The Gift Of LifeStory

“We understand that story is not the gospel truth, or journalism, or courtroom testimony. Story is life seen through the honey jar, slightly distorted by personal experience, perception, inclination, and fancy. This is the nature of story. The fish gets a little bigger, the storm gets a little wilder, the love gets a little stronger, our bravery or disappointment gets a little exaggerated in the telling over time. There is creative tension in story. When we hear it, when we read it, when we speak it, when we write it, we filter words through our own experiences and our meaning. We shape the tale to reinforce our understanding of how life is.” Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher:Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story

No matter how we stretch or diminish the truth, it is still our truth, our story, our legacy. What a gift we leave when we write it down. I’ve never been a faithful diary writer, a writer of day to day events. I take more interest in journaling, the chronicling of my own feelings and perceptions to my life and the world around me. Though I’ve been reluctant to allow others to read these entries of my life, I’ve begun to understand the importance.

On my father’s side of the family we were given a genealogy guideline. It was a great start in tracing my family roots. What was missing were the stories. How I would have loved to hear stories told by my great grandmother Annie. She was a midwife who traveled on horseback to birth babies which led to caring for the sick and eventually to her obtaining her medical license. How I would love to read the stories of my great grandfather who was an ambulance driver in the war. His ambulance was a horse and buggy. What I wouldn’t give to know more!

I was given a biography of my great uncle on my mother’s side. I wasn’t very interested at first and tucked it away. I have been interested in family history for a while, but family story has now become a fascination for me. I remembered I had this poorly typewritten and stapled manuscript. What a treasure it turned out to be! This man took the time in his early seventies to hand write the stories of his life and his son in his later years found them, typed them, and passed them on to extended family members. He told the stories of how he left home at age twelve because his mother couldn’t afford to feed him. He told of sleeping in barns and picking up a job here and there. He told the way of travel over a mountain before roads were built. I am able to drive on the adjacent road now and look up the mountain and envision him walking the path. He told of how he met his wife at a barn dance and chased another suitor away. He told of how he finally got a decent job with the railroad and rose in the ranks and retired with prestige. Typos and all, this is one priceless manuscript. This is my legacy. This is why I’ve shifted my perspective from genealogy to lifestory writing.

I’ve often thought I’ve led a boring life and no one would be interested in hearing about it. However, some day I might have a descendant who will be thrilled to read how life was “back then”. Or I might give someone a chance to understand the great grandmother she never knew. I have the opportunity to give the future a personal glimpse of the past, an opportunity to know their legacy. I don’t know what stories I will include or which I will omit, but I plan to write down what I can. I want to weave a tapestry, a common thread from generations past to generations of the future.

If you you’ve ever thought you had nothing to leave to the people of your future, consider leaving them the gift of story. A written heritage, regardless of what it contains, is priceless.

53 thoughts on “The Gift Of LifeStory

  1. When my father turned 80 my brother and sister in law made a “book” of all of their stories. WWII and everything. It is a great treasure.

    This post has prompted me to ask my only living relative that remembers my parents about their own life story and any one else in the Netherlands that they would be so kind as to tell me and my siblings about. They are strangers to us and old. When he passes there will be no one left to tell these stories. I hope he can enlighten us a little.

    This post has great meaning to me as well in other ways. As you know I have been trying to make my private journals public in the memoir form. I have gone on a break from that as I focus on picture books.

    As you say, if for no one other than our own families, our life stories are valuable.

    • What a wonderful thing to do! I had a friend who knew she was dying and made a recipe collection for both of her children of their favorite foods she cooked for them…what a treasure for them and to know she did this to leave for them is amazing.

  2. My mother always wanted her “stories” written down. But unfortunately, she wanted me to write them for her. The problem is as a single working mother with two kids, I had no time. Now that I have the time, I no longer have my mother.

  3. “No matter how we stretch or diminish the truth, it is still our truth, our story, our legacy. What a gift we leave when we write it down.”


