“More Than Journals and Group Sheets,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 60–61
As a young child growing up in New York City, I spent a lot of time playing indoors. One of my favorite pastimes was looking at my mother’s tattered old green photograph album. I spent hours looking at the pictures of my mother and her many brothers and sisters.
At the back of the album were photos of my great-grandparents, who had lived in Slovakia under a harsh Austrian regime. Despite their difficult life, they lived to reach their seventies and to see most of their children emigrate to America. Beyond that, my mother could tell me nothing about them.
I still have that precious photo of my great-grandparents. I would give anything to have even a little insight into their daily lives—their struggles, their dreams, and their courageous endurance.
In the Church, we are encouraged to fill out family group record sheets and temple entry forms.
But genealogy made up solely of statistics can become tedious.
And even a file cabinet full of family group record sheets cannot provide future generations with full insight into the richness and complexities of their ancestors’ lives!
Keeping a personal journal can help add the colors and textures of life’s challenges and experiences to pass on to future generations. But you can enhance the quality of your genealogy work in other ways, too. Our family has tried several ideas—some of which might work for you.
1. Enrich your “family tree.” In the entry hall of our home hangs a large four-generation photograph display. Instead of the traditional “family tree” with just names and dates, we gave our tree more meaning by gathering all the family photographs we could find and then writing descriptions detailing each person’s personality and contribution in life. We then enlisted a friend to do the calligraphy. When we look at these photos and stories, we think of our ancestors’ diligence and sense of purpose.
2. Create an album for each ancestor. We have an album for every ancestor on whom we have been able to compile information. Each book begins with a history of the individual. Information can be gathered from living relatives, census records, fraternal organizations, and ships’ passenger lists as well as from family group sheets, books of remembrance, journals, old letters, and histories.
3. Talk to living relatives. Have older family members relate their own life experiences and share recollections of departed family members. The meaningful events of our relatives’ lives will be lost forever unless we record them now. Older people usually remember their early experiences quite vividly and love the opportunity to talk about them.
4. Start histories for your children. Young people don’t need to wait until they can write to start their life histories. I write a yearly history of each of my three children and update it at each child’s birthday. Each history consists of two or three typewritten pages that tell about the child’s physical development, school progress, interests, and some challenges faced that year. I also attach samples of the child’s handwriting and drawings, and put it all into a personal album. The children enjoy reading their histories now, and such recollections will offer much enjoyment and insight in the years to come.
Tips for Making Your Writing More Interesting
Whether you are writing your ancestors’, your children’s, or your own history, you can make your writing more interesting.
1. Write like you talk. Try to make the reader feel he is listening to a good friend—not reading a stiff essay. Keep the words simple, informal, and infused with your own personality.
2. Describe how you felt. Far too often, our journals merely list the day’s activities. Describe your feelings about events. Were you excited? Disappointed? Why?
3. Include correct dates and places. As years go by, they will be important for future generations.
4. Paint pictures with your words. Make the reader feel as though he is standing right beside you. Supply colorful details and vivid descriptions.
5. Use quotations. Another persons’ own words will give the reader a glimpse of the person’s personality.
6. Include the routine. Ordinary experiences today will be tender memories tomorrow—and important details about you for future generations. Make the effort to write the details of everyday events you take for granted.
7. Be realistic. Don’t write a glossy picture of a life without problems. Share your hard times and how you are coping. Tell how you gain the strength to endure when you are discouraged. Your experiences will provide encouragement and inspiration to your posterity. Kathryn M. Kleekamp, Bedford, Massachusetts