First, let me define personal history. Whereas the term “family history” is almost universally synonymous with genealogy, personal history (also known as life story) is, well, more personal. In a nutshell, it documents your own life experiences and beliefs rather than those of your ancestors. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways: books, letters, journals, scrapbooks, video, blogs, audio recordings, or any combination of these methods.
I’m a bibliophile, so I focus on the written forms of personal history. So much can be learned from others, and written materials enable that wisdom to be preserved and provide readers with a glimpse of the authors’ personalities. When people write correspondence, you can almost hear their voice dictating what you’re reading. In journals, people often write about what’s most important to them at that point in time. If they’re farmers, the weather might be cited often because it’s vital to their crops or if they’re parents, entries might consist of children’s antics. Decades later, these reflections might seem insignificant to a casual observer, but to a descendent, it’s a literal piece of his or her past.
Consider how powerful it would be to read a book that was written by your grandfather; one in which he reflected on all of his most impressive memories – both celebrations and heartaches – and discussed what he learned from them and how they helped shape his beliefs. What a family treasure that would be!
That is exactly what you can provide to your descendents through your own personal history.
Of course, it’s not just descendents who can benefit from your life story; it can become a valuable research document for your local area as well. You don’t live your life in a bubble; you interact with others and live in a community. Your reflections can therefore serve as an important representation of what life was like in your area during a particular time period. Future historians will be grateful for your insightful commentary.
Writing a life story isn’t difficult, but it does require time, organization, and techniques to ensure accuracy, readability, and overall quality. You can write it yourself or you can hire a professional, but the key is to begin now. Although stories live forever, the opportunity to document them is limited.
Have you already started your life story? Leave a comment and let me know how it’s going!