By Paul Nauta
A popular new year's resolution is to write your personal life story or family history. There's something about the swift passing of the previous year and the fresh dawning of the new year that makes us reflect on where the time has gone and the experiences that have led us to the present. For some of us, we feel this mooring inside of us urging us to capture the highlights of our travails in life.
What's that you say? Write my life story? No one would be interested in your story? Hogwash! No doubt your parents, grandparents, and your great-grandparents likewise thought they were ordinary, boring, blah-blah people that no one would be interested in reading about. But what would you or I give today to have a personal history of them, written about them, and by them?! Be real. You need to start writing your personal history, and FamilySearch #52Stories makes it easy to do.
No One Is Ordinary, Really
You see, each of us is a unique living story that needs to be told. What you deem as mundane daily life for you today will one day be a great family treasure to your posterity. It will help them to stay connected with you, your personality, across generations long after you graduate from this mortality. (Does this remind you of Disney Pixar's Coco? Nonetheless, it's true.) What was life like in your youth? Who were your best friends? Your favorite meals? Hobbies? Did you have chores? Heartaches? Pet peeves? Triumphs?
You see, each life story is comprised of many individual memories, experiences, and stories which, when accumulated, tell the interesting journeys of each of us. When compiled, these happenings become a priceless legacy. And who better to tell our own stories than us? And if you don't capture them, no one will. But the hardest thing is knowing what to write.
One Question a Week
What if you only had to answer one question per week—and you got to select the question?
Last year FamilySearch launched its #52Stories project. It provided a different theme each month and 12 questions per theme to consider. I know, 12 times 12 is 144, not 52. It's not a bait and switch. Each month has a theme, like "Goals and Achievements," "Holidays and Traditions," or "Education and School." You pick the questions you want to answer from each theme each month. If you can't decide which question to answer each week, then just answer more than one! Pretty simple, don't you think?
It doesn’t matter if you write a few paragraphs, a single page, or several. Hey, it's your memory and your story. You tell it the way you recall it or want it to be remembered. Be succinct or elaborate. You can handwrite in a journal, in an electronic document on your laptop or phone, or you can make a video or audio recording. Next December, you will have 52 stories about your life that comprises your life story in your own words. How awesome is that!
I personally took the #52Stories challenge. I wrote the questions in a Word document that I saved online. This enabled me to use my phone, laptop, or any web-enabled device to add my weekly answers to the questions. At the end of the year, I save the file as a PDF document to my free FamilySearch Account under my Memories. I can also easily share it electronically with family if I choose. And after I'm long gone from this life, it'll be saved online and easily accessible for future generations.
Spice Things Up by Involving Other Family Members
If you want some real entertainment, ask some family members to share their memories surrounding a specific question, and add their memories. I asked my siblings to share their memories of our family's Christmas or New Year's traditions, meals prepped for each, chores, etc. I was amused how very different our memories were from the youngest child (me) to the oldest (ahem, my sister). It inspired me to ask for their memories regarding other questions. When I asked them about the names of our family pets, I discovered two pet dogs I had forgotten. Their added insights help enrich my life story and family history for my children and grandchildren.
Warning! Your Memory Recall May Improve
I have to confess that as I got started selecting and answering the questions from the #52Stories project, my mind was flooded with a wide range of related and unrelated memories. When you ask yourself one of the memory recall questions, it's like someone flips a switch in your brain, and pathways to dusty crevices are re-illuminated. I somehow remembered people, places, and things I'd long forgotten.
In some cases, I had floods of fond memories coming out of my cranial woodwork so fast, I was forgetting them as quickly as they came to mind. To help me keep track of them, I immediately made bullet points of each of them under the question I was answering or put them in a "Notes" section so I could come back to them. It was fun. I actually rekindled a few old childhood friendships I'd forgotten about (social media makes it easier than you think to find folks these days). We laughed about the stories I was capturing.
You see, it's my life story. There's not a wrong or right way to capture it or tell it. The important thing is I'm writing and preserving it, so it can be shared with my posterity.
Older Dog—New Trick
One more confession while I'm at it. The FamilySearch #52Stories project gave me just the motivation I needed to get started writing my life memories. In addition, as I made the weekly entries, I found myself developing a new discipline. I found it very inviting and fulfilling to walk down the lanes of my memory and fondly recall so many influential or formidable experiences, things, and people throughout my life. I started keeping a personal journal for my current year's experiences, which led to me buying a journal app for my phone and laptop to write my daily reflections and attach photos from my phone—my ongoing life story!
Floor Plans Are Great Memory Joggers
Another great method for helping you recall long forgotten memories or creating fun fodder to add to your life history are floor plans. That's right. Start with your earliest memory. Take a piece of paper and quickly and roughly sketch out the floor plan of your childhood home(s). Visualize yourself moving from room to room. Describe them.
What memories do you recall from each room? I tried this, and a deluge of fond memories came to mind. I could remember where everyone sat at the kitchen bar for evening dinner, the types of appliances we had, what we stored in which cabinet and drawer, and kitchen cooking and clean up routines. It made for fun entries and new questions to ask my siblings for their memories. Looking at the floor plan, I recalled where we put our Christmas tree and the year my sister, Michell, doing a silly dance and knocking it over. Dad wasn't happy as the glass ornaments shattered when they hit the hard tile floor, but what a great memory to capture!
So how do you do this? The #52Stories questions are available for download for free by theme on 12 colorful pages. You can print, download, or bookmark them for referencing throughout the year. There's even a poster-size memory jogger you can print.
January’s theme is goals and achievements. Sample questions include:
- What goals are you actively working toward right now?
- What was the greatest achievement of your life?
- What is something you taught yourself to do without help from anyone else?
- What role has failure played in your efforts to achieve your goals?
At the end of the year, your 52 stories, or your ancestors’ stories, can be shared for free in a FamilySearch Memories profile, preserving them for posterity. When you ride off into the sunset, they'll be accessible to future generations.
A Lasting Benefit
New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler and faith leaders such as President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphasized that recording and sharing glimpses of your life and your ancestors’ lives is an invaluable aspect of building strong families.
Your triumphs over adversity, how you endured a long-term difficulty, your progress when all seemed bleak, how you achieved important goals—when shared as part of your family story—are gifts that keep on giving in very powerful, inspiring ways. They help build individual identity in children and grandchildren.
Your life story is waiting to be told. You are the author. Tell it like it is, or was. Your posterity will thank you.
About the Author
Paul Nauta enjoys family, the great outdoors, and family history with a bias for anything Italian. Follow him on twitter @nautapg.
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