We can focus so much on finding our ancestors stories that we forget to tell our own.
Not my cousin Ted though. He was a fabulous storyteller. He was 90 when he died, and he left a fantastic legacy of stories for future generations to enjoy. Tales that offer unique insight into life in the Australian bush in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Colourful accounts of his life that are now in print, as well as on audio and video recordings.
We aren’t all as eloquent as cousin Ted, nor does storytelling come naturally to all of us.
Plus, life is busy. It’s hard to make time for everything, therefore adding another task to your already daunting to-do list isn’t appealing. After all, there is plenty of time, right? And it’s your story, so you’re not likely to forget it.
Sadly, you can’t rely on either of those things to happen because you may run out of time or forget.
But there is good news; you are already telling your story every day. Usually in little ways, but sometimes in life-changing ones.
Telling your story happens with every memory that you help create – whether it’s yours or someone else’s. The stories are in the text messages you send, the photos you take or the notes you add to lunchboxes. As well as at birthday parties, dancing in the supermarket aisle or any one of a dozen other moments.
These are the experiences that will show your descendants who you are.
As we don’t all have cousin Ted’s photographic memory, you need to be strategic about capturing your story. But it also needs to be simple because if its labour intensive then you won’t do it for long. Ain’t nobody got time for more chores!
Being strategic about writing your story starts with a commitment to record the moments. It’s making a conscious decision to make time whether it’s five minutes a day or thirty minutes a week. Or another time commitment altogether. It’s not about when you do it, just making sure that you do.
Now that you’ve opted to tell your story, then it’s a matter of working out the how.
The first step is to schedule a process that is easy for you. It can be daily or weekly, handwritten or digital, as long as it works for you.
Keep in mind that capturing the information doesn’t have to be the same format you’ll use for sharing it. For example, you may handwrite notes in a diary but produce an annual photo book to share.
Be as brief or as verbose as you want but stick with what is achievable to do regularly. Remember, if its labour intensive then you won’t do it for long, or at all.
Or experiment with different methods until you find one that is perfect for your style and schedule.
The camera function on mobile phones has to be one of the best inventions ever. I thought digital cameras were incredible because there was no more waiting to develop film. The downside was I’d often forget to take it, which I never do when it comes to my phone. And that is great because it means I always have a camera with me.
And because it’s never been easier to photograph our lives as they happen, we do it all the time, often automatically. Therefore we have a seemingly endless stock of snapshots of all the moments. But what are you doing with all of those pictures? Are they sitting on your phone unsorted or are you downloading them for use?
So, step two to tell your story is to make regular dates with yourself to download and sort your photos. It doesn’t matter whether you are using your phone or camera, do them all at the same time. Pick out the shots that best tell your story, whether on their own or by supporting your notes.
When downloading photos, you’ll have options on how to sort the images which are useful for several reasons. It helps you keep track of the timeframe plus makes it easy to decide when to have your ‘photo date’. My ‘photo date’ is on the first of every month and sort through the images from the previous one.
Don’t spend too much time on this step. Try for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of photos you take. Of course, you’ll have to look through them all, but don’t waste time picking between similar ones. If you love them both, add them to your selection and decide later on. Or go with your instinct and take the first choice.
Finally, you’ll want to have a box to keep all of the souvenirs you collect during the year. Items such as:
And that’s just a handful of the items that you might collect over twelve months. It can feel like it flies by quickly but a lot can happen in one year!
These are the items that are going to give your story depth and a personal touch. Scattering these throughout the final format will bring it to life. After all, it’s the little moments that often make the most significant difference.
The only way to tell your story is to start doing it. And the best method to do that is with small steps that you can repeat easily and without stress.
Stick with bite-sized data collection so that it doesn’t become yet another to-do list chore that you dread doing. Break down the tasks into categories such as:
Then set yourself a time limit for each one. That may be:
Don’t forget to check your progress every few months. After all, the best motivation to keep going is to look back and see how far you’ve come.
Worksheets, checklists, and tips to help you track down your ancestors and keep track of your research.
Ideas, inspiration, and tutorials to turn your research into shareable stories of your ancestors lives.
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