17    Jul 20091 comment

Writing lives, marking memories

Put tooltip hereHave you ever kept a journal?

If you have - perhaps even as a young teen - what would happen if your grandchildren or great-grandchildren found it? What would it say to them about you, your life and the times in which you lived?

I know that some people who keep journals might not be too happy if their descendants found those, well, revealing diaries - which recorded their inner-most thoughts at a young age.

But what would those teen writings mean a century from now?

I have a friend whose family arrived in the New World in the early 1600s. One of their ancestors, a young woman, kept a journal about her travels, her family, the day to day chores, advice for her descendants and much more. The writings are a revered and priceless piece of family history.

I wish one of my ancestors had done that. I want to know how the family lived in Mogilev, Belarus in the 1700s, and how, in 1837, some formed an agricultural colony about 12 miles out of town called Vorotinschtina. And, I want to know how they got from Spain to Belarus even earlier.

We did have a 300-year-old genealogy, brought to America by one of the last to leave Belarus, but it disappeared in the 1950s when the man who had it died. It was likely discarded when his possessions were cleared out of the house.

While our family can never completely reconstruct those 300 years, we still try to find as much information as possible.

One reason we began this journey is that we'd like our descendants to know more than we did when we began our quest.

If you cannot locate writings of your ancestors, consider keeping a journal for your future descendants to go along with the family history you will leave to them.

Think about what you wish your ancestors had left to you, and try to do something like that yourself.

I wish I had my great-grandmother's recipes learned from her mother and grandmother. Thus, a cookbook of today's family recipes might be a good thing to prepare and pass down.

I wish I knew how my ancestors felt about major political events that they lived through and which may have changed their lives. I might tell a story about how I felt about a political event or court decision and put it into a context future generations might understand.

I might simply write a narrative of my family history, including the facts as I know them and what my research has discovered, aimed at providing future generations a glimpse at how I gathered this information and where. And since I've tried to send updates of the family research to other relatives, I'd include that information. My future descendants might want to learn who might know more.

I remember seeing family albums - although they disappeared long ago - so I might compile a more contemporary photo album of important family events.

What time period or part of the family would I focus on? I could write abut the entire family, which seems massive, or about one line, one set of great-grandparents and their children, or about a single individual. All of these could be addressed over time.

This could be broken down by categories: immigration, education, occupations or other periods in the lives of the ancestors.

The hardest part is determining how to organize the project, where to start and how to finish. Make sure you use all available research available - remember to document sources - and to liberally illustrate the project with copies of actual documents supporting the family facts.

Don't just stick to the dry facts, but include all sorts of documents and papers. Did you go on a memorable vacation? Include the e-ticket showing dates and price, a map or tourist brochure, in addition to photographs. Include menus from favorite restaurants and write about favorite meals.

What do you do for entertainment? What movies did you see this year? Which ones did you like? What books did you read and why? What about your favorite TV show? Favorite music and performing artist?

There is help online for these sorts of projects. Here are some sites for more information:

Cyndi's List - Writing

Memories to Memories - Family History

Writing School - Memoir

ReadWriteThink - Lessons

Personal Gift

Writing Your Memoir offers nearly two dozen helpful resources.

Search for your ancestors:

Comments (1) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Thanks for highlighting resources from ReadWriteThink. We are very proud of what we have to offer on the site! If you are interested, we pay educators in the field to publish lesson plans and share teaching ideas. Let me know if you would like more information.

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