Monday, September 26, 2011

Clever Ways to Share Your Memories

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?


  1. This was my mom's idea I assume: when my sister and I were kids, we would have a family birthday gathering for the four of us, and a birthday party with friends. Food would be served at the dining room table, which my mom would cover with a plain white sheet. There'd be lots of colored markers available, and everyone would draw and write things on the sheet... family on one side, friends on the other. The only requirement was that everyone had to write their name. My dad would do a little marker sketch of the birthday girl, and my parents would list things that had happened or that they'd observed. My mom sent a sheet for my college birthdays (freshman year I hung the sheet outside my dorm room-- a foodie friend who'd made me peaches flambee for my birthday drew them on the sheet), and I think the last time I had a "sheet party" was after I graduated from college. I think (I hope!) my mom still has the sheets somewhere.

  2. I love the idea that the preservation of memories doesn't have to be a chore and that it can take whatever shape you want. Great post.

  3. I am the youngest of four girls. Some time before I was born my mother managed to get an old, metal four drawer filing cabinet - the kind with really deep drawers. Over the years she would put mementos of our lives in each of our drawers, but the best part was the envelopes she used for papers and small items. She purchased the large manila envelopes that have the string tie closure. Every time she pulled out an envelope, or put something in your drawer, she would write something on the envelope; in no particular order - maybe in a corner, on the front, or the back, and right side up, and right side down. She always started with the date, then she usually put the age and grade in school of the individual daughter. Then she would just write something like: "Cathy is now 3 years old. Today she said that she doesn't ever want to eat vanilla ice cream again, only chocolate!" I was always 'Cathy' till I was an adult. Another example was: "Cathy is now 16 years old and has her first real boyfriend. He is a very nice young man named Joe -----, and she is sure that "He's the one!" (He wasn't.)

    When mom passed away we each took the contents of our drawer and each of us had many wonderful mementos to peruse and many, many manila envelopes to read! I now have a file cabinet of my own...

    And I still don't like vanilla ice cream!

  4. Thank you all for sharing. I love your stories. Kate, I hope that you have moved those wonderful mementos from your mom into safer envelopes for their long term preservation! ;)

  5. I really like the Thankful Tree idea.