Capturing Your Memories for Future Generations

Capturing Your Memories for Future Generations

On January 25, 2015 Kathryn Price gave a two-hour workshop on “Capturing Your Memories for Future Generations”. The workshop was part of the Western Springs Historical Society’s Adult Education lecture series.  We’ve summarized her notes below so that those who could not attend, can still benefit from her expertise.

“Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground”

African proverb

Think of all the memories that make up your life story: secrets shared with siblings; back yard barbeques; family vacations; your first car, first date, first kiss; building a career or a business; saving for that first home; raising children of your own….the list goes on and on. Preserving those stories can be a tremendous gift for future generations that helps bring richness and depth to your family’s history.

Its also a rewarding, even therapeutic process for many people and there are many resources available to help the budding memoirist. You can take a workshop, join a writing group, find instruction on-line, even hire a ghost writer or a company to compile your life stories on a video, audio recording, or personalized website.

So why is it so difficult to get started?

The reasons people give include:

  1. I’m too busy…I just don’t have the time.
    • Recording your memoirs doesn’t need to be a marathon. You can break it into bite size pieces, working on it for as little as 15-20 minutes at a time.
  2. My life isn’t that interesting.
    • It is to your family…your memories help fill in the blanks for future generations. Do you wish you parents/grandparents had recorded their histories? Don’t leave your descendents feeling the same way.
  3. It seems too self centered.
    • You are not doing this for yourself so much as you are doing it for your children, grandchildren and future generations.
  4. I’ll do it some day.
    • Some day will never get here. Start now while the memories are still crisp and there are others around who you can help you fill in the blanks.
  5. It’s too big of a project….I don’t know where or how to start.
    • Break the job into smaller tasks, picking something that catches your interest to start with.
    • There are two approaches you can take:
  1. Catching Up!
  • Focus is on parents, grandparents, previous generations
  • Put together biographical sketches using photos, journals, old letters, documents, genealogical information and memories. What do you remember most about them?
  • Tap into information and recollections from other relatives
  1. Play It Forward
  • Focus on your life stories and those of your family
  • How do you remember your world?

There is value in both approaches but the life you can write about with the most authority is your own. Below are the three main steps to follow in capturing your life stories:

  1. Create A Time Line
  • Start by writing down all the most important moments in your life story such as dates of birth, graduation, marriage, death, etc. This will serve as a reference for you while you write.
  1. Make Some Choices
  • Decide how you like to “write” – computer, pen & paper, or voice recording
  • Choose a method for organizing your work:
    • Do you prefer to start with an outline or write “off the cuff”?
    • How will you store your work? In a computer file, a file folder, a three ring binder? Remember, you can always upgrade later.
  • Pick a time and place to write:
    • Put it on your calendar like an appointment where someone is counting on you….because they are!
    • Do you prefer to work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
    • Do you prefer to work alone or with others? Would you benefit from being part of a writing group?
  • Pick a subject:
    • Subjects can be as small as your first car or as big as the “forks in the road” that changed your life
  1. Start to Write Your Stories/Little Essays:
  • Make it easy/fun.
  • Keep them short (1-3 pages).
  • Give it an interesting title.
  • Start with an intro paragraph that sets the stage, then develop your story in the middle and finish with a pithy ending.
  • Include details about the people and places you mention, but not too many!
  • Let your personality and sense of humor come through.
  • Embellish your stories with photos or memorabilia.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect – you can polish it up later.
  • Stories do not have to be connected. Eventually, they will all come together to paint a bigger picture.
  • Do you have a target completion date?
    • Open ended, put in a trunk for a future generation to find.
    • A Christmas or birthday present. Don’t be disappointed if your grandchildren are not thrilled right away. When they are ready, they will come to treasure them.

The following list of suggestions was compiled by Kathryn Price and is shared with her permission.

Memory Teasers – Write a short story about……

Your Childhood

  • Your very earliest memory
  • The house you grew up in, including favorite places in the house
  • What you liked to do for fun at ages 5, 8, 10, and 12
  • Your most treasured childhood possessions or toys
  • Your earliest best friends, grade school friends, and what you did together
  • What you did that got you into trouble
  • When you were good and when you were naughty
  • Your most memorable birthdays and Christmases
  • Some favorite family traditions or save-forever stories
  • What you wore to look “cool” at 5, 8, and 12
  • Your relationship with siblings – good or challenging?
  • Your relationship with your parents or other important people in your childhood

