Enrich Family Histories With Often Repeated Phrases

Capturing the true character of a person can be difficult with simple descriptive words. Describing their physical features and mentioning where they are from, may paint a visual picture of a person but the individual remains one dimensional.  If you include often repeated phrases an ancestor said into your family history, the person’s story instantly more depth.

Add repeated phrases in your family history - Walter Cronkite

Anyone could report the news every night, but when Walter Cronkite closed his broadcasts with “And that’s the way it is,” you knew that was the summation of the daily news.

Add repeated phrases in your family history - Jeff Probst

When Jeff Probst ended the Survivor tribal councils with “The tribe has spoken,” you knew he was the man who ended the journey for adventures competing for fame and fortune in a remote location.

Hearing these phrases, in others settings, paints a picture of the person who originally used it and the emotions associated with words. When someone else spouts off the phrase, you understand what the second person values and is trying to convey.

My father was not on television but he had his own addage when I was growing up.

The importance of education

Actually, he also included an abbreviation for a specific university to this slogan. He said, “Don’t go to ABC U, go get your Ph.D. before your Mrs.”

Any family history about my father must include his often repeated phrase about pursing education if the story is to be considered complete.

Why Did Your Ancestor Often Repeat That Phrase?

Don’t stop at just including the phrase. Add further details about when and why that phrase might have been used. For my mother, I needed to address the following:

  • Where did they get this motto?
  • Was he just against the ABC university?
  • Did he place high value on gaining an education?

Any motto or phrase will generate similar questions for you.

To understand my father, you have to know that his grandfather, Victor Zumstein, was a physics professor at Ohio State University from 1928 – 1968. My father loved his Grandpa Victor and enjoyed talking to him about his work at OSU. Dad knew that Grandpa Zumstein placed a high value on education and tried to impress this upon his daughters during the 1940s when education was restricted for women. Although they chose marriage over education in the 40s, Grandpa Zumstein still influenced the my father’s view on the subject.

Dad wanted me to go to college to have more opportunities than I could possibly imagine. Dad wanted me to not follow in the footsteps of so many young women around my age who went to “ABC University” and were married within one year of attending.

My father pointed out how these young women never finish their degrees and face life’s tragedies ill-prepared. With limited advanced education, their employement opporutnities were dramatically limite. For dad, getting an advanced degree was a way to protect his daughter’s future.

What topics trigger often repeated phrases?

Your parents, grandparents, and extended family members have maxims, mottoes, and philosophies that you have heard over and over in your life. The sayings could relate to education, like my father’s. They could relate to service to God and country. Perhaps a motto relates to how you should treat others. Some maxims relate to work ethic and money. Some phrases deal with tardiness.

Some frequently used phrases from friends and family may include:

  • “If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.”
  • “A little hard work never hurt anyone.”
  • “We were grateful to have had an orange for Christmas”
  • “You can’t have a champagne budget with a beer income.”
  • “Measure once, cut twice. Measure twice, cut once. “
  • “Don’t wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it better. “
  • “No matter what happens, you can always come home. “

Did this list trigger phrases from your family?

Now these sayings and others like them are all well and good. They inspire a chuckle or an approving head nod. If you heard lines like these, they likely invoke a specific memory or better describe your relatives to a T.

Take time now to record the phrases you thought of and the memory behind it. Perhaps your dad said, “a little hard work never hurt anyone” and then forced you into slave wages by having you iron shirts for a nickel a piece.

Or perhaps a mother said, “a little hard work never hurt anyone,” and then showed you how to weed a garden, shine your shoes, or disinfect a bathroom. One little phrase, and it’s application, can evoke a host of emotions.

How Did the Repeated Phrase Play Out?

One final suggestion for adding flavor to your family histories and personal histories is to evaluate the mottoes and maxims.

I followed Daddy’s advice and did not go to ABC University. (I didn’t go to The Ohio State University either, but that’s a different story). I did not follow dad’s advice to marry after I earned a Ph.D. However, dad was proud that I graduated with a Bachelors of Business with a minor in Journalism three months after my wedding.

I could expand this paragraph to provide more details about following, or ignoring, dad’s advice but I wanted you to read a a sample of the power of going beyond just including the advice. How did it play out? If you can add that, plus the truisms, your story will become the compelling story you hope for.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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