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A Diary for your Descendants

Family historians treasure old letters and diaries they find left by their ancestors. These priceless pieces of history tell us what our ancestors thought, and what they endured. But what about today's events, are you recording them for your descendants?

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Priscilla Harden
Word Count: 1120 (approx.)
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What was it really like to live through the years of the American Civil War, what was it like for a mother to say goodbye to her son leaving for WW I, or what was it like for families during the 1900 Galveston, TX Hurricane? Family historians treasure old letters and diaries they find left by their ancestors. These priceless pieces of history tell us what our ancestors thought, and what they endured. We treasure these things today, and hopefully generations to come will also know about it and remember it, because we restored past information from old letter and diaries. But what about today's events, are you recording them for your descendants?

A diary is a form of recording a person's thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams. Diaries date back to the earliest times of recorded history. Whether on stone, written on paper, on tablet, or, in today's world, recorded electronically on your home computer, diaries can be filled with facts as well as interesting to read. They retrace events and then often also relay how the person feels about a situation, whether it is everyday life or an event in history. Recently, I ran across some old letters written by my husband's great-great-grandfather, who was one of the men who traveled with the railroad laying the first track across America. These letters were written from North Dakota about 1900 to his mother in Iowa. It tells about his hardships in the cold weather, caring for his horses, and just the simple fact of hoping to get to town to mail the letter to her in the next day or so. These letters paint such a picture that you could more easily imagine what it was like.

Consider writing a journal or a diary for your descendants. The first thought you have might be, "I have a busy life and time does not permit writing a diary". Maybe you could consider writing once a week, or once a month on the 1st of each month, or on the even three or four times a year as an event happens in your life, or feel that there is something you might like for your descendants to know about you. Make your diary for your descendants something special for them--something you want your descendants to treasure just as you do when you find something left from your ancestors.

Consider a few things when starting to write your diary. To make this easier to write, start writing your diary, for example, to ‘America'(or whatever your country). Start the diary entry as "My Dear America," or "Why America," or something like "I'm sorry America." Relate the event to your country, and write to her. This will make it much simpler and your thoughts will be transferred on paper more vividly. Make it easy to read, conversational, and at the same time be sure to include events of importance happening at the moment. Instead of writing about what you did that day, write about what you were doing when that event happened that day in the world. Explain the event in your diary that day, and then end it by telling America how you felt about that event, and what you hope happens in the course of this event.

With the recent Hurricane Katrina, each of us can remember what we thought and felt in the aftermath of that horrible natural disaster--or what you experienced if you were in its path. This diary entry would be very interesting to your descendants, and they could feel the shock each of us felt during this time.

Whether you decide to record your diary electronically on a computer, or handwrite your diary entries, be sure and make a hard copy of them. If you decide to handwrite your entries, selecting notebook paper will be fine. Just make sure that you use an ink pen--pencils or erasable ink pens will fade in time. Either way, be sure to put it in an acid free document protector and keep your diary entries in a loose leaf notebook, or otherwise protected.

Express yourself freely, without putting limits to how much you will write in each entry. Some days you will get carried away and write so much you will not even realize it until you are finished. Avoid thinking in terms of "rough drafts"--write it once and keep it. Even if there are strike-outs or misspelled words, your initial writing with be treasured since those will be your first thoughts.

Begin your diary with the date of the entry as well as the day of the week. Always finish the diary entry by signing your name. You might select another name if you prefer, but always use the same name. Sign it as if it were a letter, and you may consider a closing that reflects how you are feeling such as "I am so confused," and then your name, or "I am scared tonight," or "life is beautiful," and then your name. It will get easier as you continue to write in your diary.

If an event, you may want to find a newspaper article about what you wrote. This gives you and your descendants more of an idea about the event you were writing about. And as with your diary entry, put that newspaper article in a document protector. You probably won't want to keep the whole newspaper, just the article with the date and name of the newspaper, which you can write in if it isn't visible on the article.

Remember, this notebook or collection is yours; if you prefer no one to read it except you, that's fine. But keep in mind that you are writing to share with your descendants and others who may know you. Keep this notebook of your diary entries and look back at the events and your feelings when you can. It might give you inspiration at a later time or ideas for future diary entries. Find a very special picture of your choice for the front of your notebook, maybe the Statue of Liberty or maybe a picture of an Angel. The inside front cover could contain information for your readers such as your name, when you started the notebook/diary and why, and anything else you wish to be recorded. This information will be add meaning for your descendants. Share what you want.

Good luck in recording historical and personal events for your descendants. And rather than pushing yourself to write, allow yourself to decided what you would like to record; you might write two or three days in a row and, perhaps, not again for several weeks. Add newspaper articles to enrich your diary entries, but most of all, as a family historian, leave something for your descendants.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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