For years I have taught the two methods posted below to make writing about yourself achievable. I will explore other methods & resources with you too, but be aware that these two methods STILL get my vote!
PAINLESS PERSONAL HISTORY WRITING
Using the CHAPTER METHOD and TIMELINES
I. What is the “Chapter Method?”
Writing a history by topic rather than chronologically. This allows you to write whatever you are in the mood to write about at any given time and helps you use short increments of time to accomplish your goal. Broad topics can be daunting. Short subjects are doable and readable. (In school didn’t we all prefer writing mini-essays rather than lengthy research papers?)
- Keep a small notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas of topics you will want to include in your history. (Or keep the ideas in the “Notes” feature of your I-phone or I-pad.) The ideas and memories will always come at unexpected moments and if you don’t jot it down you will forget it later! Trust me on this one!
- Avoid expensive bound books. Plan to keep your writings in a three-ring binder so that additions or insertions can be made or pages rearranged. (or easily taken out to photocopy or scan in the future).
- Always retain your first completed “essay.” Sometimes our perspective of a particular matter changes over time. Our posterity can benefit from seeing both points of view and sharing in the process of your change. Also when you use a binder you can insert photos or drawings whenever you have time to get to it.
- Do not worry about writing skill! When you speak from the heart your posterity will love you, misspellings, poor grammar, sentence fragments and all!
- Record some of your thoughts in your own handwriting. Future generations will “feel” you through that personal touch. It is wonderful to see what an ancestor's handwriting or signature looked like
- Date your entries.
- Include some medical history. It is not only interesting to future generations but could also be vital information for their well being ! Describe those broken bones & surgeries.
- Think: “What do I want others to know about me?” And, “What do I wish others had included in their histories?”
- Don’t be afraid to let your posterity know of your weaknesses and failings. They will have some too and knowing YOU met the challenge of them in your own life can be a great source of comfort and encouragement. Find ways to thoughtfully include the negative as well as the positive. A personal history is not the place to be vindictive or accusatory. Wait to write about a situation until you can address the issue with calm and with simplicity or, hopefully, forgiveness and compassion. Your posterity will be able to read between the lines to know you felt pain or anger or disappointment.
- If you feel “computer-challenged” enlist the aid of children or grandchildren to help type your thoughts either from your handwritten records or from a tape recording. It is vitally important to keep your history backed up onto a disk or flash drive with copies kept in several places for preservation. Don't assume your computer will never crash or your pages will never get wet!
A FEW THOUGHT STIMULATORS for your chapter-method personal history:
1. What do you wish other people knew about you?
2. What led to your choice of careers?
3. Describe each brother or sister: physical characteristics, talents, personality, your relationship with him or her.
4. Describe your childhood home. Draw a sketch of the floor plan. Describe your bedroom. What did you like about "your space?"
5. What were your childhood fears?
6. What were your favorite books? How did what you read shape your life?
8. Chores you liked; chores you hated.
9. Teachers or leaders or other people's parents who influenced your life.
10. Significant vocational or religious experiences.
11. “The battle of the bulge” (or your struggle with any other physical characteristic, or debility).
12. Your favorite pet.
13. Experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. (Dads can write about this too!)
14. Grade school memories; High school highs and lows.
15. Learning a new skill; achievements and successes you are particularly proud of.
16. Pet peeves. (For instance I have a page with one sentence written in my own handwriting. It says, "I really hate it when people talk slower than I can listen!"17. Parent-child memories (“What things did you want to emulate from your parents; what things did you vow you would never do as a parent?)
17. I wish I could do __________over again.
18. I let someone down.
19. Favorite vacation spots and memories.
20. A typical day in my life at age___. (Include different years)
22. Favorite clothes, colors, TV shows, foods, etc..
23. When __________died.
24. “Simple abundance” thoughts (i.e. miscellaneous things that bring you joy – such as jumping in fall leaves, the smell of baking bread, watching people laugh…)
25. Philosophies and conclusions you have come to about life.
26. Your heroes.
27. What changes have you seen in your life-time? Technology, inventions, philosophies - even terrain of your home town or state.
28. How did your parents’ career choices affect you?
29. Memories of famous events: Kennedy Assassination; September 11, a War, etc.
30. Is there a particular talent, craft or skill that seems to be handed down from one generation to another in your family?
31. If you could be anybody else who would you be? Why?
32. Have you ever met a famous person?
33. What values are the most important in your life?
34. Do you have a favorite Grandparent, cousin or relative?
35. How did you like your “family position?” (oldest? youngest? middle?) What were the advantages and disadvantages of it?
36. Were you ever in a natural disaster?
etc. etc. etc. Happy Writing !!
II. So what is a “TIMELINE?”
Simply, it is a brief, chronological summary or outline of the important events of a person’s life. Make a page for each year as best you can reconstruct it. (Use journals, calendars, gatherings with siblings and old letters to jog your memory.) The benefits of this method of personal history writing are many:
- A timeline will be the source material for future essays for you as your write a fuller history - using the chapter method mentioned above.
- It fills gaps if you never “finish” a full personal history.
- It is a wonderful tool for those who might later need to create your obituary or a life sketch for your funeral. (Even those who know us best will have difficulty during a high-stress, emotional time such as death).
Jan. 10 My good friend Deon fell from the roof at a Safeway Construction site. (Miraculously he got away with only three broken ribs).
Jan. 23 Grandma Morgan had her 4th cataract surgery (in Boise).
Jan. 29 Got my Social Security Card.
Feb 5 Got my first real job – Idaho State Library [1/2 days till school was out then full-time – my Senior year at Borah High School. My main job was mending and repairing books.]
Feb. 20 John Glenn – first American to orbit the earth.
May Family bought a ’61 Ford Fairlane 500. White with blue/green roof and interior. [I think we got this because after a gallon of milk got spilled in the old blue Ford the car was never quite the same! It just didn’t clean up so well!]
May 11 Denied a scholarship to college! [A real disappointment. I was sure it was because I wasn’t a boy. My GPA was better than my brother’s and he got one!]
May 23 Graduated from Borah High School – High Honors – No. 43 in a graduating class of 465. [Kind of a disappointing ceremony. We didn’t get to walk to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Isn’t that traditional?]