Autobiography, Writing Your Story

Hobbies bring ancestors to life

Green mask by Jillian Ellen Phillips (circa 2013)

Green mask by Jillian Ellen Phillips (circa 2013)

When writing about yourself or your family, don’t forget to talk about hobbies. Hobbies can say a lot about a person. They reflect personality and character traits that are often missing when you focus solely on the tactical side of life. Talking about day-to-day routines, jobs, military service, or childcare are important, to be sure, but are mechanical or procedural in nature.

I get up at 4:30 a.m. every day, go to work for 9 hours, perform some great functions, battle traffic on Interstate 80, walk the dog, eat dinner, watch American Idol, and go to sleep.

That sentence alone can give my readers an idea of what I do on a daily basis. It does not tell you who I am as a person, however. Describing hobbies can do this. They say, “Sure, I work hard and am responsible but there’s more to me than the mundane.”

Hobbies demonstrate the thoughtful side or the intellectual side or the adventurous side of any family member. Given what I knew about my father, for example, an outsider would never take him as a small-scale model maker. He was “rough around the edges” and often short-tempered. Nevertheless, he was patient and meticulously detailed when it came to building model ships or planes. These were the moments in which I learned the most from him.

Hobbies are interesting from another perspective, too. If you know what your parents or grandparents did for fun, I’d bet you would find correlations with what you like to do today. In many ways, hobbies are hereditary. If your dad liked to fish, more than likely you do, too. If grandpa liked to skydive, you’ve probably jumped from a perfectly good plane. If you and your sister spent hours listening to Duran Duran, you probably still like 90s music and have it queued on Pandora right now.

My family had many hobbies. We collected stamps, coins, and old bottles, to name a few. More importantly, we were creative. My mother was an exceptional artist and one time president of the Evans Art Guild in Angola, New York. She worked in all media – from oil painting to bread dough sculpture. Her father, Raymond Hinton, also had the creative bug. He painted, made miniature dogs from yarn, and even constructed little houses. Because mom was so involved with arts and crafts, my sister and I also enjoy it. We’ve continued the tradition using our artistic talents to support family projects and local schools. My daughter Tracy is also very talented and so is Jillian, my sister’s daughter.

For me, hobbies are magic. They are like an enchanted broom, whisking aside the What I Have to Do’s to make room for the What I Want to Do’s. Your ancestors most likely thought the same thing. If you can discover what they liked to do, and write about it, you’ll be giving your readers a better picture of who they were. I think this is important, do you?

Four Generations of Arts and Crafts

Miniature houses build by Ramond Hinton, my grandfather (circa 1980)

Miniature houses build by Ramond Hinton, my grandfather
(circa 1980)

Pencil drawing by Judith (Hinton) Cole (circa 1990)

Pencil drawing by Judith (Hinton) Cole, my mother
(circa 1990)

Ceramic rabbit by Karen (Cole) Phillips, my sister (circa 1973)

Ceramic rabbit by Karen (Cole) Phillips, my sister
(circa 1973)

"Moloka`i from O`ahi", painting my John R. Cole (2015)

“Moloka`i from O`ahi”, painting by John R. Cole
(2015)

Papier Mâché lizard by Jillian Phillips, my niece (circa 2014)

Papier Mâché lizard by Jillian Phillips, my niece
(circa 2014)

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  1. Pingback: Combining hobbies with family history | Families Across Time - July 18, 2015

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