Last week in my column, I wrote about my remarkable friend, Noma Kjar, who at age 95 is writing her personal history and urging others to do the same, preferably before they have 95 years of recollections to squeeze into the record.
Alas, I ran out of space before I ran out of things to pass along from Noma's experiences in writing a history. Let us continue!
• First of all, don't let your personal recollections be mere lists of things you have done, places you have been, the significant people who shared your experience and the important dates that make up your life story. These are important, but only as "hangers" on which to drape how you felt about them, how they influenced you to do what you did or influenced you to do something different, how they built the platform for the next chapter, what triumphs or regrets were associated with them.
For instance, in an inclusive list of things you should record from your youth, Noma suggests you not ignore things such as influential leaders, what you liked to do outside of school, characteristics of the society in which you moved (for Noma and I, that society was quite different from what younger people cope with today). We had World War II and its aftermath; today's youths face the ravages of decaying moral norms. All of these things have a significant effect on your lives. Write them.
• Somewhere in your history there should be a testimony, religious if that has been your experience, but regardless of its nature, a statement of what you believed in most sincerely should be part of your story. Our convictions are what motivate us to act. The old saying that the thought is father to the deed is an old saying precisely because it is true.
Noma couches it as "your sacred record." It should contain the testimony as suggested above, but also your thoughts, feelings, desires, experiences, life goals, hopes, heritage, faith, belief, knowledge, traditions. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it should include records of all priesthood ordinances, received or given.
• Writing this has triggered a question aside from Noma's good advice that I have heard debated a number of times: Should a personal history include the missteps we all make? I know people who have refused to write their story because it would necessarily include chapters they would rather forget. The advice I have heard is that truth is truth and can't be ignored, but your history doesn't need to be a "true confessions." Include the mistakes as "lessons learned" and move on.
Make the people who appear in your story real. Describe them as fully as you can. What did you like or dislike about them? What lasting effect did they have on your own choices? What you have to say about those who share your world doesn't say as much about them, possibly, as it does about you.
• Photos help. In this regard, Noma, like many of us, bemoaned the fact that her near-100 years' collection of photos too often lack names, dates and places.
Noma puts picture identification at the top of her list of the "do overs" she would engage in if she could start fresh. Based on perfect hindsight, here are some more suggestions from Noma.
• Organize a computer file for each person in your family. That will require some catching up for those family members who arrived pre-computer, but in today's scheme of things, the effort should begin when a child is born, Noma says.
• Devote one family home evening per month to family history matters. Ask each person in your group to write a weekly summary of the things of importance that happened between sessions. Add to the computer record, with pictures where possible.
At the end of the year, print a booklet for each family member. There are several simple digital options for doing that.
• Then comes the most important step in preserving your history for time to come: Go to FamilySearch.org and get the information onto your family tree and/or your personal page. FamilySearch provides plenty of help, including step-by-step instructions that will turn your history into what a history should be: a permanent part of "the cloud."
Thanks, Noma, for the benefit of your wisdom and willingness to share.