Genealogists are obsessed with finding our family’s stories. We spend countless hours combing through records, attempting to recreate our ancestors’ lives. If we’re lucky we find letters or diaries that give us an insight into who our ancestors were. Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that there is no surviving correspondence or diary.
When teaching people how to write their family stories, I try to remind my students that it is important for each of us to record our own stories. One thing that genealogy should teach everyone is that nobody is guaranteed any amount of life. Accident, illness, or other events can take our lives away, or worse, leave us alive but incapable of communicating any longer. When confronted with the enormity of writing down our entire life story, it is natural to feel a tinge of panic. But remember, just as it took some time to find all that information on your ancestors, it is okay to take a little time to tell your story.
In the meantime, however, you can start with a smaller project: writing your own obituary. This serves a dual purpose, first it gets you moving on the larger project of telling your own life story. And second, it also relieves your family/friends/neighborhood undertaker from having to complete this task. And, after all, who better to tell your own story than you? Remember how limited the information in death notices used to be? Who knows better than you what parts of your life you wish to be remembered for?
Although obituaries are associated with the end of life, I consider them to be a celebration not a sad event. Traditionally focused on people work, spouse and children, etc., modern obituaries now often include much more. And, in the online world, they are often much longer than the single paragraph or two of times past.
The best part is that as a genealogist, you know the important bits and pieces to ensure are included. Obviously you need not include a date of death, but some traditional things you probably want to include:
- Date and place of birth
- Final resting place (cemetery, crematory, ashes distributed at sea, preserved and mounted in your mother-in-law’s living room, etc.)
- Parent’s names, including maiden name of mother
- Date(s) and place(s) of marriage(s)
- Spouse(s) maiden name(s),
- Children’s names and spouses’ names
- Degrees, school
- Church activities
In addition to these, though, be certain to include other things that are important to you:
- Leisure Activities
- Favorite vacation spots
- Life lessons learned
- Favorite memories
- Advice to family/future
How you would like to most be rememberedOnce you have written your obituary, tell your family that you wrote it. Then make sure you put it in a place where they can find it when the time comes. Then, use the obituary as a starting block for continuing to tell your own story. Go into more details about everything in the obituary. Add other items. Make sure it tells your story, so that for generations to come, they will know who you were, and what you were all ab