22 July 2010


    Have you given a thought to your own legacy? Have you thought about how future generations might remember you?
      Almost every genealogy lecturer imparts this advice: "Start with yourself and work backwards." For most of us, that mean filling in our own names and pertinent dates on the chart or computer program.  Some of the "collectors" among us might even be lucky enough to have saved mementos over the years, or perhaps kept photo albums and teen diaries or scrapbooks. But many of us have more information in our files and our binders about our great grandmother than we do about ourselves.
     We are all ancestors, whether in a direct line to our grandchildren, or in a lateral line to our grandnieces, or as a twig on a future third cousin's tree.
    Want some ideas to get you started on documenting your own life? Try some of these!

1. Write your memoirs. You can write your memoirs in any way that you feel comfortable. You can keep a diary or you can write letters to yourself. Your accounts can be factual and to-the-point, or they can be poetic narratives.
      I attend  a monthly class on memoir writing. The instructor and the other students in the class have opened my eyes to the many ways we can write about our lives. One man began with his earliest memories and progressed in order through the eight plus decades of his life. He recorded every detail he can remember--names, dates, even the rules of stickball as played in the streets of Philadelphia. His creation deserves to be published and stored in a historical museum. His memoirs would be as valuable to a Philadelphia historian as they will be to his descendants.    
     Some of the students write very personal essays revealing their deepest feelings and thoughts,  as well as recounting the major events in their lives. We keep a box of tissues handy--and those tissues are usually needed by the end of the reading period--just as often for tears of joy as well as for those brought on by bittersweet experiences. I often think about essays the others have shared. Sometimes one of the tales will pop into my mind at the oddest times. So many of the essays  have changed the way I look at my own life experiences. Others have helped me through difficult times.
    But if attending a class or sharing your writing is not your cup of tea, then write alone. There are many books available that can help motivate your writing. The important point is that you DO write. The topics are yours to choose. The style? Whatever works best for you. No grades here, no literary criticism.
2.  Make a binder or scrapbook about yourself.  Remember scribbling away in those "about me" books when you were young? Just because we are all grown up doesn't mean that we can't buy one of them and have fun filling in the blanks with our favorite vegetables or television shows.
     Buy a nice scrapbook and have fun decorating it. The finished product will reveal as much about your personality as will the photos and clippings within.
     If you feel that these suggestions are not "you," then simply collect your clippings, document copies, show tickets, postcards, whatever, in a binder. If you haven't collected these type of things in th past, begin now. A simple binder full of movie ticket stubs will provide a glimpse into your life to future generations.
3. Make an effort to spend time or communicate with younger generations in your family. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover a bridge between generations. I know so many people who have bonded with younger cousins or with their grandchildren (and  nieces and nephews) by finding ways in which the young ones can share their interests and expertise. Maybe a nephew can help you learn how to format a spreadsheet, or a niece might be willing to teach you how to download songs? Most younger people would love to turn the tables and teach the older generation a thing or two. Eventually, you might even get them to listen to some of your tales of back-in-the-day. Even if they are not interested in your stories or the family history, they just might pass on to their children memories of going to Aunt Mary's and helping fix the computer.
     You are not simply a family historian--you are your own historian. Wouldn't you want to hand down your own version of your life?