Documenting Your Past: What Stories Do You Need to Tell?

May 8, 2021

Parents’ and grandparents’ stories of their lives are some of the most treasured memories for most people. Documenting your past preserves those memories. Stories of life on a farm, of living through the Great Depression or World War II, what life was like during the heady 1960s and 70s -- all of these stories remind people of the strength, dedication, and ingenuity of their ancestors. Often, there are lots of hilarious incidents that deserve to be remembered. Finding a way to put your stories down in a more permanent way is a great service you can do for your family. 

How Should You Document Your Past?

Before you get intimidated about documenting your past, remember this isn’t a memoir. Documenting your past is leaving memories behind just for your family. You’re not trying for a literary competition! An easy place to start would be family albums. Start talking about who people are in the photos, what they were doing, how they are related to you. If you like to write, take notes either on paper or on your computer. 

You can also use a speak-to-text app on your phone if you’d prefer. Google Docs has that function and is free. It’s also easy to share your notes with other family members. Other free and paid apps might be worth investigating. Different apps have extra functionality that might make the job easier. A quick online search should give you several options for iPhone, Android, and desktop software. 

Research Journals and Conversation Starter Cards to Help You Tell Your Life Story

If you feel at a loss for how to start documenting your past, find some memory journals. They are designed to help you tell your favorite life stories. They have prompts for an entire year, which will help you to organize your thoughts and put down your best stories. 

Another product that can help is a set of cards with prompts. One way to use these to make a recording of yourself telling your stories. You can even sit down with your kids or other family members, so they can ask questions to clarify as you go along. Having a recording of you telling your stories in your own voice can be another very special heirloom for your family. 

This is something important to remember. Having your stories is important for your family. Having a record of your voice, mannerisms, and handwriting is just as much an heirloom as the stories themselves. 

Do You Want to Create a Book or Video to Share the Final Product with Family?

There are many ways to document your past -- formal and formal. Once you have your recordings, videos, and notes, decide what you want the final product to look like. Maybe your family members would each like to have copies of each type of record. You can also compile everything into a printed book instead of a scrapbook. If you decide to go with a book, be sure to include photos of family, memorabilia, and heirlooms. Even if you don’t want to do a full book, creating an album with notes can be a wonderful gift for your family. 

There are lots of ways to go about publishing it. Consider using an online tool like Shutterfly that allows you to combine photos and text. If you have someone in your life who does layouts professionally, ask them to help you to create something very beautiful. You can learn a lot from online sources, too. 

Maybe creating the final product feels beyond you. In that case, search for a company that specializes in helping people tell their life stories. There are actually quite a few. Some work primarily in video recordings, while others create text and photo memories. Search online to find companies whose work you like. Interview several to make sure you have good communication with the team you’ll work with. You should also do some cost comparisons. 

We hope this has inspired you to start recording your life’s stories! 

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