One of our genealogists shares a tribute to her father-in-law and the cherished book of memoirs he created. We also share tips for writing your life story.
It’s “a little bit drama, a little bit comedy, and a lot documentary.”
A warning notes “Dates are generally accurate, but some may be subject to memory flaws.”
It took more than 20 years to create and fills a 4-inch thick three-ring binder.
And it is now a family treasure: A Journey Through Life.
For 20 years my father-in-law wrote his memoirs. It was a labor of love and a testament to his love for his family.
Marv wrote the story of what he thought was a pretty normal life, one chapter at a time. He didn’t follow any chronological order – he simply wrote the next story he thought to tell. That meant the story of the house fire on the night of his seventh birthday back in 1942 might be followed by a recollection of his courtship with Libby, and then a tale from his teen-aged years.
The chapters were written out long-hand and then he mailed the pages to his oldest son who typed them up and sent them back. Always a meticulous organizer, Marv would insert the new pages in the appropriate place in his book. Photographs were added. Copies of newspaper articles, birth and death certificates, marriage announcements, as well as maps and pamphlets from travels around the western United States were added for color and context.
Marv had a prodigious memory and he kept notes on little notebooks and calendars throughout his life. That means we have details like these:
May 24 – Libby came home from a church softball game and we went out for ice cream.
May 27 – A movie date with Libby. We went to see “Strategic Air Command.”
May 31 – Libby had been dating Hal for several months; today she ended the relationship!
June 2 – Went over to Libby’s and she and I played Scrabble against Mom L and Pop. We won.
Their courtship, marriage, and the births of their sons made it into this book, of course. The escapades of three active boys were recounted. Tales of laughter and fun and adventures fill the pages. Trips to Yellowstone. Camping under the stars. Cub scouts. Snowball fights. There is truth and romance to be told. And long-standing friendships treasured across the decades.
And there is sorrow and loss. Most painful is the story of Libby’s steady decline into dementia. The pain of Marv’s loss is palpable on the pages. His love for her, nearly ten years after her death, shines on clear and bright.
The story did not end with Libby’s death. Marv kept writing, and writing, and writing. He wrote his final pages – a list of the movies he and Libby enjoyed the most – the day before he passed.
What a gift! And the beauty of it is that we can all do the same thing for our children and their children. Writing the story of your life can seem daunting, but it is easy if you follow his example.
Tips for writing your life story
- Write the stories you want to tell. Don’t worry about chronology or spelling or being exactly correct. Just tell a story. And then tell another one. And another one. You can always sort them into order later.
- Write the stories that mean the most to you. Tell your family what you did, who you spent time with, the people you loved, the people who loved you, the things you are proud of, and the people you admire.
- Add some photographs and mementos. Be sure to note who the people are, when the photograph was taken, and what was going on in the picture. Use full names so there is no confusion about who you are talking about.
- Include others. If your story includes parents or siblings, all the better. Names and dates and places are great, but the story of your father coming to your rescue after your car hit a telephone pole, or the story of your little sister beating up the neighborhood bully, are the best.
Start writing and keep writing. No matter how old you are or how old you get to be, there is always one more story to be told. The first step is writing that first story. The goal is to start. Keep your stories together, in a file on your computer, on a thumb drive, or on paper. Let your family read your stories every once in a while. And when they tell you “That story should be in your book” be sure to write it down.
*Thanks to Marvin Eakman for telling us the story of his absolutely normal, completely ordinary, and incredibly magnificent life.
While you document, preserve, and share your story, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help you uncover the stories of your ancestors and ensure they are not forgotten. We are happy to help you compile family stories for yourself or your family members. Whether it’s writing a biography based on your information or conducting new research, our experts are ready and waiting to assist. Contact us today to request a free quote.