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.
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