Chances are, nobody will. That is, unless you tell your story.
May is Personal History Month: a time to raise awareness about the importance of preserving our own stories, of recording memories and family history in a way that can be accessed—and appreciated—by our future generations.
Perhaps it’s obvious that your memories and stories matter. But be honest: What have you done to preserve them? Have you taken the first step to ensuring your legacy?
Even the family memory keeper needs help.
I have always been the memory-keeper in my family. Even as a young child I took pictures at every party or outing, crafted scrapbooks with meticulously handwritten captions, and have kept journals with varying levels of commitment throughout my life (beginning with a little lock-and-key Holly Hobbie diary).
But over the years my gathered ephemera took on the weight of “stuff” as I moved from college dorm to a barely-there Manhattan apartment to a Brooklyn brownstone with just one closet. With an ambivalent heart during one streak of “practicality,” I tossed my childhood diaries and stacks of letters. I even removed many of the things I had once carefully arranged in those scrapbooks, opting to pile them into a shoebox that fit more easily into my limited storage space instead.
Necessary, perhaps, but shortsighted nonetheless. I certainly don’t advocate saving every little thing (oh, how minimalism appeals!), but my point is this: Even for a devoted, lifelong memory keeper such as me, many of the things that trigger memories—and prompt the stories that make up our lives—get lost along the way.
And as our lives become more and more entrenched in the digital realm, artifacts of our youth—of the milestones and life transitions and the special moments—get buried deeper and deeper in the digital abyss.
Start saving your stories, one at a time.
It can be daunting to think of writing (or even telling!) your life story. So don’t.
Start saving your stories, one at a time. For now, at least, forget about culling all those boxes of old family photos from the attic. Don’t stress about fleshing out your family tree.
Just start small:
1 - Save your family photos.
Begin setting aside the best few photographs from each major life event—or from any small yet joyful moment in a ‘regular’ day. (It doesn’t have to be a monumental moment to be worth remembering; some of my favorite memories are of the everyday variety!) Make sure to record the details, too: who, what, where, when. Put them in a digital image’s metadata (it’s easier than you think) or write captions on the back of your printed pictures.
2 - Share one story.
What’s the one story Grandpa tells every time the family gathers at Thanksgiving? Or the story your kids always beg you to re-tell at bedtime? Is there a childhood adventure you think of often that you’ve never shared with your kids? Whether it’s a story so often cited that it’s become family lore or a brand new gem, if you don’t proactively record it, it will be forgotten. It pains me to type that last sentence, but let’s face it: The oral history traditions of our ancestors have long since fallen by the wayside, and it’s up to each of us to preserve our own personal histories.
3 - Do something special with that story.
Did you hit “record” on your smart phone when you told your one story? Did you type it up? However you chose to capture your story, take it one step further and make something with it—then share it. I’ve got a few easy and unique ideas for you in an upcoming blog post, but for starters, why not have dinner with a few loved ones who would appreciate the story, and share it again? (It’s my experience that once the story-sharing starts, it’s contagious—and that always makes for a joy-filled get-together full of reminiscing!)
Your one story might turn into “Chapter One.”
The reason for starting small is to avoid being paralyzed by the overwhelming possibility of telling your WHOLE story. The irony of starting small is that, more often than not, one story becomes two, and two becomes four. You get the idea: Stories multiply quickly.
In honor of Personal History Month, why not take the first step in preserving your memories? Follow the simple three-step plan above, and get in the storytelling spirit!
Trust me, your stories convey your values, forge connections with loved ones, and contribute to your family history. Your stories are a most meaningful legacy.
Your stories—even just “Chapter One”—matter. But you must tell them.