My great grand parents emigrated from Cork, Ireland in 1869. They brought seven kids, and would have four more in the boggy, mosquito-infested land in northern Ontario where they carved out a living. But I know nothing about them. My parents and grandparents told me no stories about them. One-hundred and twenty years after they arrived I did find the foundation of the cabin they built in this new land. But there are no stories. I will never learn about their crossing of the Atlantic, their challenges, their joys and sorrows. I will just look at the one picture I have of them and wonder: What was life like back then? And — are we alike in any way?
Have you ever wondered how you'll be remembered? Do you think your descendants, your family of the future, will have a story to tell about you? Or will they admit "We don't know who they were or anything about the life they led. They just didn't leave us any stories."
In the future our descendants will be curious about the lives we led. After all, our blood flows in them.
Spin back to today. Millions of people are sending in their DNA samples for analysis because we too are very curious about our past. Where did I come from? What ancient blood flows in me? Who were my ancestors?
My DNA test told me I'm about 20 per cent south Asian, a dash of African, a dollop of Italian and Grecian, a tablespoon of Scandinavian, and the largest percentage confirms me as Irish. Good to know as I tell a pretty good Irish joke. The strands of my DNA tell me where my ancestors came from, but I learn little about those who I share my DNA with. There are no stories. Like my great grandparents, I learn nothing about them.
And I understand why. Until this century my ancestors were probably illiterate. They didn't have paper and pencil, camera, typewriter, iPad, mobile phone or the internet. Drawings on a cave wall? OK... but not ideal.
But that has all changed, and with it comes opportunity.
We can give our descendants a tremendous gift. Digital technology and the web allows us to easily create and leave legacy stories about our lives. Why bother? These legacy stories will connect you to others now, enhance your lives, and make you happier. Our descendants, hundreds of years from now, will say "Thank you. Your blood flows in us. We're proud to know who you were, and where we came from."
Digital technology? We can collect, produce and preserve our stories in digital print, audio and video so, like that battery bunny, they just keep going... and going... and going. Your digital stories will be in great shape when your descendants come calling.
Like any good story contains, let's describe the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of this "DNA digitality."
WHO... can the stories be about?
Well, anyone. But my advice is get yours done first (more later), and then assess whose story you don't want to disappear. Would you be OK if their funeral/'Celebration of Life' was tomorrow, and their stories were gone? And no, they don't have to be old. Young people die too.
WHAT... should be in these stories?
Anything goes. What would you like your descendants to learn 300 years from now? Or just start slowly with your story-teller: 'Tell me about your schooling, your first love, your career... or the time you flew over the Grand Canyon in a hang glider...'
WHERE... can the stories be found?
A person with lots of great stories may start slowly, but like a river's ice breaks in the spring, the stories will soon be flowing. Picture albums are a great story-catalyst too ("Oh, tell me about her!"). And then there's all those heirlooms, each with a story.
WHEN... is the right time to gather your stories?
This is where I get serious. In the last two months I've lost two people who were very important in my life. None of us are guaranteed another minute. Get your story done, and then start on the next one (Dad, Mom, Weird Uncle Charlie) as soon as you can. You'll both love the process... and the feeling.
Simple — it connects people. And the 'feeling'? I helped my father collect his experiences in Second World War, and that story was warmly read and welcomed for a decade before he died. And my chest still swells with pride as it's continually asked for. And another feeling? When I finished writing my personal story, I put it in a drawer. I felt totally drained and extremely happy. I change it occasionally, but it's always there for my family, and my descendants, in case I stumble in front of stampeding herd of water buffalo.
HOW... to get started?
'How' is code for your homework, and here it is: Pick ONE value you think you live by. I'll give you a list of 500. Write down why that Value is important to you. Then write a story about how you lived that value. I've done this with six values, and all the stories in this "legacy letter" of mine are in the drawer — waiting for my descendants. Put your value story in a drawer, and when you're ready, tell the story of your second value. And yes, it could be print, or audio or video.
My DNA confirms who my ancestors were, and where they came from. But that's all I know. Because we can, all of us can thrill our descendants by telling them the stories of our lives. I might include a joke or two so they can say "Ah... that's who he was! And funny too!"
Robb Lucy is the author of "How Will You Be Remembered. A Guide for Creating and Enjoying Your Legacies Now!" He can be found at stories at createmylegacy.com.