As family history writers, we spend hours researching and re-researching online databases and digital archives to locate every last detail about the lives of our ancestors. Our goal is to write the most accurate and engaging pieces about them as possible. Yet, we often fail to leave behind written documents about our own lives and experiences.

With Grandparents’ Day coming up on September 10th, this month is a perfect opportunity to create something meaningful to share with your grandchildren – your own stories and memories!

Will your grandchildren be interested?

If you think your grandchildren might not be interested in learning about your life or that it isn’t important to them, think again. Psychological research indicates that children who know and hear their family history feel grounded and have a strong sense of identity. It helps them to know your accomplishments and the obstacles you have faced. In fact, it builds their resilience to hear stories about other family members facing challenges and overcoming them.

Read the 2013 Atlantic article “What Kids Learn from Hearing Family History Stories” to learn more about the benefits children reap from hearing family stories—including yours!

Tell me about the farm, Mom!

Children are interested in people they knew or know personally or have heard their parents describe often. For instance, as a child, I incessantly begged my mother to tell me about life with her family on Riverside Farm where she grew up near Delaware, Ohio. It seemed a glamorous dream to me to grow up with so many animals, especially since I spent my formative years living in Air Force base housing in the middle of Alaska.

Thirty years later, my mother wrote a biographical essay titled “Growing Up on Riverside Farm” in which she detailed the physical layout of the farm and recounted her family’s everyday life there including the way everyone in the family had to pitch in. There’s much more of course, but here’s a short excerpt from a vignette in her essay about hay making:

“As early as second grade, my job was to ride the horse Carolina just a short distance out from the barn and back again pulling the fork full of hay into the hayloft. My saddle was a sheep pelt just laid across Carolina’s back. From the hayloft, Dad determined where the hay was to be dropped, and this message was related to me by Dad giving me one whistle to start out and two whistles to stop.”

Mom goes on to recount that when she had a similar job at a neighbor’s using a tractor, she wasn’t strong enough to pull the brake and nearly put a hole in his barn. After that, she went back to using a horse.

“The horse I rode was well-trained to these commands, so I mostly kept the horse from going to the barn, but I thought I was important to the operation . . . As I think back, these were very long days in the field with all of us coming covered from head to toes with chaff and hay hanging in our hair and arms scratched with the hay cut ends.”

How wonderful that mom’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will not only enjoy detailed descriptions and short stories from her childhood on the farm, but they will know how she felt about it as well. She gives us both the glory and the reality of hay making days while showing us how each family member was essential to the success of the endeavor.

Today’s Communication – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

I engaged both my grandmothers in many conversations about their lives growing up when I was a teen, but I didn’t write them down at the time and neither did they. I was shocked to hear my paternal grandmother explain that she dated other young men in college right up to the time she married my grandfather. Apparently, dating was more formal and much less (ahem) physical in her day, so it wasn’t considered a threat to an engagement. This is interesting social history as well as family history.

How will the next generations really know who we are and what our lives meant to us if we don’t share it with them in some kind of permanent format?

Even when my maternal grandmother kept a daily diary, it contained only the price of bread and whatnot with nothing about her thoughts and feelings. Later, though, I spent some quality time with her, and she did share some wisdom I still remember well: “No one should get married before age 30” (she made my grandfather court her for about ten years, finally marrying in 1923) and “when you get married, make sure you meet your future husband’s people first.” Great advice, but if I don’t write it down, it is gone forever.

These days, family members email back and forth, and if you are communicating with anyone under 60, you are probably texting messages and posting family pictures on Facebook, not enclosing them in mailed envelopes. Most of this content will evaporate into the internet abyss. So, how will the next generations really know who we are and what our lives meant to us if we don’t share it with them in some kind of permanent format?

Here’s the question to ask yourself: “What do I want my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to know about me and my life? What should they know?”

Ideas to Help You Start Writing Your Personal History

Arizona State University Dean and Vice Provost Duane Roen and his wife Maureen keep daily logs about their family and everyday lives and have done so for three decades. They record these logs in very affordable $2.00 composition books. You can see the video about it here, on the Project for Writing and Recording Family History Project web page. You could start doing the same today with little effort and cost.

