Have you ever wanted to know more about your great-grandmother or great-great-grandfather? Or any of your relatives you have never met? Will your descendants want to know more about you? If so, it’s never too late to write your own auto-biography.
My interest went from a low burning flame to an insane fire when I started doing my family tree. I love a good mystery, untangling family lines, step-families, half-families, multiple marriages, etc.
My third great-grandfather... His mother died in childbirth, he was raised in an orphanage and his brother came to get him when he was 10. Much later, when his brother died, he took in his brother’s wife and 5 children. None of this would have been known had it not been for a hand-written letter that was kept over the years. I met a distant relative online that had the letter. Amazing.
My second great-grandmother, divorced her first husband in 1894 and her first two children were adopted by her second husband when they were young adults. Adoption papers mention, ‘their’ father had passed… and me sitting here decades later is wondering ‘How did she know that?’ ‘Did she keep in touch with her former’s husband’s family?’ So many questions and no answers.
My great-grandmother died of Tuberculosis when my grandfather was two years old. It was her second marriage, her first husband died of Typhoid Fever. Her second husband, my grandfather’s father, had syphilis and eventually took his own life by illuminous gas poisoning. Tracking down his marriage certificates, provided his parent’s names, but finding out anything about them had been next to impossible, especially since the 1890 Census was mostly destroyed by fire.
Back in 2000, Ted Pack wrote a ‘bioguide’ online. Thankfully, I printed it out and kept it for 16 years. What does that say about me? LOL His post is my guide for what follows. So, a big thank you to Ted.
When considering writing your own biography, think about ‘what would you have liked your great-great relative to have written about themselves?’ What would you want to know about them? What was life like? Where did they work, a traditional job or not? What was their daily routing? While you may not want to answer all of the following questions, pick a few and start.
Divide your life into 5 or 10 year increments, cover the ordinary events – who, what, when, and where – (child, teen, young adult, marriage, retirement) then answer specific questions – What were the most exciting things that happened, achievements, funniest events, sad moments, happy times? Include embarrassing events, which now, looking back, are funny now.
Here’s some ideas.
Childhood and School Days
Where and when were you born? In a hospital or somewhere more exotic?
Where did you go to school (elementary, middle school, high school, college, trade school, graduate school)? What were your favorite subjects? Or favorite teacher? Why?
What would a typical school day, weekend have been like as a child, teen, young adult? Chores? Part-time job? First job? Summer job? Do you remember how much that job paid? Where you saving your money for something specific?
Where did you live for each 5 or 10 year period? What was your house like? City living, country living? What did you like or dislike about it?
What was the most exciting thing that happened to you for each 5 or 10 year period? Or pick a handful to share.
Romance, Work, Play, and History
When did you start dating? How did you meet your spouse? What attracted you? Do you have a favorite/funny courtship story?
What was your wedding like? When and where was it held?
Military Service – did your life include military service? Which branch? When and where did you serve? What went into your decision to join up, if you had a choice? Funny antidotes during boot camp? Scariest moment?
Occupation – what did you do? How did you choose your career? Is it what you really wanted to do? What did you like about it? Dislike about it? What did it take to rent a place or buy your own place?
Hobbies – what did you do outside of work? What got you into it? Was it something you shared with friends, parents or grandparents or some other relative? Include volunteer work, recreation, travel, etc.
What historical events have you lived through or witnessed in person? Even if they were by radio, television, internet, social media. How did it effect you, your family or your friends?
Religion, Children, more History
Religion – did you follow your family upbringing? Or go your own way? What do you like about it? Dislike? Any funny stories?
Children – where and when were they born? How did you pick their names? What were they like as babies, toddlers?
Large events, personal perspective – what are the 3-10 biggest changes in the world today from the world you knew as a child?
Traditions, Holidays and Hard Times
Holiday traditions – how did you celebrate each holiday? What did you eat? Cook it yourself? Decorations? Did you do anything special for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner on the holidays or your birthday? Even New Year’s, Super Bowl, March Madness.
Did your family celebrate any holiday that were special to your religious or ethnic heritage?
What was your favorite meal, apart from the holidays?
Interesting questions to answer in your bio. “What have you done that no one would guess you’d done?” Something that would make future generations say “I never knew that!”
What’s the best vacation you have ever taken?
What was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you? What is the nicest thing you did for someone else, in the spirit of ‘pay it forward?’
Letter writing is a lost art, but thankfully, you can preserve your bio on your computer, the internet or even Ancestry.com (save it as a ‘story’).