I have some very clever neighbors. Yet, when I sidle up to a conversation about recording memories at the neighborhood potluck, some of them feel the need to qualify their statements, "Well, she's the professional. she probably has better ways to do this." Despite their reaction to my presence, I am usually fascinated by their stories and try to just listen so I can learn better ways to document so that I can share them with you.
For example, I have one neighbor who has a beautiful garden. She cans food for the winter. She raises chickens. She home schools her daughter. She has a PhD in education and teaches at a local college in her spare time. Phew! She is a a very creative person and I was thrilled when she shared her secret about creating a memory archive for her five-year-old. "Once a year we write a letter to our daughter. In that letter we put information about the changes we have seen in her over the course of the year. We talk about special events that occurred and fun times we've shared." This struck me as a remarkable way to make sure the highlights of her daughter's life were recorded despite everything else that keeps this family busy.
I have neighbors who talk about making quilts out of t-shirts that document events that are important to them. I have a neighbor who keeps a beautiful hope chest that she treasures and her love for the heirlooms she places in it is palpable. One neighbor talked about writing a page to record her memories of a childhood friendship. Her entry was to be placed as just one among many in a birthday book for a friend who was turning 40.
Keeping a collection of family papers that reflect your life does not have to be a chore. As one attempts to document family history, one should explore one's talents and use a documentation style that suits one's personal style. For example, every year, my daughter and I make a thankful tree at Thanksgiving. This documents the things for which we are most thankful at that point in our lives. It's a fun way for us to be artistic and to invite our loved ones to share their thoughts with us on one of our favorite holidays. I save the tree each year and when we finish the next year's tree compare the two to see how we have changed and grown. Documentation does not need to take the form of photos, diaries, letters and the traditional documents we tend to think of as personal papers that belong in a family archives.
Explore more ways to document your life with me in my upcoming book The Unofficial Family Archivist: A Guide to Creating and Maintaining Personal Papers, Photographs and Memorabilia due out in October.
What are your creative methods for documenting your life?