Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Diary Dilemma


As a genealogist, I see a lot of documents. Most of them are about my direct ancestors, some of them are more general historical documents. I love them all, from those old maps of my hometown to that elusive marriage certificate of my great-grandparents. But what I love most are those documents that were written by my ancestors themselves – letters and (the ultimate genealogical treasure) diaries. Unfortunately, most of my ancestors didn’t leave letters and diaries behind – a reality most of us share, I think.

This fact did get me thinking, though. As genealogists we’re often looking backwards in time, looking for our ancestors and their stories. But what about looking into the future? What about our own stories? I’m still young, single and no children. But one day…I will not be here anymore. Hopefully I’ll leave behind children and grandchildren. Will they – or their descendants – hope for a diary written by me? I won’t know that, but I can hope they will.

That, however, brings me to my current dilemma. I’m not by nature a person that keeps a diary. Writing down my memories of my life so far is not a problem, but writing in the present day about the present is not something I automatically do. So should I? I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me, and writing it down now, as it is happening, is infinitely easier than trying to remember it when I’m old and grey.

But then, say I do start to keep a journal, what do I write about? Just the big events? That will cause large time-gaps in my writing and the little every-day details will get lost to time. But writing about most days, even the ordinary, will fill up lots of diaries – who on earth is going to read all that when I’m gone? The big events, the funny stories, the sad ones – all lost because nobody will have the patience to search for them in between the rest. Although, it would be handy to have a (nearly) daily record to use as a reference later in life, and extract the ‘important’ memories myself.

And then there’s the dilemma of the text itself. Should I write bare bone facts and try to stay objective, or share emotions, knowing I intend for someone to read it later when I’m gone? I know that emotions and thoughts, those intangible things, are most interesting in diaries. But how truthful is it when I know I’m writing ‘for someone else’? Should I write ‘as is’ – like I would when talking to someone who knows me right now – or should I add details that later generations might not know? I’m thinking about last names, familial relationships, more description, and possibly even explanations. Then again, would the diary then lose what makes a diary a diary? And do I write on paper, in a nice book, thus preserving a unique piece of myself in my handwriting on the page? Or do I go digital for fear that future generations will not even know what a paper book is - let alone read one? And how will I then guarantee that ‘all’ of my diaries are kept in readable format – technology is changing so fast!

So many things to ponder, and no answers as of yet. All I know is that I would like to leave something of myself behind for future generations. The what and how is still up in the air. So I ask my readers: what’s your opinion on all this?

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