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We all find it so important to document our family’s life (especially with kids and our pets), but do you ever feel the overwhelm of it when it comes to getting your own story told?

Feeling stuck?

The reason I bring this up is that I recently had a conversation with a woman about her pioneer ancestors and before I knew it, we got to the topic that really seemed to be a hot button for her — getting her own story told. The overwhelming-ness of it all had her stuck.

This journey I have been on for the past three years has felt like a struggle as well, so I could instantly relate to her. The good news is that my struggle has left me with positive shifts in my thoughts. You would laugh if you could see how many starts and stops I have taken with my own attempts to bring my LifeStory book to “life.”

Goals are a good thing

It all seems so simple. I mean, how hard could it be to make a book that showcases my ancestors’ lives with photos, stories, and documents that I have obtained over the past twenty years? And, add to that, the fact that I wanted the books to be read by my children and treasured for many generations. My vision seemed fairly simple: I wanted the pages to be beautiful to the eyes and entice the reader to not only read each page but kind of rest on it and get to know their ancestor through my eyes.

I bring all this up because my ultimate goal is to not only document my children’s lives, my family’s ancestors, but to also get to the point of getting my own LifeStory told the way that I would like it to be done…in my own voice.

Originally, I started out with my parents and I have quite a bit of documents, stories and of course, photos for their generation, but, really? Trying to get all the different stages in their life down into a format that I loved and felt would do them justice has been a challenge. I get a page done and then see another type of style to try and quickly flitter between so many styles that it hurts to think about. Not very calming.

Shift in thinking

How did I handle that problem? I decided that starting with my parents might not be the best idea. They were too close to me and the need to get it right was too strong and my indecisiveness was drowning me. The lightbulb came on at what was exactly the right moment and I knew as soon as I realized that I needed to move on to the next generation, my grandparents. It is kind of like the Three Bears story, isn’t it? My parents were too hard; my great, great, great grandparents were too far away and my grandparents were “just right.”

But let’s stop for a second…because while they are much easier to work with, the real lightbulb moment to this is the fact that all the starts and stops that I took have helped me to get to this point. When I saw the style that I am now working with, it all clicked and the pages are coming together effortlessly AND I am enjoying the process. If I had started with my grandparents three years ago, I might still be in a style rut and still trying to find my path. The real gem in all of this is that I allowed myself the time to play around with different styles, continue to locate new documents that have come online over the past three years and now, it is finally all coming together and making sense.

Enter calm

I allowed myself the time to organize my photos and add bits and pieces to the stories that I knew that I wanted to add, or better yet, remember. And the cherry to top everything off? I have taken one more paradigm shift: I am no longer writing for my children’s benefit or anyone else’s. It is all for me. (There… I said it, and I’m OK with it!)  My LifeStory books are my way to remember my grandparents and eventually my own parents.

I’m not vain enough to think that everyone suffers from the same type of overwhelm that I have felt, but if you do, cut yourself a break and keep on going. If you are having a hard time working on the entire project, then start with one photo and describe your memories or what it means to you to see that photo.

More than one way

I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote for several years with my work, but using the table feature is where I feel like I have made the most progress in pulling my stories together visually. Lots of different ways to do this and everyone has to experiment a bit to find their own workflow, but this has really taken the “overwhelming” word out of the mix. You might find something like Trello helpful as well where you can add a card for each picture or subject.

The lady I was talking with? I suggested that she begin to write a blog post about each photo or subject and the lightbulb went on for her. It made the project seem easy to do. One post at a time and she could share it with whoever she wanted to and it could become a family project. When she finally was ready to make that LifeStory book, she would have all the posts to pull together into one book. Easy-peasy.

My own workflow example

As I said, there are quite a few options out there and I have tried a majority of them and landed on OneNote. Here’s a snippet of what a section of my grandmother’s notebook looks like. There are no bells and whistles but it has given me calmness in my process and that is priceless in my book!


The Layout Process is Coming Together

Again, as far as my layout, I am still working with products from Anna Aspnes Designs. This particular layout is so near and dear to me that I felt like a little girl all over again — visiting my grandmother’s home. I ended up using mostly pieces from the ArtsyTransfers Rougir, the Multimedia Roses No. 1, and the ArtPlay Palette Rougir. The colors made me think of my grandmother and the girly-girl things that I enjoyed playing with as that little girl with a big imagination. I haven’t totally mastered Anna’s artsy style but I love each layout and by the time I get both sides of my grandparents done, I think I will be at the right place to take on my parent’s book.

Family History Research_Heirloom_Digital Scrapbooking

Setting myself up for success

I’m working on this side of my grandparents’ generation, but guess what else I’m also doing? I’m setting up Notebooks for each couple that I will be working on including myself so that as I see a picture or think of a funny story that I don’t want to forget, the framework is set up for me to add it into OneNote. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? By the time I am ready to tackle my parents and myself, I will have already done a lot of the hard work — culling the photos and the stories that I really want to tell. And as I read and re-read through it from time to time, I can be working on the text in the story so that it sounds the way I want it to.

Any other ways?

Like I said earlier, it is not about my way in particular. I’m just sharing to get the conversation started. Please feel free to chime in and share what works best for you when you are contemplating a big project like your family’s heritage LifeStory!

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