'Preserving Your Family Story' class teaches students to delve into family histories

Leisure Learning class at Blinn-Schulenburg Campus looks to empower students

Leisure Learning class at Blinn-Schulenburg Campus looks to empower students

December 4, 2019

The past is important to Elaine Thomas.

Since 2016, Thomas has taught “Preserving Your Family Story” at the Blinn College-Schulenburg Campus, showing her students how to document the past - good or bad.

The latest class held the last of its eight sessions recently, and students gave high praise to what they had learned.

“I had heard that this course was worthwhile and interesting, and instructor Elaine Thomas has not disappointed,” said student Ray Langlois. “The small class size has allowed me to be comfortable sharing personal parts of what I hope to write, and the presentations encourage everyone to participate. Now I have the tools to write my story so it is interesting for my family to read and cherish.”

A public relations writer, Thomas worked in “corporate America” for decades and opened her own firm before choosing a different path.

“Several years ago, I decided to focus on my first love – writing about people and their amazing lives,” she said.

Thomas was already contributing a weekly column on the news from 50 years ago to The Fayette County Record when she added a monthly column called “Stories I’ve Been Told.” She just submitted her 73rd interview in that series.

Thomas also has written several books and recently received a Will Rogers Medallion for “Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories,” her first-person account of Fayette County World War II veterans and their families.

That led to the idea for a family history class.

“Along the way, a number of people asked me if I could help them share some of their family and personal stories,” said Thomas.

The idea was embraced by Blinn-Schulenburg Executive Dean Dr. Becky Garlick, and the course was added to the college’s community education offerings three years ago.

Each class, said Thomas, “is small by design.”

“Students determine what each wants to achieve by setting goals, identifying the audiences they wish to connect with, establishing a timeline, and outlining the steps necessary to make the plan work,” she said.

“While I emphasize writing down memories by providing writing prompts as part of the weekly handout, I lead the students through a written curriculum I’ve developed based on my own experience that examines different aspects of this type of communication.”

That includes creating character profiles of ancestors.

“Along the way, we look at practical ways to save photos and consider using them as notecards or on pillows, for example,” she said. “We also share the stories behind the keepsakes and look at lots and lots of samples of what others have done to preserve their stories.

“As trust builds over a few short weeks, so does a cohesiveness between the members of the class that prepares us to tackle tough challenges in our discussions. Not all family stories are pretty and straightforward, because life has its ups and downs.”

Thomas said one of the main goals of the class is to empower her students.

“Since every participant has his or her personal goals, each probably comes away with different skills and a sense of purpose,” she said. “However, each class feels empowered and better prepared to preserve their family stories.”

Another “Preserving Your Family Story” class will be offered in Fall 2020. Anyone interested in taking the class can contact Loraine Orellana, Coordinator of Distance and Community Education at Blinn-Schulenburg, at Loraine.orellana@blinn.edu or by phone at 979-743-5237.

More information on Blinn-Schulenburg Community Education and workforce classes is available at www.blinn.edu/workforce.

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