telling is in your family. I’m currently doing this project and my grandma was telling me some stories about my family’s past and I realized I had never heard of or known about half of the things she told me. It’s amazing how much we can learn from stories being passed down even if they are or aren’t true.
I just completed this world history project and I have come to have many of the same realizations as you did. I made new connections with my grandparents; I learned lots of things about their life growing up that I’ll remember for a long time. This project really made me realize how important family really is. Great job, Tasha!
In such a busy world, we often forget about how important family can be. I’m glad you got a sense of how important yours is.
This quote especially stuck out to me, “The stories I grew up on taught me life lessons, entertained me, and gave me a great love for stories in general. I think this one of the greatest gifts given to me because it allowed me to become the avid reader that I am and helped influence my public speaking style, both of which helped me thrive in school.” I think it is always gratifying knowing something you learned from family helped you with your future endeavors. It is also interesting when you’re first hearing these stories, you don’t realize how important they are until you really need them. Thank you for sharing!
It’s great to see that you’ve learned something more from history than just a few facts and figures, rather you’ve learned a new way of viewing the world. Which is really history is all about, so congratulations regardless of what you graduate in, you have now become an amateur historian!
I just finished my family history project too and it definitely left me with a greater sense of connection between myself and my family. It “forced” me to ask some interesting questions and dig for stories/answers that I thought I’d never hear, and I’m glad I did it.
It can be difficult to remember our grandparents were once as young and and inexperienced as we were. It is cool to see that you are able to see all the wisdom and advice your family has to offer. Have you ever thought about making a personal journal about the history of your grandparents?
I just completed my world history this week and learned a lot. I realized how important my family is and my heritage! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for share your story! I have a strong hunch that most of the stories my elders tell me are far from the truth, but that’s the exciting part, especially at a young age. I could not agree with you more about how these stories are irreplaceable and can shape who we grow up to become.
Wonderful story! It’s unfortunate how much we forget at times. I also agree with how we can be shaped by those stories. I think I turned into my Grandpa a lot — for good or for bad — because of the stories he’s shared with me over the years.
This sounds like it was an interesting project! I’m sure that because of this, your memories will resonate much longer. I’ve learned that family stories are hugely important, perhaps even synonymous, to success. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I admire that your elders tell you stories of their experience. As for me, my parents barely talked about their past when I was growing up. I barely knew anything about my own cultural history until senior year of high school. Doing this project reminded me of all the new information I found out about the history of my family. I wish my parents talked more about their experience but I do understand that they went through a traumatic experience that they might not want to talk about. Thank you for sharing your story!
I really enjoy learning about how research projects such as this one can have such a profound effect on how students think of and remember their families. Being so far away from home while in college definitely puts the meaning and importance of family in a new light. Thank you for sharing your story, its incredibly refreshing to read about remembering and honoring the things that matter most in life.
I too had a similar experience when having to research family. I always knew that I was third-gen immigrant, but did not know their struggles (such as leaving Ireland to escape starvation) until then. It really is a new awakening to who you are as a person to discover who you came from. Good piece.
I’m definitely going to agree with you on family stories being fictionalized over the years. In my observation, they sometimes become anecdotes to represent a person’s character. This can be observed in the origin stories of politicians and companies as well.
I, too, enjoyed putting this project together last year.
I really liked your take on your family telling stories. I believe the true way to learn about your family is about the stories that they tell us whether they are true or not.
I really liked the introduction, it generally sums up the purpose of the history project – unlike all the other projects we are made to work on this project, which I am also currently working on, is something very difficult to forget even if I give my best shot at trying. Great intro Tasha!
I think that storytelling is a big way that all families communicate and pass on lessons learned from the past. it was cool learning about your family’s way of telling their history.
I also did a project similar to yours where I had to research my own family history and it totally gave me a new sense of appreciation for my family, especially my grandma. Like you said, we often forget these people were at one time young but shouldn’t because we can learn so much from those individuals lives and the paths they took. I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I now have about my family for anything.
This article is very thoughtfully written. As I continue working on my Family and World History project I am coming to some similar realizations. Although I am glad to be learning about my family now, I regret not having asked about my family history earlier.
I love listening to my grandmas telling stories at christmas, I could listen to their stories all night. You learn so much from their stories and their stories helped me with my family project I had in History. I loved telling the stories I was told from my grandmas.
I did a similar project and found a new appreciation for the same old stories I was used to hearing at family gatherings. That first year away from home can feel very distant, but just know that time flies and you’ll be able to spend time with them before you know it!
This article makes one never want to take family for granted. Its so vital in my mind to spend quality time with relatives even though it can become difficult when they are spread out across the country. There is also a lot to be learned from ones elders as they have lived a great deal longer than us and are generally much wiser!
This is a realization I also had when I came to college and was away from home for the first time. I like how you state that photographs are important but you spend much more time emphasizing personal stories that you learned about. Those are the things that stand out to me more I am told about my parents and grandparents lives.
Thank you for sharing. This is all very true! I think we forget when we are young what thing we need to cherish the most, and I realized that is family. I also learned lots about my elders and parents and what they did when they were young, it is really cool to learn these stories and bring them with you.
Reblogged this on The Middle Ground Journal.
I really like reading this article because I had the same feeling when researching my family. I started to feel distance from my family and when I started to research my family and call my family members I began to feel more connected like you were saying. I also began to realize that they would always be there for me and they are the people that I can “fall back on”. Thanks for sharing this!