Seeing Yourself in Time

My Dad sent me a scanned copy of a newspaper clipping from a school event when I was 11-years old. I’m pictured and mentioned in the clipping.

On the surface, it is no big deal — just a fun moment from my history as a kid.

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But it kind of sparked a bit of anxiety within me.

What of my personal history? What am I leaving behind of myself to tell some descendant of mine hundreds of years from now about my life and times? And what will they discover about me – and will I like it?

We are pioneers of a different sort. We are the first in the age of information and each of us leaves behind a mighty amount of stuff about our lives. I suspect that in the future vast databases of information may survive of our lives that could easily tell of our travels, our food purchases, and even our taste in movies and books.

I thrill in the hunt of discovery in trying to piece together the lives and very personalities that come from our family past. Every new connection I make with someone that provides a new piece of the puzzle makes knowing our ancestors so much more valuable to me.

But it is hard to see my life, my thoughts, and my experiences being meaningful to a future family historian.

I vow, of course, to make it easier on them to find information about me than some of them have left for my generation to discover.

But where do we really begin?

The ageless answer to that question is a journal or a diary.

We have so very few, at least that know, from our family past who kept a journal of some sort. The journal of Albert Smith is a rare example of how valuable such a record can be. Reading it I can almost sense the anxiety he had about Mormon crickets alone. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read it).

I have kept a journal. It is incomplete, full of holes and, frankly, embarrassing at times for me to read through. I don’t know, honestly, if I want to leave it behind. I know I should. But part of me wants to burn it. I wonder if Grandfather Albert ever felt the same way?

My mother, who basked in the work of family history, didn’t leave a journal. What her thoughts were for the most part are embedded in my brain and the record of her that I leave behind and that others of my siblings and my Dad make a record of. As we approach a year now since she passed it stings to think that the whole of what my mother was – is lost.

That makes the work of personal journaling and history so sobering. It is important, it is hard, and nobody, honestly, can do it for us.

The Internet and especially social media gives us a giant online footprint that will no doubt one day be considered an invaluable family history resource. In my family, it already is. My mother’s meager Facebook postings are precious to me.

Mom was smart with her social media though. What she left behind is pleasing, inquisitive of her children and grandchildren, and well reflective of her role as mother and grandmother.

My social media is, by comparison, a cesspool of reaction. It is full of political rants, opinions on the news, links of dubious quality, and chock full of endless babble that mean even less in the future than what it means right now (which isn’t much).

It pains me to think that my descendants may comb through a virtual encyclopedia of Facebook and Twitter in trying to figure out me.

That highlights, I suppose, the need to create and craft a personal record. It’s kind of like what J. Golden Kimball used to say about how people would respond to his speeches. He said, “It used to be I could get back to Salt Lake to deny what I said before the people complained. But the damn telephone changed that and now I have to deny what I said long after I actually said it.” Technology, it seems, has long been a burden to the imperfect.

A lot of this, of course, comes from a genuine desire to be seen as a good person – both now and in the future.

The answer is to just be a good person, I suppose. But even better, I think the idea is that we can better craft the record of who we truly are if we take command of the project – and actually write and organize that personal history.

Personal history suffers from the same bad press that family history does. I don’t have time for it. My kids will do it for me. Nobody wants to hear from me. Yada, yada, yada.

For me though none of those excuses stand. I’m going to need a defense attorney. And it is best to get started on that defense now.

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