1998-12-28 Grandpa Chestnut

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Inherited material wealth is often very modest, but heritage is priceless. We have enjoyed hearing stories of family heritage from aging clients and their children over the past decades. Clients have shared many stories with us about hidden treasures of old letters, annotated photographs, diaries, and video and audio recordings. In each case, detailed information and expressions of the departed person’s thoughts and feelings increased the sentimental value. One of the most touching records was an audio recording of a man’s statement of faith and prayers for his family.

A person may think about leaving a diary or other memento behind, but become intimidated or discouraged by the task. “What do I have to say that is worthwhile?” “I’ll start that next week.” “Who cares about my story?” These thoughts kill many heritages needlessly. Regardless of who you are and what you have done, someone is interested in your story and will suffer the loss of its value if the story remains unrecorded.

How should a person record memories? An easy method is to grab a notebook and start writing. Smart phones, audio recorders, and video recorders are great recording tools, especially if they capture someone telling stories to younger family members. The key is to find a system that records voices clearly. Even if you do not record your voice, old photographs are much more interesting if notes appear on their backs identifying their subjects and their photographed scenes.

Record storage can make a big difference in preserving heritage. You can keep records at home, in a bank lockbox, or in some other place. Computer record storage makes it possible to store photos, videos, audio recordings, and writings in multiple locations without worrying about destruction by fire, flood, theft, or fading. However you store records, make sure someone knows that the records exist and how to find them.

Memories are precious gifts to preserve and share with others. Few of us will appear in history textbooks, but each of us has a story to tell. Don’t try to tackle the whole project in one day – just get started and stick with it. Every unrecorded memory is a tragic loss, but every recorded memory is a gift more precious than any heirloom or monetary legacy.

[The photos featured in this blog post honor Jeff Hawkins’ grandfather, Ira B. Chestnut (7/15/1899 – 3/21/1999). Jeff video recorded Mr. Chestnut’s telling of his early 20th century experiences on Thanksgiving 1997 and posted the video on YouTube in 2011 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoeeuhBRAgs to share the video with his remote family members.]

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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