The Growing Years

  • Favorite memories of your high school days
  • Your first crush, first kiss and first real boy/girl friend
  • Best friends and things you did for fun – good or not so good
  • Favorite teachers and why
  • What you discovered you were pretty good at doing
  • Something you did that you regret or that got you in trouble
  • Favorite movies, movie stars, books or music in those days
  • Jobs you did for pay, or not for pay
  • Choosing what to do after high school

Leaving Home and Being On Your Own

  • How you chose a college or job. A right or wrong choice?
  • Your favorite or least favorite subjects/jobs
  • How you chose your major or a career path
  • The friends you made there. Lessons learned?
  • Those important “fork in the road” choices. What if….?
  • Dating, falling in love…or not
  • Your first, real, full time, life supporting jobs
  • Your first, on-your-own living space, furnishings, challenges
  • Meeting the man/woman you would marry. Why him or her?
  • Your courtship, engagement, wedding, and honeymoon.

A New Family – The Child Raising Years

  • A biographical sketch of your new spouse
  • Your first home, favorite memories, furnishings. Any you still have?
  • Activities you and your spouse enjoy doing together
  • Having children – who, when, where and special stories about their births
  • Anything about the child raising years; favorite stories, special times
  • A biographical sketch of each of your children
  • The hardest and most satisfying parts of the child raising years
  • Any stories about trips, events, family activities, high moments or crisis times
  • The things you did to support your kids or community during these years
  • The things you, or you and your spouse, did for your own enjoyment during these years

The Empty Nest Years

  • How you felt about the kids leaving the nest
  • Things you started to do that you couldn’t have done before the kids moved on
  • Hobbies, collections, jobs, transitions during those years
  • Challenges with aging parents

Just About You!

  • What would be a perfect day at this time in your life?
  • What has given you the greatest pleasure over the years?
  • The most beautiful thing you have ever seen
  • Places in the world that you have loved to see and visit
  • People, besides your parents, who have made a big impact on your life
  • Times when you have been most happy – or least happy
  • The joys, the perks, the challenges of getting older
  • Your longest and dearest friends, or family members
  • Your faith journey and importance of faith in your life
  • The losses of loved ones; parents, friends, children
  • Regrets, or things you might have done differently, if given a chance
  • What you feel have been your most important or satisfying achievements
  • The greatest “gifts” you hope to have passed on to your children and grandchildren
  • How you most hope to be remembered

Internet Resources:

The following are some web sites that may be of interest to both new and experienced memoirists:

  • Gen (a must read site with lots of info to help with writing personal histories.)
  • com/writing.htm (numerous links to various sites that help with writing personal histories.)
  • (information and ideas about writing a family history)
  • (conducts writing workshops and offers professional writers to capture your stories)
  • (a self publishing service for creating bound books with text and photos)
  • (another self publishing service for creating bound books)
  • (a website for creating on-line memory books with a magazine like format. Can include videos, audio narration, photos, and scanned memorabilia)
  • (has an app for Apple and Android devices you can use to record audio stories to accompany old photos)
  • (trains story keepers to record, archive and share oral biographies and family media)
  • (a resource for finding someone to help with your memoir)
  • (creates professionally produced DVDs narrated by client)
  • (conducts phone interviews which are edited into discrete stories and uploaded to a private family web site in both written and audio form)
Library Resources:
The following resouces are available through the Thomas Ford Memorial Library or the Swan System
“Give Your Family a Gift that Money Can’t Buy : Record & Preserve Your Family’s History ”  , 4th ed. by Jeffrey A.Bockman
Alenjes Pub., c2007.”Writing a Non-Boring Family History ” Rev ed., e-book by Hazel Edwards
Hale & Iremonger, c2011″For All Time : A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History ” by Charley Kempthorne

Boynton/Cook Publishers, c1996″Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century :  A Guide to Register Style and More”
New England Historic Genealogical Society, c2002
“Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century :  A Guide to Register Style and More” 2nd ed.
New England Historic Genealogical Society, c2006

“One Memory at a Time : Inspiration and Advice for Writing Your Family Story” by D.G. Fulford
Doubleday, c2000.

“Producing a Quality Family History” by Patricia Law Hatcher
Ancestry, c1996

“Writing Family Histories and Memoirs” by Kirk Polking
Betterway Books, c1995

“Writing Up Your Family History : a Do-It-Yourself Guide” by John Titford
Countryside Books, c2003

“You Can Write Your Family History” by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Betterway Books, c2003 & Genealogical Pub. Co., c2008

“You Ought to Write All That Down : A Guide to Organizing and Writing Genealogical Narrative” by Paul E. Drake
Heritage Books, c1998


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