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Family Stories that Paint a Picture

Hanging above my desk in my home office is a framed article that I wrote about my family’s farming legacy and how it was almost lost when the federal government seized our land to make way for the Savannah River Nuclear Plant in South Carolina.

The article was published on Feb. 27, 1995 in The Post and Courier newspaper and written by me. In 2013, I published a historical novel entitled “The Fourth Generation” telling the full story of the land seizure by imminent domain and how my family in particular survived the ordeal.

I keep the framed copy as a reminder of my family’s resilience in the face of hard times. The photo of my grandfather, Aaron Dicks, Jr. in the full page spread really says it all. His face lined with wisdom, as every crease in his bronzed skin tells a story. His eyes, tired from always remaining alert to all the threats that loomed over his family’s future, and his strong jawline set with determination, is a reminder of the stock that I come from.

Many people have lived through tough times and many do not have a tie to their family’s history to refer to, but everyone has a story of resilience, survival, failures and successes.

If you don’t know your family’s story, start talking to relatives, especially your elders. Write down or ask them to write stories that they remember. Use your cell phone or a tape recorder to record the stories in their voice. I promise you that you will come to appreciate this recording when they pass on.

To help you get started, ask them these seven questions:

1. Tell me about your childhood? Who were your parents and grandparents and what were they like? Even if you know the answer, they may surprise you with additional tidbits of family history.

2. What’s your favorite childhood memory and why?

3. What games did you play as a child?

4. What music did you listen to? I learned that my mom loved to dance when I asked this question.

5. What did you dream of becoming and did it come true? I learned that my Great Aunt Clive wanted to become a professional singer when I asked her this question.

6. When did you start dating and who were your suitors? I got great stories when I asked my paternal grandmother this question that I’ll save for another time.

7. What jobs did you and your parents have? This question can provide you with a rich timeline of what was going on in their lives, from the Great Depression to wars to weddings, and everything in between.

If you don’t have relatives who can shed light on the family history, research it yourself on sites like and conduct an online search for obituaries, articles and images that might exist out there. These things will help you to paint of picture of your family history and put some pieces together that you never knew were there. These are all nuggets of gold in your life that you can use to encourage yourself, your children and other family members.

So many people lack self-esteem because they think or they’ve been told that no one ever did anything important in their family. That’s really not true. If you’re reading or listening to this, your fore parents did something to help you to survive. I encourage you to take the time to research, talk to relatives or family friends about your family history and then write it all down or record your story of resilience and hang pictures on the wall to remind yourself of the stock you come from.

So until next time, continue to build your legacy to encourage those who will follow in your footsteps.

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