“Finding True Connections: How to Learn and Write About a Family Member’s History” by Gareth St John Thomas— Finding Ourselves and Others

St. John, Thomas Gareth. “Finding True Connections: How to Learn and Write About a Family Member’s History”, Emotional Inheritance, 2019.

Finding Ourselves

Amos Lassen

In Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”, Tom, the narrator, tells us in the very beginning that “the play is memory” and I have often wondered how many of us realize that our lives are based on memories that both define who we are and bring us together. Understanding that we understand that Alzheimer’s Disease rob us of the ability to remember causing us and those around us to see how much we lose when we do not have the ability to recall what we have lived through. When memory is gone, so is a part of us.

It is never too early to record memories so that they will not be lost for perpetuity. That is what Gareth St John Thomas’ book “Finding True Connections: How to Learn and Write About a Family Member’s History” is all about. Along with “a global team of psychologists, writers and historians” Thomas shows us how to find and keep the life stories of our senior family members.  Now that we are living longer, new social trends about honoring and valuing those who came before us and understanding that one day we will take their places. It is so important that we capture their stories and the legacies they give us.

Author Thomas provides the steps necessary for us to be able to do this ourselves. We have a double age spread where we find on one page a question that is a prompt and on the other page we “have notes to provide context to the question and tips and guidance for how to gain the most meaningful answers.” The questions include, “When you left school, what did you do”?, “What are your key values in life”? and “Did you see much of other family members” to give us three of the one hundred that we get here. Personally I had a great time answering the questions as I read the book and then realized that, in effect, I had just composed my own autobiography.

On the left-hand side of this book are questions you can ask your interviewee. On the right-hand side are thoughts and notes regarding each question. It is important that you read all of the questions before you start the interview. You do not have to follow the notes; rather they are there to help stimulate your thoughts and enable you to move smoothly through the interview. Going through the prompts was going through my life and it was so easy. The prompts kept the conversation focused.

Depending on the nature of the question, the answers will be of different lengths and of different layers of insight and there are questions that can be replied to immediately without a bit of thought. Detail is not nearly as important as facts and time on each question is relative. The questions come to us in a certain order and this order is not to be deviated from. (As you read, you will quickly see why).Thomas recommends to do each section at a time and when you have covered all nine sections, you will have a life story.

one section at a time. If you do this, and take note of the guidance in the introduction, you will find that you have all the material you need in the correct order to write your interviewee’s life story.

The questions are simple yet inclusive and I wonder why no one has thought of this before (or if someone did, I am unaware of it. Here is a book you will use again and again and while it is enlightening it is also great fun.