Making Time to Save Your Life

A friend recently drew this sketch of a house full of boxes and clocks, and all over she wrote in a spiral: Stuff, time, stuff, time, stuff, time, stuff, stuff, stuff, time, time, time, stuff, stuff. Time. No Time. No Time. No Time. No Time.No Time…….Not enough time. Too much stuff.

How many of us feel overwhelmed by our to-do list? It can be especially frustrating if your to-do list includes “Save my Family History.”

There are probably boxes full of photos lurking somewhere in your attic. There might be family heirlooms tucked into the corners of your home.  Perhaps you vaguely remember the story your great-aunt told you about her hope chest, but have you written it down? Do your kids know the story? Do you really remember the stories your parents told you when you were a kid, when you rolled your eyes at the same story again and again?

Write a memoir? Produce a family history video? Label and catalogue that box of family photos? Who has time for this?

And yet, if you wait what will happen to those memories? Who will remember the names of the faces in the photographs in the shoebox? Who will carry these important family stories? Will anyone in the future remember these stories?

Death and dementia are not the only thieves of memory. Time and ignorance can steal these away from any one of us. Your life story and your family’s story are important and they are at risk of disappearing, so how can you find time to gather, document, and preserve these stories?

  • Spend one hour every week writing down a memory in a special journal.
  • Draw a map of your childhood neighborhood while you sip your coffee.
  • Trade a shopping trip with your kids for a story trip. Go to your hometown and give them a tour of the place where you grew up. Use their technical savvy to help you record it on a smartphone.
  • This Thanksgiving, while everyone is gathered, bring out a video camera (or recorder, or smartphone) and ask “Tell me a story about something that happened long ago that you feel thankful for.” (You could suggest that everyone look back at least half their age. So if you are 50, something that happened 25 years ago that you feel thankful about.) Remember to emphasize you are looking for something that happened; this will help lead you to their stories.
  • If you are planning a big project give yourself a deadline. A family history project can take a lot of time so set your goal for at least six months or a year down the road. You could set a goal to have a book of family history made as a holiday present for 2014. Perhaps your parents have a big anniversary coming up, or your family is planning a reunion next summer. These are perfect events to play a video telling your family history.
  • Enlist a family member or friend to help you on your project. It could be as simple as asking them to keep checking on your progress each month. They might even be willing to help you gather and assemble the project. If the stories are your own that you want to document, this person could stand in as the interviewer and help you tell your story.
  • Visit a sibling or cousin, then record and reminisce. If they live too far away, you could use one of these technical suggestions to record your nostalgic phone conversation with Skype.
  • Hire a personal historian to help you write your history or produce a video. When you want to get it done, and get it done well it is best to hire a professional. The Association of Personal Historians has a directory of professionals who specialize in this kind of work. You can search for someone in your area, or look for someone who has a specialty such as memoir coaching, photo scanning, genealogy, book publishing, or audio editing. 

Share your ideas for making time to save your family history in the comment section.