Using notes to fill in the memory gap

How many times have you attended a funeral and thought “I didn’t know that about them!” When we look at life stories, we often only know facets of a person from everyday interactions and conversations, or through sharing a special event. But there is always a lot more to each and every person we meet, regardless of their age.

As a first generation Australian, I grew up without grandparents, aunts, uncles or close cousins. Those family members on the other side of the world were only known through the blue aerograms or the light-weight paper carefully folded into an envelope with a foreign stamp on the front that would arrive by post. Without realising it, those letters hinted at my parents’ Irish culture and their families.

In later years, when I returned to Melbourne from living up the country, those hints gained perspective. Each week I would drop by to visit Mum and Dad who were, by then, in their 80s. Inevitably, on each visit, the conversation turned to relatives, people they knew, places they had lived in or visited, lifestyles and days gone by.

I suppose it was a combination of my love of history, and a lack of having immediate family around me, that gradually led me to understand how important it is to write down the elements that make up who you, or your family, are. And so, after visiting Mum and Dad, I started to make notes. I’m glad I did because Mum died unexpectedly in 2015 and Dad’s memory during the COVID-19 lockdowns has steadily declined. But my own heritage is just a chapter within the many life stories that surround each and every one of us.

With my writing and editing experience, I love discovering the diverse stories that clients bring to me. Whether they be stories or memoir about immigration and leaving loved ones behind, world travel that shaped them into the person they became, growing up in Australia after the Second World War, or simply sharing the roots of their ancestors across the generations, I find each one has a richness of diversity in landscape, emotion, strength and vulnerability that displays how diverse humanity is. Capturing those facets and bringing together the essence of who a person or their family is, is what I enjoy most. Seeing their story come to life brings me as much joy as it does them. And to know they have something tangible to hold within their hands and pass down to future generations is satisfying. I hope to help many more people share their stories.

Imelda Cribbin is a board member of Life Stories Australia, a freelance writer and an editor. She lives with her husband at the foothills of Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges. She enjoys bushwalking and caravanning, and has recently completed a Diploma of Family History through the University of Tasmania. She has self-published a 470-page paternal family tree history, a family recipe book and various family-related articles. She is currently writing her father’s life story, researching her mother’s ancestry and segments of her husband’s tree – members of whom immigrated to Australia in the 1840s and 1850s.