Memoir In Progress
DEEP DIRT: Adventures in Digging Up Family Stories—is more than a memoir. Yes, I share what I learn digging up my own family stories. I also interview a variety of experts and other adventurers exploring the power of family stories. We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we hear. That means we need to pay attention to those stories that we hear so often we begin to think they are nothing but the same-old, same-old.
In the book, I travel from a ranch in Idaho to an island off the coast of Denmark with various stops along the way piecing together my family’s history. I learn who tends the family ghosts, why every girl needs a horse, and new respect for the fairy folk. What distinguishes my project is that I’m not trying to prove my history by gathering dates and documents. My goal is more quixotic. I want to know how my family’s stories shaped me—never mind that I haven’t lived within a thousand miles of home since I was nineteen-years-old. Never mind that the stories might not be exactly true. The stories, like it or not, represent who we think we are.
Here’s the thing: Stories create the way we see the world. Unless we pause, once in awhile, and ask “why that story” or “why that stories told that way,” we may find ourselves living someone else’s version of who we are. That’s especially true of family stories that are anything but subtle in the way they instill values and set tone.
I’ve come to believe that knowing your family stories might be as important as knowing your family medical history. It has been documented that people who experience a genealogical void often have serious identity problems. Hence the drive for adopted children to find their “real” parents and African Americans, with slavery backgrounds, to make DNA connections to a particular part of the African continent. Even without such a void, most of us benefit from a deeper sense of roots. In some studies that’s being called the “ancestor effect.”
DEEP DIRT: Adventures in Digging Up Family Stories is approx. 300 pages/14 chapters. It encourages readers to examine their own histories, but it is not a how-to. It’s more like a why-not. Why-not go on a storied adventure into who you are. You might have a pirate and/or a Mormon polygamist in the family. If the NBC series “Who Do You Think You Are?” and the websites–Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA and FamilySearch–are any indication, lots of us would like to know where this journey might go. And, in the end, if you know your story you can decide how to tell your story. You get to take charge.
I have written three novels (Pocket Books) and numerous short stories and essays that have appeared in various literary magazines. In the last chapter of DEEP DIRT, I note that I have a short bio, a long bio, and a formal resume, but my story is something else—something richer and deeper. Something worth digging for. I bring to the task a background in journalism (I was writing for my hometown newspaper at age sixteen) and a fiction writer’s sensibility. I have a blog connected to this project and tweet regularly about family stories @jerriehurd.