: December 2, 2018 Posted by: Maureen Comments: 0

 By Maureen Santini © Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Following are answers to questions about writing life stories for posterity.

Q:     Since I’m not rich or famous, I doubt anyone would be interested in my life story.

A:      That is a common concern, but it is a myth. First and foremost, YOU are interested. Your life is worth documenting simply because you lived it. “Every death is like the burning of a library,” the famous genealogist Alex Haley once said.

Second, your individual story is part of a larger story. More than 108 million Americans are over the age of 50. If they die without writing their life stories, an irreplaceable loss of knowledge, wisdom, and history will occur.

Your Story is Part of Your Family History

Think of your story as part of your family’s history. The best family histories are those in which multiple people from several generations write in detail about their lives. Encourage your family members to write their stories as well.

Third, millions of genealogists are searching for information about ancestors. Most are searching for normal people who are part of their larger family tree.

Q:     My family does not seem interested.

A:     Many people develop an interest in family history at some point. Whether your relatives have reached that point is not relevant. Do not let the opinions of others sway you. Preserve the information while you can. Regrettably, the greatest demand often occurs when it is too late. Write your story for yourself now. Your descendants will be grateful.

A poll conducted by Ancestry.com showed that people do want information about their relatives.

A Decade a Week

Q:     This project seems time-consuming.

A:      If you have lived six or seven decades so far, and if you write about one decade each week, you will have a memoir in a matter of weeks. You can spend as much or as little time as you prefer. Once you capture basic facts, you can always add information as it occurs to you.

I created this website to provide a simple template for everyone to pass down their stories. Individual blog posts for each decade of life guide you from one decade to the next. For instance, glance at this post about your first decade.

You Do Not Have to be a ‘Writer’

Q:     I am not sure I can write well enough for such a project.

A:      The decade-by-decade method works for everyone but was especially designed for those with minimal writing experience. The easy-to-follow template allows you to write your autobiography chronologically. One fact leads naturally to the next, mostly from your memory bank.

Write Without Editing Yourself

Q:     Should I just write about highlights and leave the rest out?

A:      It may be tempting to skip some details but try to resist the urge to edit yourself while writing. Every life is a mosaic of individual details about things that happened in each year. They all add up.

Think of the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” You are in the “trees” while writing. You may not fully grasp the “forest” until you complete your story or even well after.

For now, err on the side of including information rather than excluding. You can always revisit your decisions after compiling a draft.

Write About Trauma Factually

Q:     How should I deal with the difficulties and traumas I, or my family, endured?

A:      All of us face challenges and difficulties during our lives. The most worthwhile life stories are rigorously honest. Write about challenges and hurdles in a factual, matter-of-fact manner.

Q:     What about family secrets that no one is supposed to talk about?

A:      Many families have secrets that have been carefully guarded over the years. Consider whether it is time to let go of these secrets, particularly if the main people involved are no longer around or if society no longer considers the subject matter taboo.

Everyone is entitled to write his or her own story. Refrain from disclosing the secrets of others without permission. At the same time, custodians of such secrets should be willing to relinquish those that serve no ongoing purpose. 

Q:     What should I do with the memoir when I finish writing?

A:      Set the manuscript aside for a few days. Share with family and friends who may have additional information on certain topics. After you’ve edited it to correct spelling errors, consider having it bound for an affordable price at a copy shop. Give copies as gifts to family members. Encourage family and friends to write their own stories. 

How to Handle Roadblocks

Q: What if I have additional questions once I am in the process of writing?

A: If you have difficulty deciding how to manage a sensitive subject, set it aside temporarily and keep going. In many cases, the problem will eventually resolve itself. Figuring out why the issue is a stumbling block may deepen your insight. 

Also, feel free to post questions and comments about the process on passdownyourstory.com. Many people may have similar questions.

The Time and Effort is Worth It

Q: Millions of people dying without writing their life stories would be an enormous loss of knowledge. But I still wonder whether I should invest the time and effort especially since none of my friends have mentioned writing their stories.

A: If you are undecided, give it a try by following the prompts in the first-decade post. See how it goes. Then try the second-decade post. Just keep going, a bit at a time. Click the Here’s Why button on the homepage for articles explaining why you should write your memoir.

Consider asking family members and friends to join you for a few writing sessions. Set aside a night each week to gather and write. Meeting together and comparing notes may bolster enthusiasm.

Even if you are on the fence, try the process anyway. The alternative is to arrive at a time when it will be too late and all the details of your life – that you alone possess – are permanently lost to history.

Remember that you are a historian of your own life as well as a way of life, which future readers may find interesting. You also are likely to have valuable information to preserve about your parents, grandparents, and others.

Consider your life story part of the history of your family and your community. Don’t let your story be lost to the ages. You have nothing to lose.

Give this process a try. Encourage others to write their life stories by sharing this post with your friends and on social media.

Sign up for email updates below.

Note: This post has been updated from the original.

Maureen Santini is a writer, researcher, and former journalist who spent many years attempting to piece together a family history without the benefit of first-hand accounts of the lives of her ancestors. She created passdownyourstory.com to encourage people to write their life stories for posterity.