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The Family History Compass
4/17/2000 - Archive

Ten Steps to Recording Your Personal History
 – Juliana Smith

As family historians, we often forget that we are an important part of our family's history. It should be easy to write our own life story, since we know more about ourselves than anyone else, but we still tend to put it off. Here are a few ideas to help get your personal history project off the ground.

1. Schedule some "me" time.
With today's busy schedules, we often find ourselves rushing from one task to the next, with little time for ourselves. By scheduling a little time to record your personal history, you are allowing time for yourself to reflect on the day and on your life as a whole; this can often be very therapeutic. It can be whenever is most convenient for you—after a hectic day, before the morning rush, or while your spouse is watching a TV show you despise.

2. Make it convenient.
By choosing a method that is convenient, you will be more likely to follow through. If you are more comfortable in front of the computer, create a file for your journal there. You can choose your own platform—from specialized software to a basic word-processing document. If you are more comfortable with a journal and pen, find one that you can take with you anywhere. You can fill it out while you are on a swing in the garden, in a doctor's waiting room, on break or lunch at work, in bed, on an exercise bike, on a bus, train, or plane, or even in a car (preferably not while driving though!).

3. Do a little at a time.
While the task of documenting your personal history may seem overwhelming at first, if you do it a little at a time, you will find it much less intimidating. If you focus on smaller periods of your life and don't try to record it all at once, the project will seem much more manageable. If you think of something for another period, you can jot down a note for later reference. It doesn't necessarily have to be done in chronological order, and you can pick and choose your focus as the mood strikes or as memories are stirred.

4. Interview yourself.
If you have a hard time or are not comfortable with traditional forms of journal writing, you might want to interview yourself, just as you would other family members. Ask yourself the questions you would ask an ancestor if you had the opportunity.

5. Liven it up with current events.
By including events that were in the news during the period you are recording, your history will be more illuminating as you set it against the context of the times. You may also find that by recalling historical events, you will be stirring more personal memories.

6. Jog your memory.
Events are not the only thing that can bring back memories. Photographs, letters or cards, yearbooks, and other memorabilia can all serve to bring back those memories that have been pushed to the back of your brain. Familiar smells and sounds can also be powerful memory stimulants.

7. Introduce your friends and family.
Include tidbits about those around you. By including friends and family, your descendants will have better insight into family relations and the way you interact with others.

8. Let your light shine through.
By sharing your thoughts, ideals, favorite quotes, and jokes, you will give your readers a glimpse into your true self and let them know what a truly unique and wonderful person you are!

9. Get help online.
There are many sites online that can give ideas, stimulation, and information to help you create a captivating personal history. Here are a few:

    Writing the Journey: Online Journal Writing Website
    (I really liked this site and will be going back to visit myself! It includes ideas, information about journal-keeping software, a free newsletter, an online workshop, exercises to improve your journal-writing skills, and more.)

    Today in All Kinds of History
    (You have to scroll down a bit to the datebook and click on the date you are interested in. Though the site is a bit cluttered and can be difficult to navigate, you'll be amazed at the wealth of information available for each day. "Today in History" information is available on the following topics: Births, Deaths, Government & Politics, War, Crime and Disaster, Royalty and Religious, Human Achievement and Science, Entertainment, Arts and Prose, Music, Sports, and even Weird Events in history.)

10. Make it fun.
There are no rules. If you have fun creating your memoirs, your readers will most likely have fun reading it. Be as creative as you want, and include whatever you want. Photos, textiles, maps, pressed flowers from your garden, news or magazine articles, receipts, recipes, song lyrics or poetry, favorite quotations and jokes, cards you've received, a picture of a sunset—anything that makes you happy or sad or makes you think.

However you choose to preserve your memories, they will be a reflection of you and your devotion to preserving your family history, and your family will love you for it!

Below are some supplies you can find in The that may help you get started:

“Dear Diary: The Art and Craft of Writing a Creative Journal,” by Joan R. Neubauer;=P2117

“Producing A Quality History,” by Patricia Law Hatcher, CG;=P1024

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