The last article I wrote on here talked about overcoming the roadblocks we find in completing our personal and family histories. But now what? How about we start out easy, and then go to the more difficult? This means that we will start with our own personal history today and then move on to our family and ancestor’s histories in the next few months.
Why is it important to start with ourselves? Well, if you think about it, you are the only one who really knows the real you. Parents, siblings, friends and your spouse only know parts of your life. Also, if you don’t take the time to record your own history, then it’s up to others to piece together the parts of your life—which may or may not be accurate. If you’ve ever tried to research your family history, I’m sure you know how much easier it is to find out information on those ancestors who wrote details in journals, than those who only left a name!
A lot of times we feel we need to start at the beginning and include every little detail of our lives (or our family’s lives), but in the end that can lead to frustration because we don’t always have the best memories. Frustration leads to putting it off until later, which eventually leads to not getting it done.
Here are a few ideas and exercises you can do right now to get started on recording your history! I recommend doing this in a word processing document and writing a basic outline, then as time permits you can go in and add more details.
Step 1: Start with the now. Simply jot down what is going on in your life right now: where you live, marital status, children/grandchildren, your job(s), community/church activities you participate in, etc.
Step 2: Record major life changes. Note the dates of the important events in your life: birth, graduation(s), church/military service, marriage, birth of children, jobs, moving, etc. These should be things that you know the date of (or at least a month and year).
Step 3: Fill in the gaps. After you’ve done the first two steps, you can start to fill in the gaps. Write more about each item you’ve recorded. Talk about your graduation day, or a funny story from your military or church service. Write the details of your wedding day, or your memories of your child’s birth. Really whatever you want to embellish on! And remember, you don’t have to do this all at once either. Pick one thing each day, like your wedding engagement, or a glimpse of your first year of college. Take 10 minutes and write the details!
If you are a more hands-on person, here are a couple of fun ways to record your life:
Timeline: Grab a large sheet of paper (or tape two together); draw a horizontal line across it. Start on the left and add a small vertical dash, above which you will write “born” and the date. At the other end of the line, write “today” and the date above a small dash. Now you just need to add more small dashes to the line to indicate some of the major events of your life (see step 2 above for ideas). If you’re short on time, just work on it for 5 minutes a day until you’re sure you’ve filled it in. And if you don’t know an exact date, you can just put a year, or “around ___ years old”. You can add as much detail as you want to each dash as well—like, “Born to John and Jane Doe on Jan. 15, 1979 in Austin, Texas”.
Map: Draw a simple map of a place you lived as childhood, a college apartment or campus, or even your current residence or workplace. Don’t forget the outside too! Then add simple notes to the map about memories you have in certain areas. These will be great prompts for stories when you decide to write a more in-depth personal history, and if you don’t get that done, then at least you have something recorded!
Here is an example of a map I drew of the house I lived in until I was 10. I made the house a different color than the map to make it stand out. I also used a different color to write little memories of things I remembered about different things that happened in the different places. The map is not perfect and certainly not to scale, but it’s not really the map that matters, it’s the jogging of memories that matters!
So now that you have some ideas of how to record your own history, I challenge you to set aside some time in these next few weeks and start recording some information about you!