5 Lessons Hamilton Can Teach Us About Family History
Since its premiere in 2014, Lin Manuel-Miranda’s hit Broadway musical Hamilton has been teaching history lessons all over the world. This revolutionary hip-hop narrative reminds a nation of its founders and their fight for freedom. In addition to important names, dates, and locations of the United States’ early days, Hamilton also teaches us a few lessons about the concepts of history and family legacy. The two hour and 22 minutes long soundtrack gives us plenty of lyrical lessons from which to choose.
Here are five lines that speak to the ideas of history and family legacy and a few notes about what we can take away from each.
“When Our Children Tell Our Story, They’ll Tell the Story of Tonight”
This line from "The Story of Tonight," is the first of many where the character Alexander Hamilton mentions his desire to leave behind a positive and powerful legacy for his children. We are reminded later in the musical that Hamilton is often forgotten in conversations about the founding fathers. At least, he was, before Lin Manuel-Miranda read historian Ron Chernow’s biography on Hamilton and translated it into a cultural phenomenon.
The lesson here: no matter what great or wonderful things you do, no matter how badly you want people to remember you, preserving your legacy is about more than leaving an impression; you have to leave some documentation. If there is a story you want your children to tell after you’re gone, you have to preserve it. Using StoryCombs, you can tell “the story of tonight” to your children yourself by keeping all the important details, photos, and narrations in one place.
“You Have No Control—Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”
The song "History Has Its Eyes On You" offers a lesson from both sides of the family history coin. The first is aimed at those looking ahead and goes hand-in-hand with "The Story of Tonight." What you leave behind will be up to the interpretation of future generations. You can make it easy on them and make your thoughts, feelings, and motivations clear by giving them lots of details, photos, documents, and your story straight from the horse’s mouth.
For those looking back, you take on a huge ethical responsibility, not unlike that of the biographer or documentarian, when you begin to tell your family’s stories. Gather as much information as you can straight from the sources. It can’t be helped if information has been permanently lost over the years, but moving forward you can prevent more loss by having conversations about the past, traditions, and legacy, while your loved ones are still around to help you tell their story. You can even record them telling their stories with a tool like StoryCombs so your other family members can also hear it straight from them.
“I’m Erasing Myself From the Narrative—Let Future Historians Wonder How [I] Reacted”
This line from the heartbreaking song "Burn,"reminds us of another ethical responsibility we have as the storytellers of our families. There may be things that your family doesn't want to talk about— painful, harmful things that they would rather leave unsaid. Sometimes it’s difficult to let those things go, yet sometimes that is exactly what we have to do.
Respecting the privacy of your family while still actively digging up events long forgotten is a balancing act worthy of its own Broadway run, but it’s one that is very much worth doing. When you are collecting stories from your family, you are operating on a huge amount of hard-earned trust. Breaking that trust could mean more than losing access to stories; it could mean harming relationships with the very people with whom you are trying to connect. Approach difficult topics with respect and patience and be prepared to accept that there are some things that you will never know.
“I Put Myself Back in the Narrative”
Conversely, this line from the musical’s closing number suggests that not all stories are lost forever. Stories which were once buried in silence and hurt can be unearthed and reclaimed with pride.
However, it is important to note that this line is sung by the same character who earlier “took [herself] out of the narrative.” She wanted to be in control of the story and how it was told. This is something to consider as you approach difficult topics with your family members. They may want to take the reins and tell their story in their own time, using their own words.
Fortunately, StoryCombs Hives lend themselves to this shared storytelling style and all members of the Hive can contribute their own narrative and their own perspective to the big picture. This affords everyone in your family a voice and a say in how their stories are told.
“And When My Time is Up, Have I Done Enough? Will They Tell Your Story?”
One of the final lyrics from this incredible show, this line suggests an urgency in the important work of preserving the family’s story. It comes after a long, detailed report of all the ways in which the character has gathered information, conducted interviews, recorded events, and saved documentation, in an attempt to preserve her late husband’s legacy. It may have taken all of us a good long while to look into Alexander Hamilton’s fascinating and inspiring life story, but his wife Eliza made sure that when we did, it would all be waiting for us.
This is the nature of the work we do. We gather all that we can, save it in one place, and we hope. We hope, like Eliza did, that those who come after us will tell these stories and add their own. When this line hits, at the end of a two and a half hour musical about Alexander Hamilton’s life, we know that it was enough. We know that it is not a false hope. We know that we must keep telling our stories.
The lessons of these five lines from Hamilton form an outline for preserving your family’s stories. All you have to do is tell the story, tell it well, and tell it respectfully, and when our time is up, we will have done enough because we told our stories.
If you were inspired by these lyrics and want more, check out the Hamilton soundtrack for free. If you want more tips on preserving your family’s legacy, be sure to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Facebook @Storycombs.
Which line above was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.