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The Gift of (Your) History

The Gift of (Your) History

The Gift of (Your) History

I wish I knew more about my grandmother.

I’ve seen old black and white photos of her…one with her foot on the runner of a Model T, another one of her in a bathing suit standing at the edge of a lake. I’ve got some costume jewelry from the ‘30s and 40s. A book of poetry she enjoyed. But I have no deep understanding of her life.

I knew her, of course. She lived with us for a time, and I spent my summers and weekends at her cabin in the Poconos. We were close, but I didn’t know much about her.

My mother can fill in some of the blanks, but even she is short on details.

Do your children or grandchildren ever wonder about your life? If they don’t now, chances are good they will in the future. What will you tell them? What items or photos from the past best represent who you are? What you were about?

It’s important to pass on a sense of history to our children and grandchildren, but many before us have left this earth without leaving their story behind.

A few years ago, I took a course on writing personal histories. Afterward, I did a series of recorded interviews with my husband’s uncle, who happened to live at Meadowood at the time. He had been a colonel in the army and had lived all over the world. It was a fascinating and intimate series of talks, and I learned more about him than many of his close family members ever knew. Why? Simply because I asked.

When I finished, everyone in the family wanted a copy of those interviews. They were all interested. Curious. And what I realized was that there are probably many families who are curious about their loved one’s history, but for whatever reason, never get around to talking about it. Perhaps they are shy about asking. Or maybe there just isn’t time.

This year, why don’t you give your family the gift of history? The gift of knowing the details about your life that will be gone when you are if you don’t write them down.

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Figure out what form is best for you. Personal histories can be recorded in many ways. Written biography, journals, voice recordings, scrapbooks… the list is endless. Think about what method would work best for you.

2. Gather your materials. Before you get to work, gather up everything you’ll need to make your personal history as complete as possible. Photographs, yearbooks, military records, health records, marriage certificates—anything that will help you recall the events of your life.

3. Create a timeline. Start with the major events in your life and fill in around them. Don’t forgo the little details that show who you are.

4. Don’t skimp on details. Anecdotes, family traditions (and how they began), newspaper clippings, travel, lessons learned, and childhood memories serve to flesh out who you really are.

5. Ask for help. Including stories about you from others’ perspectives adds an additional dimension to your story. Recruit family and friends to write a few paragraphs about their favorite memory of you.

6. Find a trusted reviewer. Check in occasionally with someone who knows you well and can help keep you on track. Let them review your work to see if you’ve left anything out. You could also hire a professional editor to help you structure your work and clean up your writing, if you wish. However, don’t stress if it’s not perfect. The important thing is that you are sharing your life experiences.

7. Find a way to reproduce your work. I guarantee there will be more than one family member who would like a copy of your work. Do some research to find out the best way to reproduce written or recorded works. There are many publishers who offer print on demand services.

Remember, creating a personal history is a labor of love. Key word: labor.

It may seem overwhelming at times but try to hold on to that sense of fun and purpose. You are leaving a legacy. Creating won’t be quick or easy, but the finished product will be a gift that is treasured for generations to come!

Until we meet…
Donna Birdsell