Why Write

FAQs Write Your Life Story for Posterity

Graphic of Thomas Campbell quote: To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."

Write Your Life Story for Posterity.

By Maureen Santini © Copyright 2018-2019. All Rights Reserved.

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

A:      That’s a common 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 most of them die without writing their life stories, an incalculable loss of knowledge, wisdom, and history will occur.  

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.

You’re Capturing a Way of Life

Aside from interest on the part of your family, your community, and genealogists, the lives of everyday citizens have always been of interest to historians. Many books and articles have been written about the lives of ordinary people during a particular decade or era. Many of us are currently living lives that may be obsolete in a generation or so. You are capturing the essence of not only your life but also a way of life.

Q:     My family doesn’t seem interested.

A:     Some family members will not develop an interest in the stories of their relatives until they are older, such as mid-thirties, but for most people the interest will develop at some point. Historians and genealogists are always interested in life stories. The point is to preserve the information by writing it down. Regrettably, the greatest demand often occurs when it is too late. Write your story for yourself now. Your descendants will be grateful.   

Try Writing A Decade a Week

Q:     This project seems as if it will be time-consuming.

A:      If you’ve lived six or seven decades so far, and if you write about one decade each week, you will have written your life story 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 additional information as it occurs to you.

The simple decade-by-decade method is explained in a series of blog posts on this website. These posts show you exactly how to proceed for each decade. For instance, here is the post about your first decade.

You Do Not Have to be a ‘Writer’

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

A:      This website was created especially for people who do not consider themselves writers. The point of the decade-by-decade method is to provide an easy-to-follow template of topics to address, in a specific order, for each decade.   

Write Without Editing Yourself

Q:     Should I omit irrelevant information and concentrate on highlights?

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. Think of the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” For the most part, you are in the “trees” during the act of writing. You may not fully grasp the “forest” of your life until you complete a draft document – or even well after. Do not try to edit yourself while in the process of writing.  Err on the side of including information rather than excluding.

Write About Trauma Factually

Q:     How should I handle difficulties and traumas I’ve lived through?

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

Q:     What about family secrets that no one talks about?

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

Everyone is entitled to write his or her own story but all of us should refrain from disclosing the secrets of others without their 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 document when I’m finished writing?

A:      You can have your life story bound for a low price at a copy shop. Keep a copy with your important papers. Consider giving copies as gifts to family members. Find out if your local library maintains copies of life stories of community members. Give copies to genealogists in your extended family. Consider posting online in places such as those specializing in genealogy. Share with family and friends who may need encouragement to write their own stories. 

Still undecided? These posts may convince you. 

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Chapter 3 - Your Third Decade/Chapter 3 - Your Third Decade

Your Third Decade – Ages 20-29

People in their twenties sitting around a fire pit on a beach.

Twenty-something friends hanging out.

By Maureen Santini © Copyright 2018-2019. All Rights Reserved.

Your third decade of life spans ages 20 to 29 – often challenging years. Begin writing about this decade with the year of your twentieth birthday. If you were born in 1950, for instance, your third decade began in 1970.

For many people, their twenties were an extension of their teens in the sense that they were still in school and/or living at home. For others, the twenties were a major turning point in the sense that they had completed their education, at least for the time being, and were beginning a new life.

People in their twenties frequently must make decisions likely to have a long-lasting impact on life, according to Ida Khamesy, MA, LMFT. Feeling in limbo and experiencing decision anxiety are typical during the twenties.

During your twenties, you may have begun or completed college or vocational school, enlisted in or left military service, worked at a variety of jobs or begun a career. You may have been single or you may have married and had a family. Whatever your situation was, write about it in detail.

Basics

Start by capturing basic information. List the addresses of your residences during this decade along with the names of others in the household.

Talk about your basic routine, including naming places you frequented such as churches, schools, restaurants, sports arenas, museums, and parks.

Education and Training

If you were in college or vocational school, write down the name of the institution, your area of study, addresses of your residences, extracurricular activities and highlights of these years. Was your overall educational experience positive or not? Did you also work? Did you know your area of study or was it difficult to narrow down? How did you pay for school? Did you graduate? Why or why not?  

Name those who were most influential at this time, including instructors, mentors, bosses, friends, and relatives. Why were these people important?

Family

Identify the people in your family you spent the most time with, such as parents, siblings, grandparents, and so forth, if you were single and/or living at home. If you were married and had children, write about your courtship, wedding, and the births of your children along with your experience of parenthood.

Relationships

If you were not married at this point, describe your social life, including names of significant others and friends. Who were those most influential in your life and why? Where did you spend most of your time and with whom? Talk about your main activities during this time.

Work

Military

If you were in the military during this decade, describe the training you received, the places you were assigned, your duties, rank, and experience. Were you drafted or did you enlist? Did you envision the military as a career and/or a training ground for a future career? Did you experience combat or near combat conditions?

Jobs

Whether you embarked on a career path in your twenties or worked at a variety of jobs, list each employer by name and date along with your duties. Did you envision these jobs as temporary until you figured out your future or did you know you had found your work niche?

Skills, Hobbies, Interests

Write about your main hobbies and interests in your twenties. Name organizations and clubs you belonged to. Were you in a band, on a baseball team, in a book club, coaching youth, playing darts at local bars? Did you follow fashion, movies, television programs, or sports? Were you traveling to new places and/or learning new skills and hobbies?

