Preserving the Stories Your Descendants Need to Hear
While Legacy Tree can help you tell the story of your ancestors, you are the best person to tell your story. Learn how to document and preserve your story for future generations.
Legacy Tree Genealogists is committed to helping our clients discover and preserve the stories of their ancestors. Our researchers employ proven research strategies and adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard when searching available records and often analyze DNA evidence to uncover facts and clues about their ancestors.
While Legacy Tree can help you tell the story of your ancestors, you are the best person to tell your story. Consider the following key principles and strategies for documenting, preserving, and sharing those stories that will enrich the lives of your descendants, and a simple methodology to make it happen.
Seven Key Principles to Telling Your Story
- Tell your story. An unknown author said, “When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” You’re the best person to write your story and the sooner you get started, the better. Not sure where to begin? We’ve created this free downloadable bookmark with prompts to help you get started!
- Keep it short and simple: less is often better. More of your posterity will benefit from your life story if you keep it short and to the point. Consider the lasting impact of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This historic speech was fewer than 275 words and took less than three minutes to deliver, yet continues to inspire millions of people worldwide. If you’ve been a prolific journal writer, photographer, or scrapbooker, think in terms of an abridgment, executive summary, or Reader’s Digest version of your life history.
- Focus on the key events and experiences that shaped your life. Your posterity will greatly benefit from knowing not only what you’ve accomplished during your life, but more importantly the experiences and life lessons that have shaped the person you’ve become.
- Be honest, factual, and genuine. Keep the record of your personal history true to what really happened. Your descendants will benefit the most if your account includes both the highs and the lows and a healthy dose of your strengths, struggles, joys, and regrets.
- Take it one story at a time. The prospect of writing your life story can be daunting because too often we think we need to publish a book or provide a comprehensive history of our lives. Instead, consider documenting the ten to twenty most important experiences and events of your life. Most of us know very little about our ancestors. What would we give to have a firsthand account of even a few of the experiences that most impacted their lives?
- Move forward with urgency. Take a note out of Tim McGraw’s hit song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” because some day all of us will pass on from this life. Unfortunately, we don’t know when that day will come, so start this week to document, preserve, and share your story with your descendants. Even a little at a time is better than nothing.
- Store your personal history where it can be preserved and shared. Keep a hard copy and two digital copies in your possession and one digital copy at a remote location like MyHeritage, Ancestry, or FamilySearch. At these sites you can upload your key stories, pictures, documents and audio clips to preserve and share them with your posterity. There are also private storage sites like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive where such files can be stored if you prefer more discretion. Just make sure someone besides you also has the login.
A Simple Methodology
Most methodologies on writing a personal history start with a step that involves gathering and organizing all of your personal history artifacts (e.g., journals, pictures, memorabilia, documents, videos, audio, etc.). Unfortunately, most of us have been gathering and organizing for years and still don’t have much to pass on to our descendants that doesn’t require them to search, sift, sort, and organize after we pass on. Worse, we risk that our personal history artifacts will either be discarded or boxed up and stored in someone’s attic. Simply skip this step of gathering and organizing for now and move forward with urgency using the following simplified Document-Preserve-Share approach:
There is no single methodology for recording a life history. Do what works best for you. The following approach is centered around the aforementioned principles and is focused on documenting the key experiences and events that shaped your character and would be of greatest benefit to your posterity. These steps are more simultaneous than sequential. As you go through the process of documenting your story, there are two primary objectives.
- Create a life summary which will serve as a brief overview of the key dates and events of your life. Consider one or more of the following formats: a short chronology, a short narrative, or a short listing by topic.
- A short chronology can serve as a timeline for you and your posterity to reference the key dates and events in your life.
- A short narrative is similar to a life sketch you would hear at a funeral service or read in an obituary.
- A short listing by topic is similar to a job résumé which lists key events or accomplishments by category. Topics may include categories such as family, residences, education, career, hobbies, and church, community, and military service.
- You can create your life summary in all three formats if you desire (chronology, narrative, and listing by topic), but a simple chronology of the key events of your life is a good place to start.
- Your chronology might include the following information: your birthdate and birthplace, schools you attended, places you lived, your marriage date and place, birthdates and birthplaces of your children, your church, military and community service, your career highlights, your family reunions and vacations, etc.
- As you draft the chronology of the main events of your life, think of the key stories and experiences that shaped your character. As you recall these memories, go ahead and brainstorm the details of the experience or event and record them in a computer document or in a notebook.
2) Record the key events or experiences that have shaped your character including those life lessons you want to share with your descendants. Think of these experiences as your “Greatest Hits.”
- From the experiences you recorded as you created your chronology, start writing one story at a time. With each experience, include some of your personal history artifacts related to the experience you’re recording for posterity. These personal history artifacts may include photos, audio or videos clips, journal entries, letters, e-mails, social media posts, speeches, etc.
- As you are reviewing your family history artifacts for each experience you’re writing about, you may stumble on other memories or experiences you want to record. If so, simply pause and brainstorm some of the details you can recall and document those details in your computer document or notebook and then set them aside till you’re ready to write about that experience in greater detail.
- While the key experiences should be the core of what you write about, it is also important to weave in other details of everyday life to provide context and background information that will also be interesting to your posterity.
- Set your draft aside and return to it later to refine it. Repeat this process until you have a final product which doesn’t need to be “perfect.”
Preserve and Share
- In addition to keeping in your possession one hard copy and two digital copies of your stories, create a free account at MyHeritage, Ancestry, or FamilySearch so you’ll have a remote copy of your stories, pictures, documents, and audio/video clips. These free accounts allow you and your descendants to access your stories and other family history artifacts anytime from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection.
- Before selecting an online service, compare the free storage space of each of these free accounts. FamilySearch is the largest non-profit family history organization in the world and doesn’t have any paid subscriptions. MyHeritage and Ancestry are for-profit organizations and have paid subscription options so their free accounts may have limitations as to the size of tree and the amount of free storage space. Sign up for all three and compare their features and select the one that suits your needs. Again, you might also consider file storage sites like Dropbox or OneDrive if none of these fit your preferences.
- Once you have a completed story and a few pictures or documents associated with the story, upload the pictures/documents and the story to your MyHeritage profile, Ancestry Gallery, or FamilySearch Memories page.
- While you’re living, take the time to share these stories with your children and grandchildren. Do this in person at family gatherings, but remember to keep it short (5-10 minutes) and leave them wanting more. Making a video of yourself telling those stories can also be helpful. Consider the free accounts that allow you to share stories and other artifacts with your family member via email or social media.
- Make sure you always maintain your own copy and a backup of everything you place on these online services. Possible storage and backup solutions include your home computer, external hard drives, and cloud storage.
Connecting your descendants to your story and the stories of their ancestors can provide them with greater strength, inspiration, and resiliency to better face the challenges of 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.
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