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.

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