HOW A FAMILY TIMELINE CAN JUMPSTART YOUR LIFE STORY PROJECT

The Emergency Homework Interruption

It was 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon.  My two beautiful children had just returned home from school.  They independently initiated their afternoon routine—snack, pet, homework.

With laser focus, I attempted to concentrate on a continuing education class via telephone.  Within minutes, my son uncharacteristically burst into my office with hands waving to get my attention.  He was unsuccessful.

He disappeared and quickly returned to deliver a scribbled note under my nose:  "I need your help with my homework.  What did I do when I was 0-3?"

I had to laugh about the 0-3, but I also immediately felt conflicted.  I was thrilled that he had been assigned his first autobiography assignment, but his homework instantly reminded that my own family projects were still works in progress. I thought I would have more time before I had to answer these questions!

When my call ended, my son continued to pepper me with questions.  "I need my stories, Mom!"

WHERE TO START

In the midst of dinner preparations, soccer practice, and other homework assignments, I wondered how I could possibly remember the stories appropriate for my son's first autobiography?  I went back to basics (After all, I am a professional memoirist. This should be a piece of cake!)

A family timeline is one tool that can help you recall all types of stories.

Step 1: Pull out a package of sticky notes.

No need for multiple colors or sizes, but if you have them, great! Your family timeline will be gorgeous and color-coded.

Step 2: On separate sticky notes, write each of the following events and dates that apply to each member of your family

Marriage(s)
Divorces(s)
Birth(s)
Adoptions(s)
Death(s)
Retirements(s)
Immigration(s)
Naturalization(s)

Step 3: On separate sticky notes, record the key events that changed the course of your family life.

These key events provide context for the stories you are trying to recall. Examples include:

Illnesses/Injuries
New job(s), Employer(s), Occupation(s)
Key projects
Moves to new homes or new geographical regions
Memorable family purchases
Family vacation destinations
World events (e.g., 9/11, etc.)

A family timeline is one tool that can help
you recall all types of stories.

Step 4: As important or interesting facts come to mind, you can add each to a separate note on your family timeline.

These will become stories, details, and emotions that you eventually want to share with your children. Perhaps, these facts will be necessary for your child's assignment.

Notice any memory gaps.  As your family maintains your timeline, you can fill the gaps, as necessary.  Some events will be associated with a date and some will only reference a time period.  There are no rules—Just guidelines to help you catch your memories.

Step 5 : Decide where to store your memory catchers and take a photograph of your draft.

You can use:

  • A piece of posterboard
  • An empty wall in your house
  • A trifold science board, etc.

Be sure you choose a method that makes the process easier and more fun for you.  Be willing to change your approach if the method you select is not working.

Step 6 : Share your personal and family stories with your children.

Remember that the goal is to connect with all generations of your family. Even the autobiography assignment was intended to help your child learn more about himself and his family.

Studies show that children who know more about their family history grow up with higher self-esteem and a stronger sense of identity than children who do not. Enjoy this time to connect with and cherish your children!

WHAT TO DO NOW: Build your family timeline

  • Start your family timeline.
  • Identify the key events that are important to chronicle your family's history.
  • Review your draft with your family to add more detail and correct mistakes.
  • Share your stories with your children and invite your parents to share their stories with your children as well.
  • Help your child finish his autobiography assignment.
  • Reward yourself with a glass of wine or a cup of tea!

Want to learn more about saving your life story?
Check out my Life Story School!

Disclaimer

This publication is based upon personal experience, research, and education. Although the author has made every reasonable attempt to achieve complete accuracy of the content in this article, the author and Sunday Dinner Stories assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or inaccurate information. For privacy reasons, some names may have been changed or omitted. The content is not intended to replace common sense, legal, medical, or other professional advice; it is meant to encourage, inspire, educate, and inform the reader. That means you should consult with your attorney, doctors, and other professionals if you have any concern about implementing our advice. But we hope you'll consider us your memoir professionals and will consult us for all your storytelling needs!

Copyright

© 2020 Michelle Beckman, Sunday Dinner Stories, All rights reserved internationally.
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