Health and Welfare

Were you generally healthy or facing health challenges? Were close family members healthy or facing health issues? Describe physical, mental and emotional problems you or those close to you faced and how you dealt with them.

Current Events

Describe your level of awareness of current events in your twenties. Explain your involvement in or concern about events such as the economy, natural disasters, elections, and wars.

Future Outlook

From this vantage point, what were your expectations for the future? Were you saving money to purchase a house? Were you paying off education loans? Was your work fulfilling or were you planning to switch to a different job?

Conclusion

Looking back, describe ways in which you and your focus changed from the beginning of your third decade to the end.

Well done! Next up: your fourth decade

Tell us about your writing experience in the “comments” section on this website. Please share these posts to encourage others to write their stories.

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Why Write

Your Life Story is Your Legacy

Tip of yellow pencil erasing the word "memories."

Don’t let memories die. Write your life story for posterity.

By Maureen Santini © Copyright 2017-2018. All Rights Reserved.

Imagine preparing to read a new book with great anticipation. You settle into a comfortable chair, pour a drink, and open the first page. Shock! Except for a few names and dates, the page is blank. You turn the page. Same thing. Page after page after page – nothing but names and dates.

Where’s the story? The sad fact: the author took it with her to her grave.

That’s the rude awakening awaiting descendants when they attempt to reconstruct the life of a deceased one. They might be able to assemble a basic outline – dates of birth, marriage, death – and information about education, residences and occupations. If they are really lucky they’ll find an obituary that mentions hobbies or community activities.

Let Your Story Live On

Except in unusual situations, however, it is impossible after the fact to obtain the full scope of a deceased person’s life. A friend or family member may know a chapter or so – if they are still alive when the researcher begins his/her task. But you – the departed – are the only one who possesses the entire manuscript. When you die, your life story dies with you. No matter how much time and effort researchers expend, they will never be able to fill in the essential blanks of your life. Your complete story will be lost to history forever.

I’ve spent thousands of hours researching my family tree, accumulating hundreds of pages of information. But gaping holes persist. Despite best efforts, most research is still limited to the dry public record in census reports, marriage and death records and military registration forms. One gold mine – city directories that listed occupations and names of employers as well as addresses – long ago ceased to exist.

I began my research well before my parents died and so had the opportunity to ask questions and obtain information. Still, now that they’re gone, along with nearly all of their siblings, I often find myself with unanswered questions and nowhere to turn for answers.

Piecing together a family history becomes progressively more difficult with each successive generation. My great-great-grandfather emigrated from France and settled in Wisconsin. He died without leaving any information as to his family of origin. Attempts to trace the family tree end abruptly with his arrival in the United States.

You Have Unique Knowledge

You have unique knowledge and perspective about your life and times. You alone know the whole story. Regardless of whether you shared family stories with your children as they grew, they’ll struggle to remember the details after you’re gone. How I wish I’d paid closer attention as a child when my parents talked about their life experiences. Your children may be uncommonly knowledgeable about their family heritage, but your grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren may not be.

Don’t force future generations to settle for a book with blank pages. Your life story is the most valuable gift you can give yourself, your family and posterity.

Sign up for regular emails that will pave the way with a simple decade-by-decade method. 

Start writing about your first decade today.  

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Why Write

Your Story is Important

Person sitting outdoors smiles as he reads a book.

Your descendants will be grateful that you took the time to write your life story.

By Maureen Santini © Copyright 2017-2019. All Rights Reserved.

Ordinary people – those who are not famous – may think they can’t write or that their lives are not worth preserving on paper. This website is for all of you.

A simple illustration: if your parents or grandparents passed away without writing down their memories and the basic facts of their lives, I bet you would give anything to go back in time and ask them questions about their lives and times and encourage them to write it all down.

Your children and grandchildren – not to mention future generations – are in the same position. It may not have occurred to them yet to ask you to write about your life and family, but you know they will be extremely grateful to have a book of family history and memories to cherish for all time.

The Decade-by-Decade Method 

The decade-by-decade method is a simple way to write your life story.  A factual, straightforward approach suits everyone, whether they think they can write or not. Whether you’ve ever thought of yourself as a writer, for purposes of this method, you CAN write your life story.

The aim of this website is to guide you every step of the way with posts suggesting topics to consider writing about in each decade of your life. Once you start writing the process becomes nearly effortless.

Follow Our Simple Template

We’ll follow a basic template. For each decade you’ll be prompted to write about a series of topics such as school, sports, religion, family life, events, parties, games, pets, clothes, movies, health, hobbies, music. You’ll write about relationships with siblings, friends and others who were influential in your life along with your thoughts and aspirations. You’ll note inventions and national and world events that had an impact on your life.

Going through your life decade by decade is a relatively simple way to capture a lot of information. If you’ve lived five decades so far, for instance, you could draft a manuscript in short order by writing about a new decade every week. The pages will add up quickly. You’ll be amazed at how much you have to say.

In the weeks ahead we will write detailed posts about each decade, including lists of specific questions and topics to jog your memory. Check the website regularly or sign up for email delivery of the latest posts.

Join us in this rewarding journey. Your life matters. Your story is important.

Start writing today about your first decade. Still not convinced? Read why your life story is your legacy

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