Life Story Writing

Teaching Life Story Writing and Musings On My Life ~

Archive for the tag “legacy”

Behind A Closed Door

In life we make lists, we separate or compartmentalize our things and experiences.  We organize and categorize our living.  Yet in the end everything is connected, there is no separation in reality.  Okay so maybe I am just trying to explain this to myself.  Why?  I do have a reason and it goes something like this:

A couple of months ago I found myself in York England living out a dream I’d had for many years.  Although born and raised in England I now live in the States so going home is a much looked forward to tradition.  But this was a homecoming of a different kind.  I was travelling alone in England for six weeks and I would finally have time to live out some of my long-held dreams.

Alfred William Hill

Alfred William Hill

Why York and what does it have to do with Life Story writing?  My great-grandfather Alfred William Hill was born and raised in York.  From what little we know that has been passed down he sang in the York Minster and was trained as an Organ Builder no likely at the Minster too.  So what relevance does that have to me today?  Well for one I was born a Hill and secondly I carry some of his genes.  I don’t know about you but for me there is a strong connection to the past, where I came from and who I came from that helps me better understand and appreciate who I am and maybe even why I am the person I am.  Now that has direct bearing on your Life Story right?!

Evenson Chapel

Choir Stalls

The Mighty Organ

The Mighty Organ


My time in York was short but I was there and I reveled in that simple delight.  To think that I was walking where he walked, seeing in part what he had seen.  Well lets face it the Minster Cathedral hasn’t changed that much since he was there.  I was even hearing some of what he had heard as that beautiful organ bellowed out her ancient melodies that lifted our thoughts and eyes heaven ward.  At Evensong I sat a few rows away from the choir stalls and imagined him as a boy singing there.  As the organ played I wondered if he had been trained as an organ builder by knowing some of the intricacies of that organ.  As I climbed the tower up its several hundred steps to the view of the spreading city below I wondered if he had ever seen his world from that perspective.


I thought about his life, how he left this beautiful city to come to the industrial and blackened country of the Midlands.  Did he miss his family?  Did he miss his home?  He had married the daughter of an organ builder who had gone to York to work on the Minster organ, or at least that is what we are told.  Alfred married Bertha and they had four children.  Bertha was carrying their fifth child when she heard the news.  Her husband Alfred was dead, killed in an accident at work.  He had been working on repairing a lift (elevator) when it fell on him and crushed him.  He was just a young 35 years.


The York Minster

The York Minster

My mind was brought back to present day as I stood there in the Minster, breathless with its beauty and its enormity.  These two worlds present and past seemed momentarily to converge as it was as if I could feel Alfred so close that I half expected him to come from behind a closed-door and great me with sparkling eyes and a infectious smile!

Although long gone from this world, I believe my great-grandfather exists as a spirit being, that he is aware of my life here.  I find it realistic to believe that knowing of my visit to York, knowing of my awareness of him, that it is quite possible that he joined me in spirit there that day.   Real or imagined, I was there and it impacted me.

What can I take from this?  Alfred was born an illegitimate child of my great-great grandmother who was in service as a servant in great house at the time.  Taken in and raised by his grandparents as one of their own Alfred made something of his life.  We know of his love of music and singing and his ability to build and create.  We know he dared greatly to leave his home and move to a new place and made a new life.  We know even in those impoverished and challenging times he found love and married, raised children.  In his short life he truly lived his dreams with passion and conviction.

Thank you Alfred for the legacy: Create, Dream, Love and Live!


Is there someone from your past, recent or distant that you feel a connection to?  What have you learned from them?  Write about it!  Capture their story from your perspective.


What Happened? Will We Ever Know?

My Grandad was one of five siblings.  As a child I learned this because I asked him.  I remember him telling me how his mother would call all five of their names outloud to gather them together,’ Lilly, Johnny, Harry, James and Susan!’  Grandad lost his father in a work related accident while his mother was still carrying his yet unborn sister Susan.  Within a month he was to lose his maternal grandfather too.  The family was thrown into crisis.  The siblings were seperated and sent away.  The picture blurs and we can only see glimpses or fragments of their lives as we try to piece together clues left in records or folklore passed down through two more generations.

Later in life as I came to research the family history and ask the oldest members of the family what they knew about the siblings this is what I was told.  Johnny died in the war, Lilly died as a nurse on the Titanic, Harry apparently lived nearby but there was some kind of rift between him and his brother, my Granddad.  My mother said she met Harry once as he came to Grandad’s funeral. Susan, great aunt Gerry told me, had ran off with a Bookie and lived Cambridge way.

Time passed.  I married and moved away to America and began a family of my own.  Five children came to our home Mitchell, Brittanie, Elliott, Brooke and Brieya.  Five siblings.  I didn’t have much time to do family history now.  Then one ordinary day the phone rang.  It was my father. ‘I’ve had a phone call from an Ann Haldane who says she is your grandad’s sister, Lilly’s grand daughter.  I thought since you are the family historian I would pass the information on to you.’  Dad is a smart and successful business man but he has little time or interest in this new discovery it would seem.

Over the coming days, months and even years Ann and I began to share our stories and discoveries about the family.  It happens Lilly didn’t die on the Titanic, she was never on the fated voyage.  Whether the family really believed she was on there or someone fabricated the story we will never know.  Lilly left her family in her young life never to return.  We have no concrete reason, we can only speculate.  She did become a nurse though.  Ann was also able to substantiate that Johnny was killed in the war although war records remain to be found.  Still there was so little information, so many unanswered questions.

That was ten years ago.  Then just the other day Ann emailed me. ‘I have had a message on the ancestry boards from Linda Frost.  She says she is the grand daughter of Susan.’  For years we had wondered what had happened to Susan.  Could we trace her steps and find her descendants?  But her trail was complicated and the information we had been given was not wholly reliable.  Yet here she was, a descendant of Susan, like the universe had called out to her for us and she had found us, just like Ann had found me.

Over the next few days, three grand daughters of the five siblings began to tell their part of the story to one another.  Linda was a double boon as her Grandmother Susan and Harry had been close.  She was able to tell us about both.  We were able to see their faces for the first time.  Harry’s resemblance to my grand father was striking.

Harry and Susan

We discovered Susan’s daughter, Rita,  is still alive and in her 90’s.  Still again for all the information we did have, after all these years of wondering, there was still so much we didn’t have. There was also this deep sense of loss.  Harry and Susan lived at the same time we lived.  We could have met them, touched them, known them.  Yet they had remained forgotten.  Shut out of our lives.

Whatever reasons the siblings had for leading their seperate lives died and were buried with them.  Two generations later we don’t know and we dont care.  All we know is we are left with a shattered legacy.  For us it is easy to see what is important looking back with crystal clarity.  So for future generations sake, heal the breach, mend the rift, swallow the pride, pray away the anger, look with compassion and forgive, overcome and embrace what family you have.  Leave a legacy of love and caring for your children, grand children and all those that come after.  They want to know you so please leave something they can remember you by.

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