Stories as Survivors, by D.G. Fulford

When I lived in Nevada, there was a flood that washed away entire lives. Whole houses and households were destroyed. Everyday life was drowned.

I spoke to a woman, an engineering professor at a university, who lost most of her possessions. All of her professorial files containing years of research, data, knowledge, were gone. So were her clothing, her dishes, her pictures–everything.

Her biggest heartbreak, however, was the loss of her family history. Her late mother had collected anecdotes over the years; she wrote some, while family members added others. The stories grew 250 pages, and this engineer, with her logical bent, kept her sentimental possession in a drawer in her nightstand so it would be beside her while she slept.

Her mother had died a few years before the flood; all the aunts and uncles had passed on also. Their stories were in the nightstand, though, still a family. Ancestry on paper, ever present like a light on in the hall.

The flood took the nightstand with the rest of the possessions. The rest of the possessions the engineer could live without. “The river could have my clothes,” she said.

The loss of her mother’s stories was too much to bear. She prayed.
She asked for her mother’s handwriting back.

“And the river gave it back,” she said.

More than a month after the flood, a rancher found the nightstand drawer stuck in his barbwire fence six miles downstream. And in the drawer were the stories that her mother wrote. Her mother’s handwriting, soaked and sodden, but still there.
At times we feel frustrated, trying to write family history. At times we wonder why we’re even working on the project. At those times, remember this.

Our stories can survive us. Our stories can survive anything. Our families live forever in our stories. Write them down, write them down.

D.G. Fulford is the bestselling author of the classic To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come, which she wrote with her brother, Bob Greene; Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom, written with her mother, Phyllis Greene, and Things I’d Love You to Know: A Journal for Mothers and Daughters will be published in April by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion. She is also cofounder of that helps people tell their life story.

4 thoughts on “Stories as Survivors, by D.G. Fulford

  1. Very nice story and one that gives us hope for precious lost objects. I pray every day that my grandparents and other deceased relatives will some how help me identify all these precious unidentified photos from the past.

  2. This woman was very, very lucky to get her stories and paperwork back. I live on the Texas coast, and you can bet that my genealogy, which is stored in “portable” office storage boxes (rather than file cabinets), will be one of the first things that goes in my van if and when I have to evacuate in anticipation of a hurricane. The boxes are ones that I can lift myself, and I have sketched plans for what goes where in the van. Sometimes it takes a little planning to help safeguard our precious records.

  3. This story also serves as a reminder to us to make copies of important documents and files and store them in a different location.

  4. When my grandmother sold her house her grandfather’s diary from the Civil War disappeared. I have always held out hope that somebody with an interest in family history would find it and try to return it. As this happened 35 years ago my hopes have dimmed. He was Solomon D Grimes (1834-1926).

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