Writing Your Life Story: How to Bring Back “Lost” Memories

Writing Your Life Story: How to Bring Back “Lost” Memories

Library of Congress"Recording your own stories" is one of Family Tree Magazine’s list of 17 genealogy habits for success in 2017 (part of our hot-off-the-presses January/February issue). How many of us spend months or years tracking down every possible record of an ancestor’s life, the whole time wishing...


Library of Congress

“Recording your own stories” is one of Family Tree Magazine’s list of 17 genealogy habits for success in 2017 (part of our hot-off-the-presses January/February issue).

How many of us spend months or years tracking down every possible record of an ancestor’s life, the whole time wishing he or she had left a journal revealing personality, opinions, interests, hopes and pet peeves?

But then we neglect to record all those things about ourselves—whether for our own children or for children from other lines who may one day wish to really know us.

FamilySearch has launched the #52Stories Project encouraging you to write one brief story about your life each week. Find motivation, weekly writing prompts and links to others’ stories on the #52Stories home page.

Sunny Jane Morton’s book Story of My Life has in-depth guidance on writing your life story, as well as fill-in forms and questions that help you organize and tell your stories. Her helpful tips and exercises for remembering the details of your life events, which will make your stories more meaningful to you and to others, include:

  • Free associate. Start with a blank page and write a person, place or event at the top. Then begin with “I remember” and write anything that comes to mind, even if it’s not a complete thought. For example, if my page was titled “Grandma,” I’d might write “sewing” (she was a skilled seamstress), “potbelly bear” (she gave me one for Christmas when I was 6), “purple” (her favorite color) and “Wellesley” (the street where she lived). Keep going until you run out of memories.
  • Immerse yourself. Go to a place related to a time in your life you want to recall. Visit your childhood neighborhood, walk around your high school, have a drink at the dive bar where your friends gathered when you were young singles. Listen to the music and eat the food you liked.
  • Read about the places and times you want to remember. Books, contemporary news articles and photos detailing events and eras like the assassination of President Kennedy, Summer of Love and the turn of the millennium will bring back mental images and memory snippets of what you were doing at the time.
  • Reach out. Ask folks who knew you when what they remember about the junior high class trip to Washington, DC, or the day of your father’s funeral. Their memories might fill in where yours gets fuzzy.

Here’s where to view all 17 habits for genealogy success in 2017, here’s where to pick up the January/February issue, and here’s where to get the book Story of My Life.
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