Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Starting Your Personal History

Kathy's Memorial, 2005. by Betsy Cross

I'm 49. It's a bit overwhelming when I think about writing a personal history for my children to remember me by. In a few months I'll be fifty years old. Half of a century! I think that's incredibly exciting! And it seems so much longer than forty-nine years!

But, of course, there's good news. I'm a lover of the big picture and a master and organizing it into smaller, more manageable parts. So, needless to say, I have a few really simple things to do for those of you who want to start documenting your personal history and are as old or older than I am. You don't want to get overwhelmed, but you do want to get something accomplished that reflects the life you've lived.
Picnic At Grandma's, by Betsy Cross

Here's step-by-step what I do to get started. First, I get a 3-ring binder, typically a 2"one with a view=front cover so that I can slide the name inside with a photo attached.

1. For every decade I've lived I get one sheet of paper. Next, 3-hole punch the sides and place all of the sheets in a 3-ring binder ( I'd use 5 sheets of paper, one side for every 5 years of my life).

2. I divide the paper into 5 sections from top to bottom. Number 1-5 on the front, and 6-10 on the back.

3. Label the front / top of each page with the name of the decade. Example:

The front of the page will look like this:

1961(the year In was born)-1970 (the sections will be about 2" each because the sheet is 8 1/2"x11"

-2" space- (same for every year)

Continue with the back:

6. 1966
7. 1967
8. 1968
9. 1969
10. 1970

Add one sheet per decade sheets until you are back  to the present (or to the end of someone's life if they are deceased).

4. Add pocket folders at the end of each decade for pictures or copies of documents pertaining to those years.

5. Now the fun begins! Add facts like your birth, school, and marriage dates, and your childrens' birth and school start-dates. As you remember something like when your family moved from Connecticut to Cape Cod, put it in the year you think it should go.

You'd be amazed at how your memories are triggered to fill in the blanks!

Some questions you might ask yourself:

Did I have any pets? How old was I, and where did I live?
Who were my best friends (think of different schools you attended)?
What were my favorite movies?
What was a major world event that  can remember? How did it affect my family?
What were the hairstyles, clothing styles? Did my parents like my choices?
Who were my boyfriends / girlriends?
Where did I travel? How did I travel?
How did I get to know my relatives?
What did I do with my free time?
What kinds of toys did I play with?

Each question will bring up memories of people, places and things that can help you fill in the gaps that you thought were lost forever in the cobwebs of your mind.

Ask friends and relatives some of their memories of your life. I'm surprised at how much more other people remember of my childrens' lives than I do! Sad, but true! Not only is it wise to include as many people as you can in remembering your personal history, it's so much more fun!

What about the finished product? Below are three links to some fantastic and very different companies that I follow on Twitter. Or you can be creative and design your own keepsake. But share what you've made no matter what! That's half the fun!

Good luck!

Make your own book
An online memory book.

As a Memory Library member you will have a virtual box into which you can put all the letters, photos, home movies, music and documents that have meant something in your life. 
The Memory Library (from the page):

Then you can really bring all this to life by recording one (or many) video clips of you actually talking about your life and memories. It is this combination of mementos and videos that future generations will treasure.


  1. Excellent suggestions - and for more questions to trigger memories, I highly recommend the series 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History.

  2. Betsy, your offer some great suggestions here. I just wanted to say - your drawings are amazing! Thanks so much for sharing them with us.


What do you think? I'd love to know.