Another approach to writing your personal history is to write your stories up in a series of shorter pieces, illustrating them with photographs, drawings, letter excerpts, newspaper headlines, maps, chronologies, and so on like my mother has. Then, they can be published in separate books, collected under a topic or theme.

For example, one project my mother, sister, and I will do this year is turn my mom’s Riverside Farm piece into a picture book to give as Christmas gifts to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Pressed for time? Resisting writing about yourself? Start with small steps. You can do it.

If you are pressed for time or unsure whether you will ever sit down and write out everything you would like your descendants to know about you and your life, start with small steps.

An easy way to start recording and sharing your personal history in time for Grandparent’s Day is to purchase a book in which you respond in writing to pre-prepared questions and prompts right on the pages of a book. The book itself then becomes a valued keepsake. There are versions of these books for parents as well as grandparents, and they make terrific baby shower gifts, by the way.

Two I like are Memories for my Grandchild: Keepsakes to Remember by Suzanne Zenkel and illustrated by Margaret Rubiano, and Lea Redmond’s Letters to My Grandchild: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever. With these books, you won’t have to figure out what to write, because the authors provide questions and prompts to give your grandchildren factual information as well as a sense of who you are as a person. Also, both will work for grandmothers and grandfathers.

Another strategy is to record yourself and other family members in your generation using a digital recorder or the sound recording app on your phone. You can create an interview script using a guided legacy resource such as Writing Your Legacy: The Step by Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson, and the older, yet still very useful, Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence to help you generate productive questions and prompts.

Share Your Life Stories

We hope we’ve prompted you to prepare (in advance) something eternal to share with your grandchildren this Grandparents’ Day. Something you, and only you, can provide: your life’s story.

Feature Image: Traveling with Grandpa, Copyright ©2017 History Echoes

As detailed in our website policy, we often use affiliate links.  We participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program linking to Amazon.com. While we may earn a small percentage of sales made via these links, it will not increase the price you pay the vendor.

As family history writers, we spend hours researching and re-researching online databases and digital archives to locate every last detail about the lives of our ancestors. Our goal is to write the most accurate and engaging pieces about them as possible. Yet, we often fail to leave behind written documents about our own lives and experiences.

With Grandparents’ Day coming up on September 10th, this month is a perfect opportunity to create something meaningful to share with your grandchildren – your own stories and memories!

Will your grandchildren be interested?

If you think your grandchildren might not be interested in learning about your life or that it isn’t important to them, think again. Psychological research indicates that children who know and hear their family history feel grounded and have a strong sense of identity. It helps them to know your accomplishments and the obstacles you have faced. In fact, it builds their resilience to hear stories about other family members facing challenges and overcoming them.

Read the 2013 Atlantic article “What Kids Learn from Hearing Family History Stories” to learn more about the benefits children reap from hearing family stories—including yours!

Tell me about the farm, Mom!

Children are interested in people they knew or know personally or have heard their parents describe often. For instance, as a child, I incessantly begged my mother to tell me about life with her family on Riverside Farm where she grew up near Delaware, Ohio. It seemed a glamorous dream to me to grow up with so many animals, especially since I spent my formative years living in Air Force base housing in the middle of Alaska.

Thirty years later, my mother wrote a biographical essay titled “Growing Up on Riverside Farm” in which she detailed the physical layout of the farm and recounted her family’s everyday life there including the way everyone in the family had to pitch in. There’s much more of course, but here’s a short excerpt from a vignette in her essay about hay making:

“As early as second grade, my job was to ride the horse Carolina just a short distance out from the barn and back again pulling the fork full of hay into the hayloft. My saddle was a sheep pelt just laid across Carolina’s back. From the hayloft, Dad determined where the hay was to be dropped, and this message was related to me by Dad giving me one whistle to start out and two whistles to stop.”

Mom goes on to recount that when she had a similar job at a neighbor’s using a tractor, she wasn’t strong enough to pull the brake and nearly put a hole in his barn. After that, she went back to using a horse.

