The value of knowing family stories

According to research presented in this New York Times article, children who know about their family tend to do better when confronted with life’s challenges. They say this because the children understand that they are a part of something larger than themselves. Their research found that the level of knowledge about one’s family is the “single best predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

                          My Grandpa Chris Stenberg pitching bundles of oats into a threshing machine.

                          My Grandpa Chris Stenberg pitching bundles of oats into a threshing machine.

My own experience: I became more interested in family history when I found WWII letters of my Grandpa Chris. These letters led me to a deeper understanding of some of the biggest trials of his life like: being a home-body away from home for 3.5 years; being shot at; dealing with the death of two brothers and many comrades-in-arms; and feeling that he couldn’t always trust what the Army was saying would happen next. Not that he didn’t express frustration or sadness during these times, yet he persevered through them. Wow, what a real-life example I have to look up to when I am frustrated by the circumstances I find myself in.

But like any family, as long as you dig a bit, not everything I learned is something to be proud of. Squabbles about inheritance among siblings, people who don’t know how to express themselves emotionally, finding out that one of my great-grandparents likely committed suicide-- things like these, are they good for me to know? Does it lead to resilience?

Back to the researchers: The article talks of three “narratives” that families can be lumped into:

  • Ascending: family who started with nothing and then grows to have everything
  • Descending: family who started with everything and ends up with nothing
  • Oscillating: family who experienced both ups and downs and yet sticks together

The researchers see the oscillating family narrative as the “most healthful” for a child.  

Back to my thoughtsFor me, I feel that I’m a part of an oscillating family narrative that serves both as inspiration and warning for my approach to life. I am grateful for the family stories that I know, even the disappointing ones.  

Now, I’m not saying that all stories need to be disclosed to a kid at a young age, and I’m certain there are examples where it might be best to “let bygones be bygones,” but I think that that is more the exception than the rule. If you approach the idea of learning of/sharing your family stories with humbleness (realizing there are both positive and negative ones), I think most everyone can come out with both some inspiration and warning for one’s own life.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the fourth word of the title of this post: “knowing.” Yes it is great to have been a part of stories, but if they aren’t preserved (like my grandpa's WWII letters), they will likely be lost to the sands of time. If you are looking for a way to preserve some of your family stories, consider booking a video memoir with us ;). 

7 (Bad) Reasons to Delay a Video Memoir

Last month we discussed 8 good reasons to preserve your family stories with a video memoir. Well to take a look from the other perspective, here are 7 bad reasons (debunked) that someone may use to delay this important endeavor:

My grandpa's friends making their own fun in the 1930/1940s.

My grandpa's friends making their own fun in the 1930/1940s.

1.      No one will think my life is interesting. That simply isn’t true. Everyone has a unique story about how they came to be who they are today. How hard is it for a kid today to understand what life was like before internet, telephone and electricity? It is fascinating to think about how quickly technology can transform how we interact with one another, so let’s get recorded the way things used to be and let the future listener decide how terrible or great life must have been back then.

2.     It’s not my style to do something like this. We people from the plains are known for being reserved and that can be good at times—as we don’t get our feet stuck in our mouths as often, but at other times, it may get in the way of doing something important like this. About 10 years ago, my grandfather spent hours and hours writing context/names on the backs of old pictures. If he hadn’t done it, the pictures would now have much less meaning to me and my family. A video memoir is another encompassing way to help pass down stories that otherwise may be forever lost.

3.     I’m too busy. A morning or afternoon is all it takes for a basic interview.

4.     I won't remember everything. After an interview, I've had people tell me, "Boy, once we started talking, the memories really started to come back." As the interview is rolling, if we are finding that there are areas that are too distant a memory to be recalled, we will focus on what you do remember and want to have preserved.

5.     I’ve made mistakes in my past. Who hasn’t? Every good character in a story makes mistakes and real life is no different. The question is, did we learn from our mistakes? We can talk about that on video if you want, or we can just skip over areas too—there isn’t enough time to cover all aspects of everyone’s life, so we will pick and choose what areas to cover in the pre-interview process.

