As an educationalist and an ex teacher I am familiar with this claim. It is of course nonsense. However this is rarely convincing for the person who makes it. Since becoming involved in family research and making contact with members of the family, I have been repeatedly met with such a statement.
If it were true we would be in real trouble. In the past so little family history was written down. We are not a famous family and until recently the main written records of our existence have been births and baptisms, marriage and death and burial records made by church or state, census returns since 1841, and the occasional will, lawsuit or service record. Almost everything else about the family has been held in the memory of those who knew them and who passed the information by word of mouth to others. Inevitably most of this material dies with the people concerned.
However within the memory of almost every living member of the family lies a vast amount of information not only on their own lives but the lives of others including those long since dead. Many specialists believe that for most people nothing is lost. Everything that goes into the memory, both consciously and unconsciously, remains for ever - indeed some believe some of it is passed to descendents genetically. The problem is getting it out again - RECALL. We just do not realise how much we know, and if we did we might be more willing to make an effort to bring it to mind.
When I started researching my own family tree I had little information on the Nadins beyond the name of my grandfather. My mother believed he was one of twelve children but we knew of only one and she had died. My first task therefore was to sit down and write the words uncle and aunt and ten add any christian name which I associated with either of these. A few of these were associated with my mother's family as well as Uncle Mac of Children's Hour fame, but eight were later to relate to my father's family.
This was just one way of jogging the memory. So much of our memory exists in strings of information and once we start pulling at the string other memories soon follow. Photos too can be a good starting point. I spent many a fruitful evening with my mother looking at the family photo album, which brought back memories my mother had long thought forgotten. Postcards too are a useful aid to memory as are letters.
Marriages and funerals too are important opportunities for recall. They bring together members of the family and remembering those who attended can often produce lots of information.
Some elderly members of the family like myself find their memory failing but whilst they cannot recall what happened yesterday, they can often recall the past.
We would find it so very useful if members could make a tape recording of the elderly members of their family--the disc need not be ordered or to professional standards. A simple recording with stops and starts is quite satisfactory. The relatives should be encouraged by questions or discussing a particular occasion. What was their wedding like? Who attended and what presents did they receive? Are they still alive and did they have children? Were they in the War?
Don't leave it too late. The number of times I have been met with the comment "If only I had spoken about the family to Aunt ….before she died." Resolve to contact one elderly relative soon and take your recorder, MP3 player or phone with you.
If you are at all interested in family history research, this should be an early task. The IGI, BMD, Record Offices, the National Archives, and even Ancestry can wait. The material they have will remain. Your relatives will not!