Tips, guidelines and principles: How to write a personal history your posterity can't put down

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 5:30 a.m. MST

“The real essence of the experience is what we felt in our heart,” Elder Zwick said. “It is not so much what you write, but the idea is to convey a feeling.”


The Savior Jesus Christ taught the people using parables and the scriptures are full of powerful stories.

Elder Scott taught Elder Zwick as a missionary, and continues to teach in general conference, about the importance of recording spiritual promptings and lessons.

“Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it,” Elder Scott said in the 1993 October general conference. “That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.”

He has also learned from observing LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.

“President Monson really does have a gift for weaving true accounts into gospel principles,” Elder Zwick said. “He has presented countless messages of wisdom, inspiration and doctrinal insight by giving us enlightening experiences of his own, or people he has met or helped. Those are things people can connect with.”

Ancestral stories

Alma Smith is Elder Zwick’s great-great-great grandfather. As a 7-year-old boy, Smith’s hip was brutally shot away during the Haun’s Mill Massacre in 1838. He was miraculously healed through the mighty faith of his mother, Amanda Barnes Smith.

For Elder Zwick, Smith’s experience is a classic example how family history stories can teach gospel principles and connect families. Elder Zwick encourages parents to share stories with children that illustrate a family member’s character, courage or level of spiritual maturity. A grandmother or mother might share the feelings she had as a first-time mother with her pregnant daughter or granddaughter.

“Alma Smith is a hero to me. … It’s important to know who they (ancestors) were, how they grew and what experiences made them better,” Elder Zwick said. “Our experiences make us who we are, but until we tell about ourselves and share our stories, others may know little about us.”

Elder Zwick also referenced the 2007 October general conference message of President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency.

“Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. … I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family,” President Eyring said. “I wrote down a few lines every day for years. … Before I would write, I would ponder this question: ‘Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in my busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what he has done.”

Sacred experiences

Some stories are too sacred to share, and certain stories are for an individual’s own learning, Elder Zwick said.

People learn different lessons in different ways. The scriptures contain many stories about people who made mistakes, but the purpose is not to beat someone down, it’s to teach a lesson. Those stories are seldom told in the first person. In some cases, such as the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, a person can open up about his or her past personal struggles and teach powerful lessons that will deeply impact lives. In that environment, that works really well, Elder Zwick said.

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