“The horse I rode was well-trained to these commands, so I mostly kept the horse from going to the barn, but I thought I was important to the operation . . . As I think back, these were very long days in the field with all of us coming covered from head to toes with chaff and hay hanging in our hair and arms scratched with the hay cut ends.”

How wonderful that mom’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will not only enjoy detailed descriptions and short stories from her childhood life on the farm, but they will know how she felt about it as well. She gives us both the glory and the reality of hay making days while showing us how each family member was essential to the success of the endeavor.

Today’s Communication – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

I engaged both my grandmothers in many conversations about their lives growing up when I was a teen, but I didn’t write them down at the time and neither did they. I was shocked to hear my paternal grandmother explain that she dated other young men in college right up to the time she married my grandfather. Apparently, dating was more formal and much less (ahem) physical in her day, so it wasn’t considered a threat to an engagement. This is interesting social history as well as family history.

Even when my maternal grandmother kept a daily diary, it contained only the price of bread and whatnot with nothing about her thoughts and feelings. Later, though, I spent some quality time with her, and she did share some wisdom I still remember well: “No one should get married before age 30” (she made my grandfather court her for about ten years, finally marrying in 1923) and “when you get married, make sure you meet your future husband’s people first.” Great advice, but if I don’t write it down, it is gone forever.

How will the next generations really know who we are and what our lives meant to us if we don’t share it with them in some kind of permanent format?

These days, family members email back and forth, and if you are communicating with anyone under 60, you are probably texting messages and posting family pictures on Facebook, not enclosing them in mailed envelopes. Most of this content will evaporate into the internet abyss.

So, how will the next generations really know who we are and what our lives meant to us if we don’t share it with them in some kind of permanent format? Here’s the question to ask yourself: “What do I want my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to know about me and my life? What should they know?”

Ideas to Help You Start Writing Your Personal History

Arizona State University Dean and Vice Provost Duane Roen and his wife Maureen keep daily logs about their family and everyday lives and have done so for three decades. They record these logs in very affordable $2.00 composition books. You can see the video about it here, on the Project for Writing and Recording Family History Project web page. You could start doing the same today with little effort and cost.

Another approach to writing your personal history is to write your stories up in a series of shorter pieces, illustrating them with photographs, drawings, letter excerpts, newspaper headlines, maps, chronologies, and so on like my mother has. Then, they can be published in separate books, collected under a topic or theme.

For example, one project my mother, sister, and I will do this year is turn my mom’s Riverside Farm piece into a picture book to give as Christmas gifts to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Pressed for time? Resisting writing about yourself? Start with small steps. You can do it.

If you are pressed for time or unsure whether you will ever sit down and write out everything you would like your descendants to know about you and your life, start with small steps.

An easy way to start recording and sharing your personal history in time for Grandparent’s Day is to purchase a book in which you respond in writing to pre-prepared questions and prompts right on the pages of a book. The book itself then becomes a valued keepsake. There are versions of these books for parents as well as grandparents, and they make terrific baby shower gifts, by the way.

Two I like are Memories for my Grandchild: Keepsakes to Remember by Suzanne Zenkel and illustrated by Margaret Rubiano and Lea Redmond’s Letters to My Grandchild: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever.

With these books, you won’t have to figure out what to write, because the authors provide questions and prompts to give your grandchildren factual information as well as a sense of who you are as a person. Also, both will work for grandmothers and grandfathers.

Another strategy is to record yourself and other family members in your generation using a digital recorder or the sound recording app on your phone.

You can create an interview script using a guided legacy resource such as Writing Your Legacy: The Step by Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson, and the older, yet still very useful, Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence to help you generate productive questions and prompts.

Share Your Life Stories

We hope we’ve prompted you to prepare (in advance) something eternal to share with your grandchildren this Grandparents’ Day. Something you, and only you, can provide: your life’s story.

Feature Image: Traveling with Grandpa, Copyright ©2017 History Echoes

As detailed in our website policy, we often use affiliate links.  We participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program  linking to Amazon.com. While we may earn a small percentage of sales made via these links, it will not increase the price you pay the vendor.

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