6.     It’s too expensive. A basic up-to-2 hour interview costs $400 plus mileage. I realize that that amount is nothing to sneeze at. But if you look at what people pay for wedding pictures and videos, this is likely much less, and it helps preserve a lifetime of memories and not just a specific day. Additionally to keep the costs manageable, are there other family members/friends who may be interested in splitting the cost? Whatever your budget is (even if it is zero) let me know, and we will seek to find something that will be meaningful.

7.     I’ve always got tomorrow. It is easy to put things like this off for another day, but there comes a day—and we don’t know when that day is—that it is too late. So, don’t delay!

 We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have, provide a complimentary no-obligations consultation, or book an appointment with you. Video memoirs make a great gift!

Sharing His Story

In his 50s Ralph Moody wrote an account of his pre-teen years where he and his family had just moved to start a ranch in Colorado in the early 1900s.  He recounts some of the trials and triumphs (though financially it was mostly trials) of their experiences. As the oldest son, he spent much of his time with his father doing ranch work. While working, his father often turned their situations into life lessons, using both word and deed.  


Ralph and his dad had a good relationship and the story shows what startup ranch life was like for many others at that time. Towards the end of the book Ralph recounts “…our best Christmases were the ones when we were the poorest.” Oftentimes people don’t have that insight into their lives until they’ve lived a little more. That insight is valuable both for the person realizing it and for those of us who get to hear it.

A video memoir can help one record some life experiences and lessons just like Ralph’s. While some prefer the writing process, many others may not have the time, patience or skill to put pen to paper and write and re-write. If you or someone you know fall into that category, a video memoir can be a nice alternative. I’d be happy to help you navigate the waters to see what might work best for your situation.

Ralph said this regarding why he wanted to record his stories: "My goal in writing is to leave a record of the rural way of life in this country during the early part of the 20th century, and to point up the values of the era which I feel that we, as a people, are letting slip away from us." Source: 1

The book is called Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, and if you are into these kinds of stories, I'd heartily recommend it.

8 Reasons to Preserve Your Stories with a Video Memoir

Has anyone ever said to you, “Boy I sure wish we had some of your stories recorded…times sure have changed since you were a kid”? Well you might just be a good candidate to use our video memoir services here at Dakota Prairie Media.  Still need more convincing? Well, here are 8 reasons why recording a video memoir is a good idea:

1. It isn’t hard or time consuming and yet you get something that will be of increasing value to current and future generations. Video memoirs don’t require skill in writing stories or a lot of time. It can take as little as a morning or an afternoon of your time with an interviewer guiding the conversation with deliberate questions, and can be a way to have at least some of your stories preserved.

2. It gives you a chance to review your life from 40,000 feet. Sometimes it is easy to let life pass us by with our head to the grindstone. We can go from our growing up years into adulthood without ever stopping to think about what pivotal moments helped shape us into who we are today. The interview may help you to process that a little.

3. Video allows for more personality. You know the saying: “a picture is worth a thousand words” well, with video, people get to hear your voice, see your face and notice your mannerisms. Priceless.  

4. Have a chance to talk about the lessons learned in the ‘good old days.’ Today’s generation likely has it quite different than what you did. This provides an opportunity to tell us your experiences, how they shaped you, and the lessons you learned because of them. Remembering where we came from is important.


5. It isn’t going to be a completely exhaustive look at your life. While everyone’s life is made up of different high points and low points, we won’t have time to cover all of them, so if you have areas that you don’t want to have included, we won’t include them.  

6. Help provide a link between generations. By connecting with family from different generations it helps everyone see themselves more as a part of a whole—both to the family but also to the connections with the history of where they live. Some things like the experience of taking a leap of faith into the unknown don’t change among the generations, while other things may change dramatically like technology. By recording your stories people will get a chance to see how their experiences may be similar and/or different.

7. It saves others from the regret of not having the stories recorded. How many wish they could go back in time to hear their mother’s voice or grandfather’s laughter, or maybe learn more about that eccentric and elusive great aunt that no one ever knew much about? Well, now’s your chance, get yours recorded before it is too late.

8. It makes a great gift! Struggling with gift ideas? How about a gift that signifies the importance of where you came from? Gifting your video memoir, as well as gifting the service to someone are great ways to have something that grows with value over time.



Still have questions? Take a look around the website-- especially the sample video clips, and/or contact us directly.

