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A Year in Our Lives

June 21, 2015

Susan Marg

The Association of Personal Historians, to which I belong, was formed twenty years ago. Its members are dedicated to helping preserve life stories, experiences, and memories. The organization will celebrate at its annual meeting this October in Sacramento. In honor of the occasion I thought I’d take a look at what else happened in 1995. It’s what I do.

In many ways, it was like any other year. Couples got married, divorced, and remarried. After a long, tumultuous, yet profitable, relationship, both Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, who had divorced the previous year, took new spouses. People celebrated birthdays, graduated from school, and landed their first jobs. Many of us made money. In February the Dow Jones Industrial Average first climbed about 4,000. By the end of the year it was over 5,000. And eBay was a new way to shop.

Illustration by: © venimo

Illustration by: © venimo

For the first time we had easy access to the World Wide Web. Yahoo offered its search engine service. CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy provided online dial-up systems. Netscape went public. And the FBI arrested Kevin Mitnick for hacking into some of the United States’ most secure computer systems.

Still, we felt protected and in control – until the Oklahoma City bombing. The blast, carried out by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, killed 168 people, including nineteen children at a day-care center, and injured 680 others. Property damage was extensive, too. The following month President Clinton ordered the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to all vehicular traffic. It remains closed to this day.

We continued watching daytime soap operas. All My Children had its 25th anniversary, and As the World Turns broadcast its 10,000th episode. Yet many soaps were often preempted during the nine-month real-life, high-profile murder trial of OJ Simpson. More than 150 million people tuned in to watch when the verdict was announced. OJ was acquitted, and the lawyers became celebrities.

For entertainment we went to the movies and listened to music. At the 1995 Academy Awards, Forest Gump took the grand prize. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, Sheryl Crow was named Best New Artist and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” was Song of the Year. We mourned the passing of illustrious icons, including Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, yet we kept on truckin’.

What were you doing twenty years ago? What events made a difference in your life? How have you changed? It’s something to write about.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Building a Sense of Family

June 11, 2015

Susan Marg

The Association of Personal Historians is running a twenty-part series on why you should write your family history. Inspired by New York Public Library staffer Carmen Nigro, the weekly posts expand on her list of reasons, going into detail on such topics as the wisdom, humanity, and history that are derived from such endeavors.

I contributed to this effort with “Building a Sense of Family,” shown below. Read on. Read more.



When contemplating writing your family history, there is often the underlying fear of offending a favorite aunt or insulting a beloved cousin, setting off a family feud that lasts longer than the long-running game show. However, it is much more likely that other relatives hold your observations of both esteemed and wayward kin, and your record of your shared history will be appreciated. The rewards of preserving family recollections are so much greater than the risk.

You don’t have to be a writer to do your life or family history. You’re not competing with anyone else or comparing your life – or your writing — with those of others. You’re doing it for yourself, possibly to see how far you’ve come in life, or to leave a legacy for your children, their children, and nieces and nephews, as well.

Research conducted at Emory University shows that “family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” psychologists Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke wrote. They appreciate that they belong to something bigger than themselves. The more children are aware of their background, the better their emotional health, the more resilient they are coping with stress.

This research involved asking “yes” or “no” questions, such as: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your parents went to high school, their experiences growing up, and how they meet? Do you know whom you resemble in the family? Topics certainly discussed around the dinner table and covered in a family history.

But why stop there? What do you remember about growing up, the neighborhood where you lived, and the family rituals in which you participated? What do your children know of your first job, your favorite holiday, or your most embarrassing moment? Why not share your experiences to everyone’s benefit?

A current Subaru commercial, titled “Memory Lane,” which I think is charming, taps into the feeling that comes when different generations of a family relate to each other.

A grandmother, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter are on a drive in the country.   The grandmother, who has that aging hippie look about her, is intent on connecting with her granddaughter. She shows her her crystal collection. At a flower stand where they’re petting a cat, the granddaughter asks her, “Can you really talk to cats?” The grandmother nods and smiles.

When they reach their destination, a tree in the middle of a field, the grandmother says, “This is where I met your grandpa, right under this tree.”

The little girl runs over and hugs the tree.

In the next frame, they’re all hugging the tree, when the grandmother has second thoughts. “Or was it that tree?” she wonders out loud.

The commercial closes with the tagline: Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru. Love also makes a family, and knowing your family history strengthens those bonds.

I was having lunch with my mother the other day, and she, reminiscing, told me a story I had never heard before, one that hadn’t made my family history. “Do you know what a radiator is?” “Yes,” I responded. A radiator heated my first college apartment. “Well, when I was a little girl,” she continued, “I once burned myself so badly by leaning against a hot radiator I couldn’t sit down for weeks.” Thinking about the incident, she concluded, “That’s what life is, I guess, all those little moments.”

As a personal historian, I couldn’t agree more. As a daughter, I felt closer to my mother than ever before.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved