20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: #4 You and your family are important to somebody

Association of personal historians Jean ShafronOK, I am talking right now to the main subject of a proposed family history. Not the son, not the daughter, and not the grandkids or the nieces or nephews or the friends or anybody else. This is a private conversation between me and you—the family elder, if you’ll pardon the expression. So, just us. And today I am going to persuade you to record your family history. Why? Because you and your family are important to somebody—actually, many somebodies. And a lot of those somebodies love you very much. And they are very curious about what brought you and all of them to this place. A lot of those somebodies are still very young, and many of them haven’t even been born yet.

Who you are, and what you have experienced along the way—and what you have learned—is very rare. You are the only true witness to the events of your life! You are also the only surviving witness to so many other important lives. Doing this—recording your story, talking about the family history—is the greatest gift to all of your special somebodies, and to all future generations. It’s also a kind of immortality.

So, I know the family has been asking you to write down your history and what you remember about your parents, and their parents, and the old days. They want to hear about the family migration, the hard times, the fun times, about the days before computers, about family traditions, your dreams, your loves, your hopes. They want to know what you learned, how you coped, and your regrets. Maybe they suggested you record your story to audio, or perhaps they even suggested filming you for a video biography. Imagine!

You might be thinking that all this is a big fuss over nothing. Record the family history? Why bother? It’s not like we have any presidents or Nobel prize winners.

Perhaps you are really busy right now. Retired from work doesn’t mean retired from life, right? Or is the reluctance I sense more to do with the amount of work needed to pull out the old photos and the old documents. Where the heck is all that stuff anyway?

Maybe you are a bit worried about some not-so-nice parts of the story: the car accident, the run-in with the law, the (ahem) remarkably rapid gestation of the first child, a first marriage, or a little too much drinking that went on.

Please tell me that it’s not vanity! I know that our voices can get weaker with age, and we aren’t as pretty or as handsome as we used to be. Could it be that you feel your memory isn’t all that it once was?

Association of personal historians Jean ShafronAll of these feelings are completely normal, and also quite common. Everyone who embarks on the journey of their life and their family feels some trepidation. It would hardly be worthwhile if they didn’t. And sure, there will be some work involved, and some hesitations to overcome. But it’s very important work, for some very important people.

Close your eyes. Think about your parents. And your grandparents. And maybe your siblings and cousins. Wouldn’t you have loved it if they had left more of their stories behind. What if they had written a book? What if you had them on cassette tape or even on film! Wouldn’t that now be one of your most treasured possessions; the thing more than any other that represented your family essence, your family legacy? Well, that now is your obligation. That can be your gift.

So please record and tell your story, and the story of your family. Let it become that very treasure that you can imagine might—in an earlier age—have been given to you. There are so many somebodies just waiting for you to say yes.


About this 20-by-20 series:
This is the fourth in a 20-part series inspired by a New York Public Library blog post by Carmen Nigro entitled 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History. Last week, we presented “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Personal History: #3 You Are Important” by Jill Sarkozi. Next Thursday, we’ll present “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: #5 Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth” by APH’s D. Fran Morley.

For a full list of topics and the APH members who will blog in depth about each, see our introductory post “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: Association of Personal Historian Experts Weigh In.”

To find a personal historian in your area, visit www.personalhistorians.org/tell

Available for purchase through the APH Store

Reality in 3 acts: video presentations that pop! with Jane Shafron

“The interesting stories in your life have become familiar to you… The novelty of these stories is most apparent to someone hearing them for the first time.”
The Story of You: A Guide for Writing Your Personal Stories and Family History, John Bond

 ~APH: The Life Story People~

20 thoughts on “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: #4 You and your family are important to somebody

  1. Yes, the greatest gift of all to your family - your personal stories. A small investment of your time will last for years and uplift and sustain generations. It’s time.

  2. This is great, Jane!

  3. My great-grandfather’s sister wrote up her memoirs in 1935, typing it on onion skin paper and stapling it together. She had no children, and her teenage great-nephews (including my father) had no interest in it whatsoever. I was born fourteen years after her death, and a few decades later I discovered her yellowing manuscript, to my great delight. If Aunt Isabella hadn’t written it down it all down, how else would I have known how my Scottish ancestors, the Reids, tamed the great forests of Wisconsin in the 1840s? How else could I have heard the echo of my third-great-grandfather’s voice saying as he went out to the fields, “I maun awa to the plewing.” Aunt Isabella didn’t know that I would be born years after she was gone, but somehow she knew that these stories would be important to someone, someday, even if she didn’t live to see it. Yes, Aunt Isabella, these stories are important to me! Thanks for telling them.

  4. Fantastic to refer to this. Thank you!

  5. Terrific post, Jane - thanks for contributing to APH’s 20-by-20 series.

    Linda: what a fabulous story! I’d love to read that text. Would be fantastic if you would share excerpts on the APH blog, with your insights as a personal historian.

  6. Truer words were never spoken, or so eloquently.

  7. What perfect timing! Just today I set-up an appointment with an 89 year old who isn’t sure anyone will want to hear her stories. She’ll be getting a copy of this when we meet. Thanks so much Jane, very well said!

  8. Right you are about ‘the journey of your life….a sense of trepidation’. I can be scary, this re-knowing of ourselves. I think we do it for posterity, but we should also do it for our selves. It really is a growing experience.
    Great article that removes some of the self-imposed barriers.
    Thank you for sharing those thoughts.

  9. This article is a treasure! If reading it doesn’t convince fence posters about the importance of story, I’m not sure anything will. Thank you for writing such a great piece!

  10. Thanks for the comments everyone. I guess I could also have pointed out that not only is the end product of enormous value, but going through the process itself is absorbing, enriching and (thanks Judy) a growing experience. Recent research by Tim Wildschut indicates that time spent reminiscing makes people more optimistic (http://yourstoryhere.blogspot.com/2013/11/its-official-nostalgia-is-good-for-you.html). Oh, and it’s also “enwisening” - as Sue Hessel wrote earlier.

  11. Very interesting and insightful post. Yes, the thought of writing or recording is a bit fearsome-just think of it like you’re speaking to your friends and family, which of course, you are! I do believe that someone’s personal history can be the best and most enduring gift to your family.

  12. Jane, this is superb! Reading it is like sitting with you face to face and having the conversation about “why” it’s important to leave historical footprints. I’m just now in the process of reading and editing the transcripts of my husband’s grandfather, born 1882 in Memphis, TN. They were recorded in 1973 on old cassette tapes, on a series of hot afternoons ( you can hear the fan whirring and the screen door opening and closing). Because his daughter thought to ask him, and because he agreed, we all have an rich and hilarious account of steamboats, roustabouts, the Jewish community, and little things like visiting the baker for leftover cookies. Now that we have few letter writers, recording these histories is even more urgently needed. Again, thanks for a great post within an excellent series.

  13. Wonderful angle on this, Jane. “Who you are, and what you have experienced along the way—and what you have learned—is very rare. You are the only true witness to the events of your life! ” Recording what life looked like through your eyes, in your particular time and place, is not just for genetic descendants, either. Many others in the future can benefit from these stories.

  14. Really like this!

  15. Since becoming a grandmother nearly 14 years ago, and now having five gorgeous grandchildren, I started keeping a scrapbook. Not of pictures of them but of events, such as theatre shows I attended, events I went to, receipts for everyday items, even a polling card when election time came. A few photos are included but I’ve made DVDs for the visual memories. I thought that one day these commonplace items would be social history, and now each January I start a new Year Book. But I’ve also kept a diary from the age of 14 and now I’m transcribing these into my memoirs. Sometimes a short entry will startle my memory into remembering some other event that I’d forgotten. It’s time consuming and my home is awash with all my documents but I’m on a roll now and think that eventually it will be not only my story, but that of my children and theirs too.

  16. So very well said Jane! Also love Linda’s comments about her great aunt. Thank you so much for writing this.

  17. Jane,

    This is exceptional! Your article (and your voice of wisdom and experience) will go with me to every prospective client.

  18. So glad I did! It took my elderly uncle practically begging me to do it, but that was my inspiration. Even though I keep finding out more new information…I guess I need to think about a 2nd edition!

  19. Richardo - so good that you got a start on your uncle’s story! It’s wonderful that he was so keen to have his story recorded and preserved!

  20. Yes, only family can teach us to love, compassion, and generally be human. A family to cherish and to appreciate)