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Writing Your Personal History

by David DeFord

History books teem with the accounts of the rich and mighty, the famous and infamous. Tales of Charlemagne, Benjamin Franklin, and Elvis Presley inspire us with distant possibilities. From our history books we learn of extraordinary feats of extraordinary people.

Ordinary people also live extraordinary lives. Visit any funeral in any city in the world. You will learn of the uniqueness, the importance, and the impact of the life of each person.

I doubt if any of you have attended a funeral in which you heard the message, “Yeah, Mr. X was okay, but nothing special. He was about like anyone else.” You will hear stories and sincere expressions of love and loss.

Few individuals capture the hearts and imaginations of the world, but almost every person who has ever lived captures those of their family.

Wouldn’t you love to obtain a history of your grandmother—her childhood experiences; schooling; courtship and marriage; feelings of great triumphs and crushing tragedies; lessons learned; how she overcame her challenges; and how she spent her everyday living?

Having such a record would mean so much to you.

Just as you would love to have a history of your grandmother, I suggest that your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would love to have yours.

The more valid history of the world would chronicle the lives of ordinary people like you and me. People love those stories—think of the great successes of the books by Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The appeal of Little House on the Prairie lies in the lives of ordinary people set in their time. Sure, most ordinary people don’t suffer the mishaps of Charles Ingalls (dozens of gun shot wounds, cholera, small pox, run over by wagons and millstones, etc.), but the primary focus of those stories lie in their family interactions, their work, and their communities.

Providing your story to your progenitors will represent one of the greatest gifts you can give them—yourself.

A few tips for writing your personal history follow:

Start small
You will do a better job if you just write short essays on specific themes: your schooling, your sporting activities, your neighborhood, your work, etc. You can feel overwhelmed if you outline your whole life and start from the beginning.

As you finish an essay, pass it on to your family. Don’t wait until you have the whole story. Give them each creation as soon as you complete it. You will never feel like you have finished the project, so if you wait to share it until you have finished, the project will sit in your file drawer forever.

Provide details
Your personal stories will live more vividly in the minds of your family if you provide details of events, settings, people, and impressions.

Express how you felt
Your stories will move your family to greater understanding if you describe your feelings about the events and people in your life. These feelings will enhance your stories and cause your “personal” history to build stronger understanding than the “public” histories you read in school.

Share failures too
Your children and grandchildren will experience failures in their lives, just like you and me. They need to know of yours. Describe how you endured and overcame those failures.

Tell of lessons learned
Your personal history provides you the greatest opportunity to share the lessons you have learned in your life. Use this chance, you may not get another.

Start today

Related Quotes

You don't have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things— to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals. Sir Edmund Hillary

Do, or do not. There is no try. Yoda

Men of genius are admired, men of wealth are envied, men of power are feared; but only men of character are trusted. Alfred Adler

A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop. Robert Hughes

Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory. Mahatma Gandhi

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