    And it’s ironic you mentioned genealogy, because one of my blogging friends (who’s does genealogy) sent me some fascinating information on my family tree. But you’re right….I suddenly found myself wondering about the stories ‘in between’ the facts.

    How cool that you have a biography of your great uncle. Typos and all, I bet it felt like you were reading a great piece of your family history!

    “I want to weave a tapestry, a common thread from generations past to generations of the future.

    Love how you said that!

    Thanks for sharing, my friend.


    P.S. love the photo!

    • Thanks, Ron. I always wonder about the stories of the people in old photographs or the history of the lives of the people who lived in old homes I see. It’s all interesting…we all have many stories. Before all this technology that is how people communicated and entertained one another for years. Storytelling is a dying art, how sad it is.

  4. i devised and ran a course on Memories. This is writing your memories for your family and those who come after you. I have many Memories written down and now in my blog I share memories. “To live in lives we leave behind is not to die” . Thanks for sharing this post.

  5. I tried to get my dad to write down some of his memories for the family before he died, but he didn’t want to. Neither does my mom. It’s sad that none of their grandkids and great-grandkids will know how hard and challenging, yet rewarding and interesting, those “olden times” were. I’m glad you’re doing your part to keep the heritage alive!

    • I’ve gotten a few of my dad’s down. I bought he and my mother those books that you answer the questions about you life many years ago, and neither of them filled in the blanks…I was quite disappointed.

  6. This is great!! So glad you are going to record this time. Very cool your uncle did too. I think my sister got my papa’s life story. It was very interesting as he immigrated from Italy. I need to track it down. I think I will begin my stories. 😉

  7. One book that supports the story semi manufactured is the biography of Pontius Pilate. Name of authoress escapes me but with only the few sentences of facts about him in all historical records she designs the story of his life as it would have evolved given who he was, that family life style, bureaucratics of Rome, traditions, etc. of how it probably evolvedd. And you know what ? It probably did happen pretty much the way she infers.

  8. I think those stories are the best stories of all. When my kids were little, I gave both of my parents a book to record some of their stories and they did. Now I have wonderful tidbits from their lives and in their handwriting too. 🙂

  9. With all the blogs being created, there will be more personal histories available than ever before. I wonder if that will make people less interested in them.

    About 16 years ago, I started writing letters to my niece, who was a newborn. I wrote several over the years, documenting the times we visited, the holidays we spent together, and anecdotes of what was happening at the time. I sealed them and kept them in a box, planning on delivering them to her when she was older. Then my son came along and life got busy and I completely forgot about them. A month ago, I found them and mailed them to her. Truth be told, I was a bit unsure about it. My inner critic was whispering in my ear, telling me she’d think they were stupid. I was relieved when I received the phone call indicating that just the opposite was true. She was completely thrilled with them, amazed that I had taken the time to write to her, and pleased that she had some anecdotes about her babyhood that she might not have heard.

    Sometimes it can be overwhelming to sit down and decide you’re going to write about your life. You think you have to start at the beginning and include every little detail. It’s easy to give up before you start. But I think an anecdote here and there with room for the reader to imagine the rest is probably the most fun to read.

    • I don’t think people will lose interest if lifestory. It’s varies greatly with most blogs. Every blog is different. Many do read like diaries which I find quite different from lifestory writing. Others are day to day musings which is also different. And there are those dedicated to lifestory and there the author can choose to combine those stories and format into a book.
      It is overwhelming in trying to decide where to start…that is why during this month, I’ve dedicated myself to writing from the top of my head, no criticizing, analyzing, editing, etc…I will go back through what I’ve written over the next several months and decide what to delete, elaborate on, and how to tie them together.
      What a lovely gift to your neice.

  10. You’re absolutely right. I am a huge advocate of writing our life stories. I’ve been interested in genealogy for nearly 30 years. Early on I interviewed relatives, all of who have now passed away. So I have some stories. I cherish them I created several books of family genealogy.