Some Thoughts on this Veterans Day

I had the opportunity to watch the movie FURY over the weekend. I went into it not knowing more than it was a World War II movie that my neighbor wanted to see. Within the first couple of minutes my interest was piqued. This historical fiction film focuses on a five man US tank crew who had been together since the North African campaign and were fighting against the Germans in April 1945. Why did that pique my interest? My great uncle Henry O. Stenberg lost his life in Germany on a US tank crew in April 1945, and had also been in North Africa (and a few other countries) before fighting in Germany. Wow, here was an opportunity for me to delve into what Henry's last days might have been like.

Obviously being born in the 1980s I never got to meet my great uncle Henry, but occasionally my grandfather who also fought in WWII would mention him to me with admiration and a tear in his eye. Our family recently discovered letters that both Henry and Grandpa sent home during their WWII years. Through the letters and visiting with others who knew him I learned he liked livestock, sports, good neighbors, the quite lifestyle of rural North Dakota and amusing his younger cousins by wiggling his ears. After answering the call of his country through the draft in 1941 and completing his training in the US, Henry was sent over to the North African and European Theaters and likely found his new situation the exact opposite of what he had grown to love in North Dakota.

The movie FURY portrays the war as it likely was—exceedingly ruthless, seemingly random, outrageously crude, and downright hellish. Yet hundreds of thousands of soldiers did their jobs, oftentimes with exceeding bravery. They didn’t act so much in their own self-interest, but rather in the interest of a larger community--our country and (as many would argue) the world. Oftentimes they found wounds (mental and physical) and even death as a result. We have a lot to learn from them and to be thankful for. 

On this Veterans Day we are encouraged to think of those who have served in our country's military. So, I’d like to close this post with a poem that Inga Melby (a neighbor and aunt of Henry’s) wrote and submitted to the local newspaper after hearing of Henry’s death. This is a part of the 6 BROTHERS documentary and this one minute long poem is read by Inga's daughter Thelma:



A New Monument on the North Dakota Capitol Grounds?

I love walking around our state capitol grounds. I don’t live very far from it, and I’ve got a dog with nearly limitless energy to burn so I’ve become pretty familiar with most of its nooks and crannies. The ultra-green summertime grass out front, surrounded by magnificent elm trees is a great place for those throwing balls, snapping pictures, or just enjoying some time in the great outdoors.

The PIONEER FAMILY statue greets visitors at the front entrance of our capitol grounds.

The PIONEER FAMILY statue greets visitors at the front entrance of our capitol grounds.

The statues remind us of those who came before us, a little bit of who we are today, and, to remember our futures.

Dedicated in 1989, the PIONEERS OF THE FUTURE statue reminds us to think about what is to come.

Dedicated in 1989, the PIONEERS OF THE FUTURE statue reminds us to think about what is to come.


Our 19 story art-deco tower has been scraping our blue sky for the past 80+ years. Yeah we don’t have a dome like nearly all other states' capitol buildings, but they can't boast 80% useable space. If buildings tell something about the character of its people who created it and use it, our capitol building exudes practicality.

Behind our capitol building, a place that doesn’t get as much attention, there’s a large painted metal object tucked in amongst the trees. When I first caught a glimpse of it, I couldn’t figure out what it was. As I got closer I began to wonder: “Is that, a snow plow blade? No, that can’t be. This is the state capitol grounds.” But as I got close enough, I could indeed confirm that it was a snow plow blade. I thought it might be a temporary solution but no, I’ve now seen it there for over the past year.

Snow plow blade tucked amongst the trees in the capitol’s “backyard.”

Snow plow blade tucked amongst the trees in the capitol’s “backyard.”

At first, I was embarrassed by my home state: “Why do they treat our capitol grounds like an old farmstead’s backyard? There must be some off-site storage for equipment like that.”

But, then I got to thinking. This, along with the capitol building, represents the prairie-born pragmatism of many North Dakotans. The front yard is meant for beauty and it must be kept all trimmed up for our and others’ enjoyment, but the backyard has too much good functional space close to where we will need it to let go to “waste.” After sifting that through my mind for a while, I began to realize that this snowplow blade—whether intentionally or not—could indeed be another monument for our capitol grounds, calling her the “Prairie Pragmatist’s Plow.”