grandfather looking at photo album with granddauhters

When it comes to writing or recording your personal history, or the history of a loved one, it can be hard to know where to start, but you may be more motivated if you start with your favorite stories. Choose your favorite events, the events from your life that you most want to tell your children/grandchildren about. These are the stories that are about the best moments in your life or stories about the times when you learned or grew the most. You have probably told these stories over and over to your family—now is the time to record them.

Choose at least three or four of these favorite stories to tell. Select stories from the timeline and lists you made based on events in your life. (If you haven’t made a timeline yet, click here to read our previous article about how to begin your personal history.) Depending on your available time, give yourself a realistic goal to accomplish. Try writing or recording one story a day or one a week. You will probably find that telling one story leads to telling another story, and once you get started it will be hard to stop. That’s a good thing! For now, don’t worry if these stories are in chronological order or not. You can always go back later and put them in order.

A Word of Advice About Story Telling

Pay attention to the details as you write or record your stories. Your memories play like a movie in your mind—often you can see them as clearly as the day they occurred. But your memories don’t appear in your children or grandchildren’s minds that way. They only know what you’ve told them. So, it’s important to be descriptive, even when you think it may be unnecessary. The easiest way to make sure you are describing as much as possible is to remember the “who, when, where, what, why and how” of each story.


Describe all the people who are involved in your story, including yourself. Does it involve your childhood best friend? Brothers or sisters? Parents? Describe them. What did they look like? Describe their hair, clothes, features, height, etc. Describe their personalities, how they talked or walked. Make sure those who read your stories can picture these people.


Always describe the time frame surrounding the story. What year did this occur? How old were you and the others who were involved in this story? What month and/or day of the year was it? What season was it? What was the weather like? If it’s important, what time of day did this take place? As your story progresses, make sure we always know the time frame. If it’s important, we may need to know details about the era: what was going on in the country or the world at that time?


Describe the setting for your story. Where did it take place?  Describe it as if we’ve never been there. Depending on the location, there may be a lot of things you could describe: the country, town, neighborhood, yard, house, surrounding buildings, rooms inside the house, etc. Describe the details that make the setting unique: the countryside, landmarks, historical/cultural traditions, and so on. Also, if there is anything about the setting that is unique to the era, be sure to describe it. For example, many children today have never been to a drive-in theater (sadly!)—so, if your story involves a drive-in, take the time to describe what it was like to sit in a car and watch a movie. This may also apply to places like barbershops, diners, malt shops, etc.

What, why and how

Always make sure you are adding enough detail about what happened in your story, why it happened and how it happened. Make sure your story makes sense, and we are not confused. As mentioned above, add descriptions of things that we might not understand because of modern conveniences, culture, new inventions, etc. For example, you may need to explain that when you were a teenager, you couldn’t just use your cell phone to call home. You had to go to a nearby home, store or payphone to call home. We may need to know what it was like to ride a train or drive a car with a manual transmission (stick shift). Readers may even need to know how you had to wash your clothes by hand and hang them outside to dry. Or even how you survived a medical emergency without the assistance of modern medical inventions/conveniences.

When you are describing the stories from your life, be like a journalist recording as many important details as possible. You may need to simply tell your story at first and go back and add details later or tell your story to someone who is willing to give you feedback and prompt you to add details where necessary.

Work on recording at least three or four of your favorite stories from your life in the next few weeks and keep an eye on the blog as we prepare to dive deeper into your personal history in weeks to come.


Read the other articles in this series:

Starting Your Own Personal History: Why You Should, and How to Start

Personal History: Recording Your Childhood and Teenage Memories

Personal History: Documenting Your Adult Years

How to Store and Preserve Your Personal History