Everyone has a story. In fact, who doesn’t love to share an adventure or listen to another’s tale—especially if the narrative is about a relative or ancestor? What better way to get to know your ancestors and feel a part of their lives than to read their stories, exploits, trials, failures, and successes? Through these stories, we can tie generations together and come to a greater understanding of our place.
But how do you get others to write their stories and preserve them for future generations? Steve Anderson, a local family history consultant, discovered that you do it one story at a time. Anderson says, “I have found that if you ask people to write their life story, they don’t do it. It’s just too overwhelming, and almost no one gets started. But if you ask someone to write about just one memory or question and ask them to write 500 words (that’s about one page) about that memory, then they can do it. It’s all a matter of perspective. You’ve got to make it doable, keep it small.”
Anderson recommends getting a group of people together for an initial meeting where a few simple but motivating and touching stories can be shared. He continues, “Help them understand the value of preserving their life experiences for future generations. Let them see that they don’t have to write an exhaustive book covering their entire life. Just choose one or two key events, insights, and experiences that they feel might be interesting for future generations to read about. Have each of them think about a grandparent or some other relative, and list about a dozen questions they would like to ask that person if he or she were still alive and they could spend an hour together. This will provide each person with a list of a few key questions to start writing their own stories.”
Anderson comments, “I like to provide a handout with a few good writing tips. This helps them come up with a good first draft right from the start and encourages them to continue. But this handout also needs to be kept simple. I remind them not to get hung up on the mechanics of writing at first. Just get the details on paper, and then they can go back and rework the text.”
Just before it’s time to go, ask each person to come up with just one question or memory to write about during the week. Then leave the group with the challenge to write one page (or more if they would like) about that one question. “After that first writing experience, I provide them with one question a week that they can use as an idea for something to write about. They will get one question each week for an entire year. I make it a point to carefully choose questions that will provide an interesting and well-rounded collection of personal stories,” Anderson adds. By the end of the first year, each person will have a collection of 52 stories to leave as a legacy for their descendants.
Now is the time to begin creating the stories that will be part of your legacy. After you’ve written your first story, add it with a photograph to the FamilySearch Family Tree. Then, with each additional story, you can add to what you already have. By adding these stories to the Family Tree, you will preserve them for many generations to come. Chances are that much of what your grandchildren and great-grandchildren know of you will come from the stories that you choose to write and preserve. It’s easy to do. Choose one story, and start today.
Addendum: Here are a few questions you can ask that work well:
1. What is your father’s name? Share two or more memories you have of him.
2. What is your mother’s name? Share two or more memories you have of her.
3. How many brothers and sisters do you have, and what are their names?
4. Describe something that stands out in your mind about each one of your siblings.
5. Where were you born? Describe the town you grew up in.
6. Share a few memories of your grandparents.
7. Do you have any aunts, uncles, or cousins who really stand out in your mind? Write something about them.
8. What was school like for you?
9. How did you meet your spouse?
10. Share a few memories about each of your children.
11. What would you consider two or three of your great challenges in your life so far?
12. What are two great lessons you’ve learned from your life?