Friday, 8 October 2010

What about you?

I've mentioned before about the living evidence that you can gather from your relatives and the usefulness of hoarding family documentation. I've also suggested a number of useful resources, both online and in the real world, that can assist you in your family history research. There is one other source, however, that I haven't written about yet - you. We often take it for granted that our family know all about us but this assumption can be wrong.

Monday was the birthday of my late father, Charlie. He would have been 88 years old. One of his great regrets, and frustrations, in researching his family tree was that he hadn't listened to the stories told by his father and the gossip and news that had been tossed around at family gatherings. I now find myself with the same frustration. I wish I had listened to my parents more. I wish I had asked them questions about the mountain of photographs, many of people unknown to me. All I have now are patchy, threadbare memories.

Will my children bear the same frustration when I am gone? They are happy to listen to my stories now but a lifetime is such an immense thing to track and more importantly remember. How can anyone retain it all, every second, every breath, every thought or heartbreak? Even the most romantic biographer must decide what should be included and what should not. But maybe that is the magic of memory, to filter out the unnecessary debris, retaining the gems of our past.

So I have a new project, to keep a record of my life, including the stories that I tell my children, as a keepsake for my family. At the least, it will be an interesting writing exercise. At the best, it may provide us all with some clarity.

Why not keep a record of your own life? It doesn't have to be a full-grown biography. It can simply be a record of where you lived, some brief stories that happened to you, details of the jobs you held or people you knew. Even writing down details to accompany photographs can help. Don't make the assumption that your family know it all. Fill in the gaps for them.