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Rose Osborne, 67, was a registered nurse for 45 years before retiring to become a personal historian, owner and creator of Write My Journey, a life story writing service that turns memories into a beautiful hardcover book.

Your personal and family experiences capture intimate moments that define values, philosophies, achievements and challenges. Each life story is unique and threaded with your personality, beliefs and courage. Even your misadventures are coated with understanding and explanations.

Deciding to write your life story is your first decision. Read my article here about why I believe everyone should share their life story. Your second decision is what will it look it? People think the only format is a written text from birth to present – but that is not the case. Life story telling is limited only by your imagination and the outcomes can be amazing.

Most people compile their stories for their families and future generations to know and understand them and pass on life messages. Telling your life story or your family’s story will serve as a bridge to future generations and be a platform for a connection between you. It does make a difference.

Photographs are wonderful, but often they create more questions than answers. It is the details people look to for answers on your life and theirs. People want to know the context, the persons involved and what you were doing in that situation. Adding text to your albums will answer many questions for your family and friends. The text can be minimal like dates, names of people in the photo, location and why you were there or you can tell the whole story as if you were talking to them in person. They will appreciate your effort.

Here are a few formats that may appeal to your sense of storytelling but you may find many others. You may choose a variety of formats of storytelling if that is what suits your need.

Written books

  • An autobiography records your life from birth to present.
  • A historical family album records all family members, their life details and other information and stories that are known. It can be compiled over several generations past and present. Stories can be collected from people who may have known your family, newspapers or information from ancestry sources. 
  • A memoir focuses on a particular event or part of your life, such as relationships, life turning points, short stories, or your professional life.  It is very much about finding truth and perspective and usually holds emotions and sensory experiences. Many wonderful movies have come from memoirs such as The Railway Man, The Water Diviner, Call the Midwife, We Bought a Zoo and many more.
  • A Life Journal or a travel journal is wonderful way to record your life story. You can weave in stories about yourself or your family as you describe your travels and life adventures.
  • A Personal essay is a popular form of nonfiction narrative and is your opinion on a topic or event, a milestone or life changing incident. It is autobiographical as it describes feelings, emotions and personal experiences.  It is a conversation you can have with those who read your pages.
  • A Letter is an inspirational conversation with wherever you choose – future grandchildren, a son or daughter. It can be as long as you like even up to a book length and can include other helpful hints that may not be known or are forgotten e.g. a recipe or household hints. It can be different styles from conversational to narrative.
  • An Ethical Will or Legacy Letter. I call this a Personal Letter of Life Celebration because I think that is what it is and I like the title better. This type of letter documents your personal values, beliefs and life lessons. It does have a moral or spiritual component and can be used for special celebrations such as significant birthdays, Remembrance Days, Eulogies or just anytime at all. Print them and distribute them as a memento of the occasion. Read a personal letter of life celebration I wrote for a client’s 90th birthday here.

Photograph albums with text throughout

  • Photographs organised in order
  • Photographs organised according to families or other groups
  • Photographs of achievements, challenges and celebrations.

A hand-made collage album containing a wonderful collection of items you have collected over time with text explaining why it is so special and what you were doing there

  • Photographs of people and groups, but also special items that mean so much. Examples could be your mother’s crochet tablecloth, colourful socks that connected you and your grandchild as you enjoyed imagination games that carried you to amazing places, your cricket bat that was the heart of your whole week or your daughter’s tutu and a lock of her hair from that special night. 
  • Drawings and paintings from the children’s childhood or from your fathers doodling as he sat passing hours by the window.
  • Tickets from a memorable train journey to a show to anything that was special.
  • Scraps of fabrics that connect you to some thought or event.
  • Pressed flowers that have a beautiful story of their own
  • Any memento at all that has a story attached.

CD or audio

  • Recording your story in your voice on a CD or audio tape is quite wonderful for future generations. It can be done quite cheaply if you have the equipment e.g. a smart phone. Storage of the recording needs to be considered.
  • You may choose to record your story in a book and then record your voice reading the story.

DVD or video

  • Recording your story on video or digital video adds visual representation and all that conveys. Your personality, body language, eye contact all contribute to a great story.
  • The story may be a simple interview or a complex production including tributes from other people.
  • You can do this yourself if you have the equipment or engage a professional.

Family websites

  • You can create your own from free websites available online or get one professionally created. Consider the longevity of your website and who retains ownership and responsibility.
  • Family Websites can contain anything you wish to be preserved, e.g. family tree, genealogical information, letters, and documents.
  • Family members can add their own story.
  • Video clips, sound, photos and images can be added.

There is no right or wrong way to record your life story. The main point is that you do something that will carry your life messages and stories forward. It may take several years to complete your life story. After all, your life has taken decades to live.

The other great joy of creating a legacy of your life is that you can have as many lives as you like. For example, I have five books on my life, all different, all remembering different stories and relationships and all beautiful. Life is not simple; therefore your life story can be multi-dimensional.

Enjoy your life story and make the time.

Rose will be writing a monthly column on life writing. If you have any questions for her, please leave them in the comments below.

If you want more information, read your way through my website Write My Journey. There is lots of information you may find helpful. 

Related links:

4 tips to preserve your family history

A beginner's guide to creating a family tree

How to pass family history onto grandkids