My sister and I are the last people remaining in our immediate family. I have to pause a few moments after writing that sentence. Someday, too soon, we’ll just be footnotes in the book about our family tree. If I want my name to be accompanied by more than an asterisk, some sort of personal history is a must. Perhaps there will be something of importance or interest to someone, many years from now.
Relatives on mom’s side of the family published a book as a geneology project many years ago. The pages are filled with personal stories and vintage black and white photographs. It was professionally bound and published. It’s certainly a keepsake to be treasured.
Right now, I’m in the process of going through my late father’s papers and extensive photo collection. He never started a formal journal, but dad did enjoy helping his cousin and one of my cousins with their family tree projects. Thanks to them, I can trace my paternal lineage back several generations in Sweden. Unfortunately, most of the people are represented only by their names. In some instances, there are only short anecdotes about who married who, or who worked what farm. Otherwise, there are only obscure names and missing history.
When I see a name on a family tree or names on grave markers at a cemetery, I wonder what their lives were like. Did they leave letters or diaries in a dusty attic? Were these artifacts simply discarded when the homes and farms were liquidated? An entire human life was lived but no biography was written about it.
As I go through dad’s things, I’ve discovered old awards from the state highway department, where he worked most of his life. There are envelopes of photographs that he snapped of bridge and highway projects. Most of these have not seen the light of day for decades.
There are many, many envelopes filled with vacation pictures of his travels. The older ones trigger memories of when our family was much younger. The newer photos are of his second chapter with my step-mom and their trips overseas. I must decide which pictures should be saved and which ones have to be discarded. These are difficult decisions, but the weeding out must be done because there is such an overabundance of pictures.
This has made me realize that most people, even family members, have very limited interest in my own photos and memorabilia. I don’t have a daughter or son who will winnow through my photo albums and personal papers to archive my life. What can I do to record my life in a byte size format that will be of interest to people many years from now? Will many, or any, photos of me be preserved by anyone?
Photographs are probably going to be of most interest, but I must be selective. Maybe one or two baby pictures will suffice because, face it, most babies look more or less the same. A few years later, though, children develop more unique characteristics. School age pictures are much more interesting.
Naturally, milestone photos, like graduation, marriage, and anniversaries are fascinating to us. To me, pictures of people at work are most valuable to posterity. Photos of family members in their military uniforms and the places they were stationed, root them in a larger historical context. Service members often have personal histories worth retelling to their descendants. Many sailors, marines, and soldiers kept diaries or journals during the times of their enlistments. These records provide the heart of many biographies that are important in the work of historians.
The point is, each of us has a story worth saving and retelling. There is a legacy we want to pass along to others. Will our stories be recorded and passed along to future generations? We all have something personally important to share. Now is the time to gather our thoughts and compose texts and gather images for our autobiographies.