When Pauline Young died in 1989, her eight children and 23 grandchildren were at a loss.
“The matriarch of the Young family was gone, and everything she knew was gone,” said her grandson, Steve Young, founder of Legacy Media. “I believe I thought she would never die.”
This prompted Young to record his family’s story on tape in 2005, recalling how they lived their lives. That gave producer and friend Bradford Van Demark the idea to turn Young’s project into a documentary series, “Our American Family.”
Using Young’s tapes and freshly-filmed interviews with Young’s family, a 30-minute episode of the show has been produced and will air on MPB this week. Other PBS affiliates from across the country also will air the show.
“We realized we were capturing something really special, and something any other families could capture,” Young said.
“Our American Family: The Youngs” tells the story of Darwyn and Pauline Young and their eight children, sons Robin, J.D., Joe and Paul, and daughters Joyce Comer, Jean Summers, Ann Sterling Rodgers and Carolyn Young Davidson. The farming family was raised in Itawamba and Lee counties and has ties to Monroe County.
The Youngs’ story focuses on that family and their lives, from working, going to school and church, playing and family rules during the Great Depression and World War II eras. A few fun and heart-breaking stories are shared, too.
“It’s about what it means to be a family,” Young said.
Almost all of the images come from family photos or video; very little is reenacted. The family members narrate the story, preserving their voices, dialects and colloquialisms.
Many of the stories shared were ones the family already knew well, but some were told for the first time on camera, Davidson said.
Following the Young family’s episode, the producers will ask other families to submit their stories to be included future episodes of “Our American Family.”
The families will need to be able to provide plenty of family photos and still have some living family members who can accurately relate their histories, preferably on camera.
There is a sense of urgency, Young said.
“It’s like the tagline of the show: capturing the voices of wisdom before they are gone,” he said.
After all, Davidson said, her parents have died, and her four oldest siblings have passed in the order in which they were born. In fact, her sister Jean died 10 days after her nephew Young recorded her on tape for the original project in 2005.
Davidson and Young say they hope families tune in to their story.
“We hope this is like a mirror,” Young said. “In my family, you’ll see your family.”