Aug 20th, 2009 by Charles Rice Bourland, Jr.
I have often said it borders on a criminal act to fail to write your autobiography. An exaggeration perhaps, but as you research your ancestors how many times have you wished your father? your grandfather? your great grandmother had written theirs? Why extend this family failure?
Here are some reasons to write such a document.
• Simply because you wish to write;
• Your children probably know little of your first, what, 30 years;
• Your grandchildren probably know little of your first 50 years;
• To communicate the stories of your life and the times you have lived in;
• To provide a gift or Legacy for your family
And wouldn’t an autobiography be the perfect place to share or restate your philosophies on life, religion, ethics, morals and politics?
I begged my own father to do so, he did, and it is today my most prized possession of his. I have read it at least twice a year for the last 30 years. I refer to it more often as I learn more about related events about which he spoke or wrote. Our children will never know much about us when we were children, where we lived, where we went to school, what were the formative aspects of our lives- unless you follow this instruction.
Assuming you are now convinced writing an autobiography is important for your descendants, let’s discuss typical ways to do so.
Chronological order is the most popular style. It is the style I selected some ten years ago and I have been adding to it about once a week as something refreshes my memory and appears worthwhile to add to what is now about 70 typed pages. As I obtained pictures of the numerous homes I used to live in, they have been added. Pictures of my dogs are included for they were important family members. I have written monographs of special memories of each of my children.
Since I lived in an environment for all of my early years my children have never seen, I wrote a monograph on “coal camps”. Here I described truly small towns of 500 residents, all working for the same company, all shopping in the company store and using “script” money for many purchases, most living in company housing and so forth. You may have such a peculiar background in need of telling.
Make the writing descriptive, interesting. Use humor if possible. Describe how you felt about the events as they unfold – the birth of a child, their graduation, the loss of a job, a promotion. Those things which affected you at that particular time.
Another approach would be thematic. You may believe strongly in certain politics or approaches to life and build your autobiography around the events which created your belief system. Then you can build personal events within the theme to show how those events shaped you.
Don’t get bogged down in unimportant details. While you want your autobiography to be vivid, you don’t want it to be boring. Too many details–listing everyone that was at a party or trying to include the all the events of each day–will bog the story down. You also don’t want to have to spend a lot of time researching every last detail, such as the exact dates of each event, or you’ll never finish your story.
If you dislike writing, consider an oral history told from an outline which you can tape or video record. This approach has he advantage of preserving your image and voice. Of course, it requires more planning because inserting stories becomes more difficult than inserting on a computer in WORD.
Some extraneous elements I included as part of my own autobiography include diaries I wrote on major vacations, particularly to foreign countries; life in coal camps as described earlier; a list of the best and worst times of my life; and special memories of my children. Finally, I was a management consultant and that title does not communicate what I actually did. So I wrote several pages on the most important engagements with clients I performed over the years; hopefully providing some definition to “what did you actually do”. The same could be true for many others such as an engineer – what did you help with or develop?
Put what you create onto something which can be preserved, such as a printed book at FedEx Office or a CD or DVD.
Get started. The ideas will come faster than you think. And your descendants will be forever grateful.
More at www.genealogyhowto.com.