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What Will You Leave Behind?

Updated on January 28, 2013

WHAT WILL YOU LEAVE BEHIND?

It’s the last thing on your family’s mind right now. Or on yours. More than likely, the disposition of your possessions when you pass on is probably settled. You may think you have made all the necessary legal arrangements. But something is missing.

Something is missing and yours may be the first generation that can fill in the blanks.

Your children may be too young to care about your history and your family’s past. Their lives are too busy, filled with more interesting pursuits that include making a living. But as they age they will begin to wonder, as you may have, about those who have gone before.

In the past, family history and lore was passed orally from generation to generation. That worked fine as long as memories didn’t fade, and as long as enough family members remembered the information. Times have changed. Families are smaller and there are distractions that didn’t exist back on the farm. The family reunion is now a frantic get together with everyone trying to catch up. There are not many opportunities to spread “old” news.

It’s a shame that most of us look back through a dozen generations and find only a cold, leafless family tree. A genealogy tree with no “leaves” that would tell future generations: who was who, what they did and why they did it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes III, Civil war hero and Supreme Court Justice said, “Life is action and passion. It is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

It’s too easy to forget our forbearers if they left us nothing but their names. But how did they fit into the history of their time? How did Great-great-grandma, for example, feel about suffrage? How about Great-great-grandpa? Women were first allowed to vote in Wyoming in 1869. How did people in other states feel about it? Did Grandma march with a sign demanding the vote? For most families there is nothing on paper about any of the great issues faced by previous generations.

I want to know what my Great-great-grandparents thought about the events of their time. I want to know why they emigrated, why they moved west. I want to know something about them besides birth, marriage and death records. I want to know a little about them to help me know a little more about myself.

Every generation should write as much as it can of its family story, its own history. Your children certainly know about your life, but your grandchildren and succeeding generations do not. And even if they are not interested now, they will be in the future. In each succeeding generation there will be some that take an interest in the past.

So bless future generations with written words! They don’t need perfect prose or even perfect spelling. Generations to come are interested in your life story, not your grammar.

Where should you begin? Don’t publish your diary, but tell them about yourself. Just summarize your life. Tell your descendants about your career, school, Dad, Mom, Grandparents and where you lived. Mention your children and your relatives. Include your military experience, travel and hobbies. Then tell them all you know about your antecedents. Include whatever genealogy you have or at least some useful clues about the past for those who follow.

Above all, stick to the truth. “Just the facts, Maam!” or your readers will lose interest quickly. Don’t glorify or exaggerate. Include stories about Uncle Jake if he was an ordinary horse thief, but don’t try to make him out to be Butch Cassidy.

Writing it all down has a personal benefit for you too. As you think about and write about your family and your life experiences, perhaps you will be able to find and confront some long-standing demons. Maybe you can set them free!

It is easy to write your history on the computer, print hard copies and put them in the mail for each of your children. Ask them to just file the pages away for future reference and for their own children’s future reference. Let there be “leaves” on your family tree.

Now, begin……..

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