As genealogists, we search high and low for records left from the past. After recently reading an article from National Geographic about what is considered “historical” for the purpose of digging up someone’s grave, I began to think about what historical means to me. I’m with the dictionary on this one – historical is belonging in the past. The past is what happened, it’s done and over. The past can be as recent as a few minutes ago when I began writing this blog or several millennium.
I have a milestone birthday coming up and that probably further influenced these thoughts. Coupled with the recent hurricane forecast from Colorado State University, I usually start thinking at this time of year about the “what ifs” regarding a severe storm coming my way. I’m a tad paranoid having experienced several hurricanes and losing just about everything in one back in the 1980’s.
Another layer regarding my thoughts is that I recently acquired a diary written by a woman in the late 1800’s about her life in a rural community. What I love most about her writing is that it was so succinct yet so telling. I’m making up this example to demonstrate the style:
15 – Fri.- Cloudy and warm. Rose early to set a hen in shed. Tilled garden. John to town to trade eggs. Mary Madden poorly, doc Bailey called. Jim and Liz – a girl.
There are 30+ years of entries and a wealth of genealogical gems in two lines! She always recorded the weather, which was a critical factor in successful farming, the family’s jobs of the day, and bits and pieces about the social life of the community. Sometimes she included major news, such as strikes in a far off city, the country’s election results and train wrecks.
What impressed me the most was how nonjudgmental were the writer’s entries. When a store clerk shot a farmer she recorded the event but not the why or the sides of the story. She was a “just the facts” kind of girl. I like that – let others form their own opinions of the events through their historical lens.
I decided I am going to start a diary on the day of my birthday in this format. Why? Simply because we don’t take the age in which we’re living as someday being considered worth remembering. Since we’re living the events they are commonplace to us and thus, not important. That's wrong!
We’re also not vain so we tend to think that our lives don't need recording. Don’t you do a happy dance when you find a tidbit about your great great grandma? I was so excited when I found one of mine had won a county fair award when she was 8 for sewing. If I hadn’t found the newspaper clipping that listed all the blue ribbon winners I would have never known. It told me a lot about her – that she sewed and did that well, her parents encouraged her to compete and be a part of the larger community at a young age, and that she was at the fair event.
Don’t neglect telling your tale! You are important and one day, one of your descendants will appreciate that you recorded your life. You don’t have to do it in the way I’ve selected. You can write a mini-autobiography or use a letter format. If you’re artistic, a collage of events in your life that were important to you can be depicted. You might want to record and videotape yourself if you’re more of an oral story teller. It doesn’t matter how you record your life, what matters is that you do!
Not sure where to start? Interview yourself! Here are some resources to get you started:
You can see that many of the questions are redundant. I really like FamilySearch.org’s approach, 52 questions – one a week. You can do this! Take the challenge!