Define Your Dash: Start Writing Your Personal History with the #52Stories Project

January 4, 2017  - by 

Start Writing Your Personal History with the #52Stories Project

On nearly every headstone, no matter how plain or ornate, is carved one universal symbol. It’s a simple horizontal line—a dash—separating two significant dates. The first marks the day one precious soul entered this mortal life. The second marks his or her inevitable journey onward.

A well-known poem by Linda Ellis, “The Dash,” speaks of this symbol:

“For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.”

We are each, right now, standing somewhere in the middle of our own individual dashes. As Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “We may feel we are at the beginning or end of our lives, but when we look at where we are against the backdrop of eternity . . . we can recognize that we are truly in the middle” (“Always in the Middle,” Ensign, July 2012, 4).

Because it’s human nature to think of our lives in terms of beginnings and endings, the new year gives us the perfect opportunity to make sure we are making the most of that dash, filling in the details of our lives so our loved ones and our posterity are not left wondering what happened in between.

Writing down current inspiration and perspectives in this manner is invaluable, as is regularly delving into your personal and family history, trusting that your most important stories will be brought to your remembrance. And it’s never too late to start; that is where #52Stories comes in.

Why Define Your Dash?

All of us are “in the dash.” But, you may be thinking, “I’ve got plenty of time to record my life story for my posterity. Why start now? Why this year?”

Here are just a few reasons:

  • “Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives,” said President Spencer W. Kimball, who had already filled 33 black binders with memories by the time he became President of the Church in 1973. “Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity” (“Listen to the Prophets,” Ensign, May 1978, 77)
  • Journal keeping is an ancient commandment. The book of Moses declares that from the beginning of time, “a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration” (Moses 6:5).
  • Apart from the commandment to do so, the prophet Nephi wrote the story of his life “for the learning and profit of my children” (2 Nephi 4:15). (And he had to go to the trouble of engraving his; we have the luxury of pen and paper or a computer keyboard!)
  • Journal keeping is one of several habits that will “strengthen your testimony and help you learn and improve throughout your life,” according to President Henry B. Eyring (“Help Them on Their Way Home,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 24).
  • Writing offers immediate benefits to individuals and families. “Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives,” said Dennis B. Neuenschwander (“Bridges and Eternal Keepsakes,” Ensign, May 1999, 84).

Clearly, leaving a legacy isn’t the only good reason to keep a journal. Great personal benefits come from reflecting over your life, collecting your thoughts, and organizing your experiences. The very act of writing things down is therapeutic; it can provide a sense of purpose and control. It may also reveal God’s hand in your life, increase your gratitude and faith, foster a stronger sense of self, and even improve your memory.

How to Define Your Dash

Don’t expect to sit down and pour out the events of your entire life in one epic writing session. Just like a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a personal history begins with a single story, followed by another story, and another one. And that’s where FamilySearch’s #52Stories Project comes in.

The idea is to write one brief story about your life, past or present, every week this year. You can do this in a handwritten journal, in a document on your computer, or via a series of voice or video recordings. You can even select certain stories to share on your FamilySearch Family Tree profile, where they’ll be preserved for your posterity.

At the end of the year, you’ll have 52 notches in your personal history dash. That’s 52 opportunities to make sense of your life—52 chances to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).

Sounds easy enough in theory, but what on earth are you going to write about each week? Should you just start at the beginning and record all the events of your life chronologically?

Actually, no. That’s the most challenging way to go about this project. Memory isn’t orderly, structured, or predictable. Recollections are more likely to surface randomly, sparked by various external triggers. Embrace the randomness, and just start writing. You can always organize your stories later if chronology matters to you.

You don’t have to look far for a great series of memory triggers. The #52Stories Project has divided the year into 12 themes, from “Goals & Achievements” to “Education & School” to “Holidays & Traditions,” providing 12 different questions for each theme. That’s a total of 144 questions, giving you plenty of options to choose from as you build your library of #52stories. The questions are available for download, and you’ll also see a different question highlighted each week on Instagram (@FamilySearch) and the FamilySearch Facebook Page.

Weekly questions for #52stories

The Time is Now

Start filling in the details of your dash now, while you’re still in the middle. Discover the power of capturing current insights and shaping your own personal history—and the joy of writing as a means of remembering and understanding.

“What could you do better for your children and your children’s children,” said President Kimball 35 years ago, “than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Personal Journals,” New Era, Dec. 1980, 27). Indeed, what could you do better for yourself?

Download:  Small (360p) |  Medium (720p)


Additional Resources:

#52stories Printables
Free Downloadable #52Stories Printables

Follow and Share #52stories
Follow #52Stories and FamilySearch on Instagram

2017 Weekly Questions
One question a week for writing your personal history


Free #52Stories Printables

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  1. Sounds like a great idea. I’d love to do it. Where do I post my weekly answers? I don’t want to do it on Instagram or Family Search facebook. Is there a site where I can keep personal information weekly rather than Instagram or facebook? Do I need to create my own file using a thumb drive or—?

    1. Use whatever is convenient. You could just add things to a file on your computer, or put them in a notebook or scrapbook. I would highly recommend adding them to your personal memories gallery on FamilySearch so your posterity will have access to them in the future.