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Write Your Life Story
Column published: 06 February 2007
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Write your life story. It truly is the most precious gift that you could ever give your family. I think that the most important mistake that we make as genealogists is that we don't pass along information about ourselves. We get so wrapped up in finding out information about those who have gone before us that we forget about ourselves. Hopefully, one hundred years from now that will matter to someone also.

When I have the opportunity to do a seminar I always hope that by the end of the day that I have been able to impress the importance of this on the attendees. Many times I am ask how to go about gathering the material so I decided that I would try and share that information with you also.

Before beginning to write we need to gather up our memories. Start by making lists and notes. I encourage people to start by taking a blank sheet of paper and to start jotting down memories or facts. Once you start this process it is amazing how one memory will trigger a memory of something else.

If you are having a problem getting started I would encourage you to make a list or time line. Think about the different periods of your life. Start by listing important events that have occurred during your lifetime.
  • Birth
  • Kindergarten
  • Grade School
  • High School
  • Graduation
  • First Job
  • Military Service
  • First Date
  • Marriage
  • Birth of children
Make a list of other events that happened during your lifetime.
  • Your first pet
  • The first time you went camping or on a family trip
  • Places you have traveled to
  • Places you have lived
  • Your favorite book or comic book
  • First movie that you saw
  • First TV program that you saw
  • Your first car
Shirley G. Hodges
Use family albums to jog your memory. With age our memories can get a little fuzzy. When we look at old photos it helps us to remember events as they were. You might find one of yourself with your favorite outfit. I was pleased to find one of me carrying a purse that my parents had given me. I find it interesting to see how I delighted in things that made me feel grown up. Some things marked a real passage for us. I remember the first time I was able to wear nylon stockings. It was for my brother's wedding. I felt absolutely grown up at the advanced age of eleven.

Pictures of our former homes make a nice addition to our family history. Some times the room furnishings will help to identify a date for us. The wallpaper in the room or the drapes on the windows can give us some real clues.

In my youth I paid many visits to the old family outhouse where my father and his sisters had carved their names on the old boards. What I wouldn't give today to have one of those old boards. You can imagine my delight one day when one of my cousins came over with a bunch of pictures he wanted me to help him go through. One of the pictures was of his uncle who was showing off his new car on a visit to my parents. In the background of the picture was the outhouse with me peeking out of the door at the age eight. I may not have the board, but at least I have a photo. It has given my children and grandchildren many laughs.

If you have older brothers and sisters ask them to write up their stories also and then compare them. In many families there is a 20-year gap in the ages of the children. The people that the oldest children knew as parents were far different people than the parents that the younger children knew.

My father was born in 1892 and passed away in 1975. The world that he knew was far different than the world that I knew growing up. The stories that he told me of learning to drive an automobile are absolutely priceless to me. It was wonderful when his three sisters would come home and they would all talk about their experiences while growing up. My grandfather raised all four children by himself so they had some very interesting stories.

It is important that we start this project now. We have to accept the fact that what we remember today, we might not recall tomorrow, and vice versa. By writing your family history your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren will be able to see the past through your eyes. Your memories will touch their lives.
    To be faithful to ourselves, we must keep our ancestors and posterity within reach and grasp of our thoughts and affections, living in the memory and retrospect of the past, and hoping with affection and care for those who are to come after us.

    -Daniel Webster, 1782-1852, U.S. lawyer, diplomat, and Secretary of State

    You can make yourself live forever through writing. Do not pass through life without leaving something behind for others to learn from your experiences-even if no one but your children read it. You may discover a you you've never known.

    -Antwone Fisher, born 1959; U.S. author and screenwriter
Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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