old photos on a table

A few years ago, my great-aunt sent me about ten pages of stories about my paternal grandfather’s childhood. I was so excited to receive those few pages that you would think someone had just sent me rubies! When I read those stories, I learned things about my grandfather that I’d never known. I learned that he was born just a few miles from where I now live and that his mother had died from complications due to his birth. Since learning these things, I’ve searched out the small town where he was born, a town that doesn’t exist anymore, and found the gravesite of my great-grandmother and other ancestors, in an old, run-down cemetery now surrounded by farmer’s fields. I love visiting that cemetery and leaving flowers on the graves, especially that of my great-grandmother who paid the ultimate sacrifice to bring my grandfather into the world.

These stories are the only ones I have of my paternal grandfather, and sadly, most of my ancestors have left little behind in the way of written history or stories. This has left me with a resolve not to do the same thing to my children and grandchildren. I want them to have a record of my life. I want to share the stories of my life, the good experiences and the bad, so they can know me, remember me, and learn from me—even after I am gone. I need to be better about recording my stories.

And I wonder, is my mother recording her life history? What about my in-laws? Will my children have stories of their grandparents, long after their grandparents are gone? Is anyone helping these loved ones to record their life histories?

The time to begin recording your personal history is now. Don’t wait until you’re retired or think you have more time. Begin writing about your life, no matter what age you are, and help your parents or grandparents write or record their stories, too. Stories can be written, typed or recorded electronically. You can record your voice, or a loved one’s voice, telling stories and transcribe the stories later. You can even make a video recording of yourself, or a loved one, sharing personal history stories and advice for future generations. Children, grandchildren, friends, spouses, or even caregivers can assist with recording stories.

To help you get started, and keep going, BestofHomeCare.com will post articles over the next few months that include prompts to help you think of things to write about and advice for writing, recording and preserving your personal history. Use these articles as a launchpad for recording your personal history. Maybe even make an “appointment” with a loved one, to use the prompts provided and help them record their stories.

Where to Start

You don’t necessarily need to record your personal history in chronological order, at least not to begin with. Sometimes memories come in random patterns. They can always be put in chronological order later. It’s more important that you record or at least make a note of certain stories or events as you think of them.

But to give us a place to start, let’s begin by creating a timeline of your life. For this, start with your birth and insert events, milestones, turning points and life-changing moments in your life. You don’t have to start writing about these events yet, unless you want to, but you can keep a notebook handy for jotting down reminders or thoughts you want to discuss later in detail about these events.

A typical timeline may include events like christening, baptism, first day of school, a move to another city, state or country, weddings, births of children or grandchildren, the start of a new job, an event in national history that affected your life, the date of a particular illness, diagnosis or injury, etc. If possible, include the date or at least the year, with each event.

Next take events from your timeline (and add other events) by creating four lists, titled “High Points,” “Low Points,” “Turning Points,” and “People.” (A very wise college writing professor did this activity with a class I was in, to help us find stories to tell about our lives.) You will find that many of the points on your timeline will probably be part of these lists—or many items on these lists should be added to your timeline.

  • Under “High Points,” list the best times/events in your life. List the times you were the happiest, times that were the most fun, the proudest or the most exciting moments of your life.
  • Under “Low Points,” list the most difficult moments/events in your life. List the times that were the hardest, saddest or lowest times of your life. (Don’t hold back—be honest here.)
  • Under “Turning Points,” list events in your life that changed the pathway you were headed down. (Many of our high points or low points are also turning points in our lives.) For example, the day you met your spouse or the day you were married is probably a turning point in your life. You were single and living life on your own, but suddenly you met someone and your life took a turn down a different path. Turning points could be for the good or for the bad.
  • The last list is “People.” For this list, name the people who have been most influential in your life. If you are like me, this list could be very long. It could include spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, teachers, youth leaders, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc.

If you can’t think of things to add to your timeline or lists, one way to spark your memory of important events in your life is to look at photo albums or read through old journals. You could also speak to family members and friends who know you best (those on your “People” list) and have them suggest events that occurred in your life. Most likely, these people have been a part of the important events in your life (and could probably add some interesting/fun/embarrassing details that you might have forgotten).

These lists and your timeline will serve as outlines of things to write about, and feel free to keep adding to them throughout the whole process, as you think of events that impacted your life.

Looking at your lists, there are probably a lot of stories you could tell. Don’t get overwhelmed. In the next few weeks, if you want to, begin making notes of the details or writing out the stories surrounding some of these events, and watch the BestofHomeCare.com blog for upcoming prompts and advice on writing/recording your stories of these events and more in your life history.


Read other articles in this series:

How to Start Writing Your Personal History: Begin With Your Favorite Stories

Personal History: Recording Your Childhood and Teenage Memories

Personal History: Documenting Your Adult Years

How to Store and Preserve Your Personal History