There’s the history textbook chapters which review World War II, and then there’s your memory of your older brothers going off to war or your mom’s story of working in a factory and planting a Victory Garden or your veteran grandfather’s tale of seemingly never ending air raids in Europe. The personal element of history captures our attention and interest in a manner a textbook never could.
History is a discipline which we often see as far removed from the average person. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR—men immortalized in our history books who have grown to resemble legends or fantasy heroes more than living breathing human beings.
Discovering an intimate detail about the life of one of your ancestors—even something as simple as his name or her hometown—is exciting. This isn’t the how-Mom-met-Dad story you’ve heard so many times that it’s met with groans instead of interest; this is a glimpse into a previously unknown life of someone whose genes you share.
People are inherently interested in their family histories. Look at the popularity of websites like ancestry.com and myheritage.com where curators have archived familial historical records permitting us to connect previously forgotten ancestral lineages back to ourselves. Widespread digitalization of data makes the past easier to unravel, and technology also provides the ability to store vast amounts of data for posterity with ease. Why not store information for the benefit of future generations attempting to understand their heritage?
Mom and Dad, consider that while your children might huff and puff at listening again to the story of your first meeting, your future great-great grandkids will probably be thrilled to learn about that Halloween party where true love was sparked by a dashing trashcan costume. Doubt your descendants’ interest? Just think: Wouldn’t you be interested by such a personal detail about family members you never got the chance to meet?
Consider also your own curiosity about your ancestors’ ways of life which vary so much from ours today that you can barely imagine how they lived. What would you pass on about life before Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia? We’re rapidly approaching the moment—if we haven’t already surpassed it—when life without the Internet is just as impossible to conceive as life before indoor plumbing. You could provide a first-person account of a bygone era.
Even consider sharing seemingly mundane details like your interests, hobbies, or career. What if your great-great-great granddaughter is also an avid reader, has your love for playing the piano, or wants to be an architect, too? By preserving your personal history, you’ve created a connection which surpasses the generations.
You’ve done your best to leave a legacy for your children and even your children’s children, but starting a familial record with your biographical information, a diary, pictures, etc. will ensure a legacy lasting for your children’s children’s children’s children’s—we could keep going on, but you get the point—children. They’d thank you profusely for a personal taste of life in the long-passed twenty-first century—if they were born yet.
From our family to yours,
Skip, Dolores, Peter, and Trudy