This Roots to the Past column originally appeared in newspapers in early January 2014. It is the challenge I presented to myself and to readers—if they chose to accept. I’ve decided to create a page specifically for the challenge because several individuals who have taken it on have contacted me for further prompts.
Both past and current prompts for the memoir writing challenge are found here. Each month I’ll post three or four new prompts to get the memories flowing.
Also, in my monthly newsletter, Diane’s Enchanted Scriptorium, I will post one of the essays I have written for the memoir challenge. To sign up to receive this exclusive newsletter, click here and fill in your name and email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.
The newsletter will also contain information about books I’ve written, book launches, super deals, contests, general news, events and author appearances.
the Year of the Memoir Challenge
I have a challenge for you. If you choose to accept it, this time next year you’ll have a small booklet of stories to share with family members, a personal memoir to pass down to future generations. You’ll give your grandchildren and their grandchildren the opportunity to learn a little about you. The booklet will contain snippets of your life, ones you wished your ancestors had left behind to read.
Many of us have spent years, perhaps decades, researching our family trees. We have pieces of information on some ancestors and full-life histories on others. But what we sometimes forget is that in sixty or a hundred years from now, our descendants might be digging into old history books or records and asking their elders about people who have long-since passed: that would be us.
Regardless of what you call it—personal history, memoir or journal—a collection of personal narratives is a wonderful addition to every genealogy. Although we might think of ourselves as insignificant, our descendants might not. Many of our ancestors thought themselves just as unimportant.
It’s difficult to say what the future holds. A major event might be just around the corner. Who knew the morning they woke on December 6, 1917 in Halifax, NS, that they would witness the horrible sights of a massive explosion that would impact the entire country? The First and Second World Wars, the Depression and many other events that shaped our world affected everyone in Atlantic Canada and beyond. Personal reflections during these times—although possibly not thought of as important—would provide an interesting glimpse into family history.
Lorine McGinnis Schulze of The Olive Tree Genealogy challenged herself for three years to record her memories. She suggested allotting thirty minutes a day to writing on a particular topic. Once the habit was formed, she was better able to complete her commitment. Schulze chose a new writing prompt each week to keep the momentum going.
Topics such as skills passed down from parents (like knitting), school experiences, vacations and first job experiences were a few Schulze explored. If you’re interested in learning more about her writing prompts and experience with journal writing, visit her site, scan the long list of topics in the right-hand margin and click on Genealogy Journal Writing.
Schulze at first suggested to record memories by handwriting them in a journal suitable for the task, but it appears she began typing them in 2012. This made it easier for her to create bound copies of her book to give to family members. Either way is great; it’s whichever works best for the individual. The important thing is to get the memories down on paper.
As a visitor to Schulze’s page commented, you don’t know until you lose someone how important their journal writing was.
Throughout 2014, I’ll occasionally write about the memoir writing challenge—one I’m taking up—and post writing prompts for anyone who wishes to participate. January’s topic will evolve around snow and ice. I’ll write several little stories, ranging between 200 and 300 words, about my adventures (or misadventures) in these wintery conditions.
Don’t confuse recording memories with diary writing. Today’s events are important, but recapturing past experiences is the memoir writing challenge.