Henry Ford once said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we made today.”
With all due respect to Mr. Ford, I disagree. History is what informs us about the present. In his book Pro Publio Sestio, Marcus Cicero wrote, “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time, it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”
Preservation of personal histories has proven invaluable. Where would we be without the conservation of Plato’s philosophy or Einstein’s theories? And, even more intriguing to many, where would we be without the knowledge of the context of these great men’s thoughts? Einstein, for example, gives hope to many as one of the most recognizable scientists of the 20th century, despite his status as a high school dropout.
Although it can be tempting to think that the details and events of our lives have little importance, relatively speaking, our personal histories can have an impact on future generations. Think about the scope of inventions and innovations that today’s centenarians have witnessed: the pop-up toaster, the band-aid, the lie detector and PEZ candy. They’ve lived through two world wars, countless international conflicts, the rise and fall of dictators and despots, and the expansion of civil rights.
Your experiences, over time, can be a fascinating and invaluable gift for future generations. Write them down or make audio or video recordings. Beyond the mere recording of facts and dates, such as when a child was born or a home was built, recount the context in which the events happened and the thoughts and feelings you experienced at time. Those are the details that might be most intriguing to future generations.
There are many resources for preserving the past, both online and offline. Ancestory.com is one of the most popular resources for building family trees and searching for government documents related to your family. It provides genealogical clues and resources such as census records, wedding certificates, photos and more. LifeHistoryServices.com is another site that offers a range of services, from compiling your family tree to interviewing your family.
If you’re thinking about documenting your history, consider, as a first step, organizing and labeling your old photos. A box or book of labeled photos will be much less daunting to future generations than a suitcase full of nameless images. And going through the old photos might inspire you to start talking about your experiences. Make sure you have a recorder handy!
However you choose to pass on your legacy, it will be appreciated for years to come.
By Kathryn Thomas
Archivist, Mission Effectiveness