If you’ve been looking for some advice on how to start a family journal, then this is the article for you! This week’s post is on writing family memoirs by guest blogger J. Price Brown.

Create your own family memoirs, a keepsake journal to treasure for years with your life history filled with autobiographical anecdotes. Preserve your family heritage for your children or grandchildren through a collection of memorabilia and written memories. Record the family stories of joy and sorrow, of failure and success that you have traveled through together.

Even if you aren’t creative, haven’t kept a journal or think you can’t write, you can create a family journal. You will be surprised at what you will remember once you begin the project. Don’t let these objections stop you! The time it takes you to finish your project is up to you. Allow yourself several weeks or months to complete your project, or make it an ongoing lifetime journal. If the idea of writing your memoirs overwhelms you, choose one writing activity to complete, and present it to someone you love. They will love you for it, and it truly is a gift of yourself.

Begin your memory journal with an introduction to your purpose.

Think about why you are writing this journal, and who you are writing it for. It is similar to a dedication found in the beginning of a book. The length is up to you, but try to keep it under one page; keep your purpose statement concise. Your statement is essentially a mission statement which explains vision, purpose, and value.

My statement says who I am dedicating the memoirs to in the first sentence, and what the journal is going to do for them. It is an upfront view of who I am as a person, and what I have discovered along my life journey. Each one will be quite different as it should be.

Simply state who the memory journal is for, and why you put it together. When you begin writing your entries, do not try to write a final draft the first time! Just write what comes to you naturally; let the words flow like a river as you think. This is how I began mine!

For My Children

This memory journal is a keepsake for my children. It is the story of our journey of joy and sorrow, of failure and success! It holds a snapshot of memories of who I am as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, person, child of God, writer and lover of words. Peek into my zany, humorous, and sometimes painful world; maybe you’ll know me a little better.

~ J. Price Brown

Keep it short. Who are you writing it for? Why are you writing it? Tell a little about yourself too.

Since I am a writer, many of my memoirs will be taken from my original poems and writings. If you aren’t a writer, borrow poems, or quotes from other writers to sandwich in between your own written memories. Make sure to give them credit; don’t claim it as your own writing.

Free your memory muse!

Don’t edit as you go or you will stop the process (I am prone to this!). It should almost be a stream of consciousness effort in the first draft. You can go back later and edit, re-work and cut and paste until you get it to your liking. I almost always hate my first draft. Here’s how to set up the project.

First, begin to look for things that will be included in your memoirs. Once you begin searching for ideas, you will find them everywhere. Searching boosts your creativity and awareness. This is a time-consuming project that can take weeks, months or years, so don’t be discouraged. Just start today, and keep adding to it. Break it into small goals. It won’t happen unless you make it happen. Get a bankers box, a plastic box, shoebox, envelopes, index cards, or other containers about that size to collect your materials in. Use whatever you feel comfortable with. Once you have gathered enough materials, start sorting. Use whatever system works for you.

Sort materials by which child they refer to; sort by chronological order along a timeline, by season, event, or topic. Spread your memorabilia on the floor (my method) and categorize it into piles. Stacks of paper are then sorted into file folders, file boxes, or crates. Make a plan, and go for it. Get on the computer and start typing, or handwrite information on index cards. I keep small pieces of papers in envelopes and then put them in file folders. Label everything clearly!

Imagine you are on a scavenger hunt for memories.

When I was twelve, all my friends held scavenger hunts. Scavenger hunts were a popular party game where each team had a list of common household items like a paper clip, penny, or candy. The first team that gathered everything on their list won. Neighbors were all happy to accommodate us in our bounty hunt. Go scavenger hunting for clues to collecting great memories.

Free your memories, and then get them down on paper. Letters and cards from friends or family members saved through the years are a good source. If you are not a saver, ask your friends or family if they hold any letters or cards you may have written them. Do you have any newspaper clippings of family members? Check baby books, photo albums or relative’s albums for pictures, ideas, notes, dates, memories and events. Did you write down any funny sayings your child said when they were small? Note old checkbook registers, receipts or bills for clues to forgotten memories or vacations. Check any written journals or diaries, but always ask permission.

Photos of vacations will stir memories. Place a vacation photo on the table, and write down all the smells, sounds, sights, and tastes you remember from that trip. Try brainstorming and listing words first. Worry about sentences later; just get the gist of how you felt on that vacation or special day. Use sensory descriptions and vivid verbs that show action. Replace weak verbs like was, and is. Older relatives, neighbors, friends, church or club members might remember more about the past than they do the present. Don’t forget them as an important source to interview. Rummage through the dusty attic and dig out those old home movies, slides, tape recordings or videos. In my garage, I stumbled across a priceless audio tape of my daughter babbling when she was two.

Try this; list your feelings when your child was born, or on their first day of school, a play or sporting event, first communion, or wedding. Use old announcements, programs or church bulletins to help you. This is a poem I wrote in my twenties right after my first child was born.

First Child

There she is lying on my stomach!

Our baby, our child, she’s real!

So quiet, good, and perfect.

I’m in awe.

I touched her leg,

her long thin body like mine,

her face like daddy.

Yet I feel strange, detached,

an observer.

“Who is she?”

“Where did she come from?”

“Is she really ours?”

Disbelief, relief!

Look up information about the history of the day your child was born.  What was popular that year?  What was popular culture, fads, clothing, and songs?  Who was the president?  Add this to your journal.  Do you still have your child’s schoolwork or yearbook in a forgotten box in the corner of the garage?  Dig through it for a memory you could add to your journal.

Look at past Christmas ornaments, decorations, or any other holiday decor you have used through the years.  Is there something your child might have made for you that could stir a memory?  Did your child make you a Birthday present one year that touched your heart?  Write how you felt about it. Ideas for gathering and writing memoirs for your family are endless; once you start your journey, you will be amazed at what you can do.

Want more? We wrote The Guide to Journaling Your Family History and it’s free to download.

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