Writing your personal history—or your family history—is one of the most valuable things you can do for your loved ones. Knowing where they come from and connecting with you and other family members through shared stories and experiences provides a sense of belonging and stability that is impossible to create any other way.
However, because writing family history creates such an important connection between generations, many people feel overwhelmed at the prospect. They don’t know where to start, or they worry that they’ll leave something out. And heaven forbid if there’s a typo or a grammatical error.
“Writing your history is a labor of love,” says John Catron, Legacy Book founder and director of client relations. “But too many people think their histories have to be perfect, so they end up never finishing—and sometimes never even starting. They put so much pressure on themselves. And an unfinished family history doesn’t do anybody any good.”
John has a few tips to break down the task of writing a family history into smaller, more manageable steps.
- Don’t try to capture it all. “Maybe start with the three most important messages you’d like to leave your kids,” he suggests. “Or pick the five highlights from your first year of marriage.” Once you start putting down a few thoughts on paper, the rest will follow more easily.
- Set short-term goals. We’re all familiar with the idea of eating an elephant one bite at a time. Writing your history is same thing. Set aside 30 minutes every day to write something, or maybe spend an hour every Sunday working on it. Keep your goals specific, and establish a timeline so you can see progress being made.
- Be flexible. You might start out thinking you’re going to tell your history chronologically, but as you get further down the road, it makes more sense to tell the family history by family member, or maybe even subject matter.
- Lower your expectations. Your history doesn’t have to be perfectly organized, perfectly written, and perfectly packaged—although it can certainly be a beautiful and treasured book. Focus on the value of what you’re creating for your family instead of whether you included every story or photo.
- Take that first step. Over and over again, our clients say that the only regret they have about writing their family history is that they didn’t start sooner.
“At Legacy Books, we want to give people hope,” John says. “Writing your personal or family history is attainable; in fact, it can be easy and even fun. I talk to so many people who are worried and stressed because they know how important these histories can be, and they’ve set some pretty high expectations. Just remember, what matters is that you simply get it done. And the first step toward getting it done is getting it started.”