Hell and family history share something in common. The road to both is paved with good intentions. While I cannot speak for the former, in gathering life stories, never a day passes when someone tells me they “must do something,” even though they never do…
Here are the five top excuses I hear:
I haven't the time. Are you saying that you cannot find 15-30 minutes in a week to sit and write a brief story (accompanied by a photo or two) about your life? It’s like saving or dieting - a short story, written on a regular basis, rapidly expands into something productive. Try one of these ideas to open. • an issue that formed your life - a fractured limb, family relocation, ill health; • people who influenced you - a schoolteacher, a coach, a grandparent; • world situations and their effect on you - where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon? • a judgment you made and the impacts of your choice … Once a week = 52 a year, a substantial start to any personal/family memoir.
I'm not certain where to start. ‘Anywhere you fancy’ is the answer. Put the stories into order later on - and it doesn’t need to be in date order either! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking: school or university graduation; taking your first baby home from hospital; victory in a sporting final, representing your school/state/country. “The happiest day of my life was…” (and off you go) telling them why.
I’m not especially strong at writing. This the most usual excuse - doubt about their writing skills is the major reason. There are a few simple solutions. I use my webcam to record short videos explaining the stories behind family heirlooms, medals, and jewellery. I hold the example in front of me and describe its importance to me - an outstanding way to tell a short story. Then I place the video online, shielded from computer crashes and creeping technological destruction.
I’ve had a simple life-who’d be interested in my stories? Few people win Olympic medals but to your family you are a hero, one of the biggest in their life and they don’t think of you as average - you are the reason they are here! There are details about your life that are untold, but family want to understand about your life.
My family tree is completed. Your life stories make up more than the family tree - this confuses many people. Family trees are not family histories - they are merely timelines of who begat who What they miss are stories that made the family what it is today. Families are made up of layers and layers of stories - national, global, local and intimate, as no one has existed in a bubble, isolated from other people.
Start now - nobody expects you to produce ‘War and Peace’. Begin by recording your own lifetime stories, then add the digitised images, papers and other keepsakes.
While you are doing this think about who will read or listen to your stories in 50 or a 100 years time. Their lives will be so different to yours today, let alone those of your parents and grandparents.
There will be time later to organise the stories with themes or chapters and to establish your stories in an appealing format. A professional personal historian can help you with this project - if you wish.
Don't hesitate - it’s your life, your story, your legacy - pass it on!