I presume that most of the time us family historians tend to focus on two groups of people: our ancestors and our contemporary relatives. While this makes sense from a research perspective, it eliminates one of the most important groups of people: us. We tend to forget that we are the lynchpin connecting the past with the future. We are a very important part of our own history yet rarely include ourselves in our material.
Talking or writing about ourselves is not an easy task. On the one hand, some folks just don’t like it. They don’t know what to say, what to include, or where to start. Worse yet, they feel like they’re lives are just not interesting enough to document. On the other hand, if you’re like me, you don’t know where to end. For me, there always seems to be too much to write about and not enough time to get it all on “paper”. Both are very-real struggles that we need to overcome if we want to give our descendants the big picture.
And we should. We owe it to future generations and ourselves.
Before I give you a starting point, let me outline my “4 Truths About the Human Experience”.
- First, the truth is that everyone’s lives have value.
- Second, the truth is that everyone’s lives are unique.
- Third, the truth is that unique individuals experience life differently.
- Fourth, the truth is that differing life experiences are interesting.
You may not feel the last truth is valid for today but it certainly will be tomorrow. Why? Because a hundred years from now, when our descendants are driving to work in flying cars or teleporting between San Francisco and Moscow, they will want to know what it was like for their ancestor – you – to live in the twenty-first century. Moreover, they would want to know what you thought about life during that period.
Keep in mind that history books cannot include your observations, perspectives, or opinions. As a result, it’s up to you to set the record straight.
The easiest way to include yourself in your family history is not to start at the beginning. Starting from day-1 is extremely difficult because even your earliest memory will spawn others. You’ll quick become overwhelmed and default to binge watching The Walking Dead. Instead, pick a specific and discrete moment in your life and write about that.
I know, how about today? Let’s call it “A Day in the Life of INSERT NAME HERE”.
Start your narrative with getting up and end it with bed. Talk about why you get up when you do, how you slept, and what your morning routine is. If you are detail-oriented like me, feel free to follow your passion. The more you can provide, the better picture you paint. I use Sensodyne toothpaste in the morning because I have naturally sensitive teeth (no doubt due to poor flossing habits). Move forward and discuss your job or taking care of the kids or whatever you are doing that day. Be creative and include how your feeling about what it is that you are doing. Be honest. After the long day, write about your evening. Do you watch television? What do you like to watch? I used to be a fan of some of the older situation comedies that are now classified as “classic” television (I guess that makes me classic, right?). If you watch the news, comment about some of the top stories and how they made you feel. Before bed, give us an idea of what you thought about the day.
You are clearly free to write your narrative in whatever style you’d like but the important thing is that you are clear enough so others can understand what you are saying and feeling.
When you’re done with it, stick it in your family history folder (digital or hard copy). You may not use it right now but it will be there when you are ready to share all your family history.
If this sounds like keeping a diary or journaling, it is. The difference is that you do not need to do this consistently (although that’s always a good idea). The objective is to get the process going and giving your descendants something to hint at whom you are (or were).
Try it out and let me know what you think. I’ll focus on doing a Day in the Life of John Robert Cole in an upcoming blog post. Until then, happy hunting!