    Many times, it’s our internal life that is the most interesting. Not necessarily what we’ve done.

  11. Especially if we don’t have the stories from our parents/grandparents, it’s a good time to start writing what we remember hearing, and putting in episodes from our own life … at least our decendants will have somerhing to go with, and they can speak to cousins or neighbours who may have memories and stories to add-in.
    God bless, Christine

  12. I’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug, but agree that the “stories” are what make our history come to life in a rich way. My mom put together a “story of her life” for both our girls. It’s a wonderful storybook and keepsake.

  13. I often wish my Indian ancestors chronicled their daily lives in journals. Record keeping was sparse in India during the 1800’s and 1900’s and my efforts to even create a family tree proved to be a difficult endeavor. I am so glad you are doing this for yourself and your family.

  14. Best wishes in getting as many stories as you can. You’re on your way with the sweet and vivid story you’ve written here.

    I would love to be able to do the same, but just don’t feel that I have the time. I know…that a common excuse. 🙂

  15. It IS really awesome to just read anything from my grandparents. I was too young to appreciate and understand that they could have TOLD me stories. And by the time I was old enough to understand they were too old to tell me. So reading ANYTHING is interesting. A grocery list, a note, greeting cards they saved, whatever. It is fun to get a glimpse into their lives in that way. So I am sure your descendants would love anything you wrote.

    I do have one grandmother left, we do talk, but she doesn’t tell me stories. I’ll have to ask next time I talk to her.


    • Maybe if you ask her she’ll open up. I know my elderly (99years) friend loves to tell stories about her life. I think often people think others don’t won’t to hear so they don’t want to bother them with tales of their youth.

      • Ha. Well, I think there are some parts that she likes to pretend didn’t happen. 🙂

        Ya know it is funny to think of your grandparents and great grandparents as teens often are. Ya know, partyers or irresponsible youths . . . ya know teenagers. 😉

  16. I think the family and personal life stories are great .. and definitely the most treasured part of ourselves we can leave behind.
    Our local radio station played a “Story Corps” recording daily. It did not matter who was telling their story or what it was about, they always touched my heart. They were so good, even if I was home I would sit in my car to hear the entire story.
    I wrote a post that included some details about Story Corps (towards the center). In short, they traveled around the country and people could come in and record a conversation/story with a loved one. They were given a copy to take home and another was archived. What a great gift … a life story told by someone you love that you can listen to any time.

  17. I’m so jealous you have that. Where ever did you get it? I don’t know how I missed this post! I want to read that manuscript! You know it’s nice to share with family! 😉

    • Mama gave it to me probably twenty years ago, but I never read it through until a couple of years ago. She gave each of us a copy, and you probably shucked yours away, too. I’ll make you a copy of mine…it’s really interestesting. I think he was actually Big Daddy’s uncle which would have made him our 2Xgreat uncle.

  18. My dad and mom used to tell stories of thier childhood their parents, their siblings, their friends and theplaces where they lived and roamed. They were interesting for both were great rac,onteurs. They have passed. away ,a decade or so ago. I kick myslf everyday now for not having written them down, because I now find that I had failed to ascertain vital deails of names, places and the dates when they actually happened to bring them to life vividly.

    • Oh, but you can still bring them to life by filling in your own details. YOu’ve been provided with characters and setting, you can invent your stories…write fiction and note it as how you imagined their lives to have been…your family will still consider this a gift (of yourself) to them!

  19. So beautiful and true! I love stories, and I hate that so many of our ancestral ones are lost to the simple act of not recording them. I don’t care if my great grand-so-and-so thought it was the most mundane of lives: I still want to know about it and I can’t. Even more frustrating are those photos taken nearly 100 years ago and never labeled; now they sit in a box of mystery with no one to identify them. Go you! Write down your stories. Share your history. Let the generations of the future know who you were and what you did.

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