The most wished for items of our ancestors are diaries, journals, and letters. We all would love to know what everyday people thought about their life and historical events.
Most people in the modern era have kept a journal at some point in their life, even if it was just for a school assignment. But how many people have journaled about their life with the intention of passing it to future generations?
As a family historian, recording your life, your views, and your feelings about current events is one of the most important things you could be doing right now. You are creating a record that will be invaluable for people two or more generations from now. What would you give to know what your great grandparents thought about world events, their work, home life, and even other family members?
What is a Journal?
A journal is a personal collection of writing created by one person about their life and current events. It is intended to be shared at some point in the distant future, so the writing has a future audience in mind.
A contemporary journal can be all digital, a mix of digital and paper, handwritten, or whatever combination works for you. There is no standard format. The goal is to capture this moment, right here, right now.
If you create your journal using a computer or mobile device, don’t keep it there permanently. No software or service you use will last longer than ten years. Periodically preserve your journal by making a paper copy and putting it somewhere separate from your regular work.
Three Easy Steps to Start
1. Schedule It
The trick to doing something like journaling is to commit it to the calendar. If we don’t commit a time to it, it won’t happen. Pick a time each day to journal for the next 14 days, and schedule it in your calendar.
Why 14 days? Two weeks creates momentum for us to get started and focus ourselves because we feel some urgency. You’ll also develop a substantial body of writing over two weeks, even if you miss a few days. Once you review what you’ve compiled, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment.
2. Determine Who It Is For
Trying to create something for everyone will leave you with something bland and impersonal. Pick one audience who will read your journal in the future. Here’s some possibilities to inspire your choice:
- Future you, this time next year.
- Your children or grand children, especially if they are too young to understand current events now.
- Your family or current friends, to be given to them in 5 – 10 years.
- The local historical society.
Put who the journal is for in the front of the book or somewhere where you can see it. As you write, focus on that person or people and what you would like to tell them about life now. Remember that someone reading your journal in 20 years or more will be living a daily life very different than yours – different foods, different technology, different clothes, etc. Every detail you share allows the future to understand the past.
3. Use Prompts
The blank page is a scary place. Where and how do we start writing? A secret many writers use is to start with a writing prompt. Writing prompts are usually in the form of a question, and you answer that question to kick start your writing. The prompt is a nudge, not a constraint. Your writing is can go in any direction or depth.
I’ve developed a list of writing prompts to jump start your journaling in The 14-Day Journaling Quick Start Guide. Use the password “journal” to access it.
Think of writing prompts like a collection of recipes – you can do them in any order you wish and customize them however you want. If there is a prompt you really enjoyed, like a favorite meal, you can do it again. It’s your journal!
The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift you can give someone is your time and attention. You are giving the future, your time and attention to capture your thoughts and feelings about now. Take 15 minutes a day for fourteen days to share yourself. You’ll be so glad you did!