Two parts of my daily morning ritual are to peruse the obituaries in my daily newspaper and to check what people are writing about family history on the Internet. Occasionally these activities intersect. Like today.
Many people read the obituaries to find out if any old acquaintances have died. Since I consider myself a relative newcomer to the Des Moines, Iowa, area, I rarely recognize the names of the people listed. But I am still interested in the lives of some of them. I’m often curious about how the information included was deemed important enough to include in what is often the last written tribute to a person. That curiosity is piqued even more when you realize that someone has to pay to have this information printed.
Today’s listings included a 37-year-old woman. In the 56 lines describing her life journey was the usual information: birthdate, schools attended, husband, marriage date, survivors, service information. But I wanted to know more. Why does a woman die at an age when she should be enjoying a life of her own choosing, whether that be raising kids, building a career, serving others or whatever else strikes her fancy? Even more important, what memories of her will her family carry forward beyond the basics listed in the obituary?
Then, while checking the Internet, I came across this post by Bill Reid entitled “Remember you’re going to be dead soon…” The first line of Bill’s post was this quote by Jeremy Schwartz, “Live every day as if it were your last, because one of these days, it will be.”
While we’re all aware of the uncertainties of life, it’s good for us to be reminded of it. I use this phrase in my presentations and workshops: We all have an expiration date, but few of us know what it is. Preserving family history is not just for senior citizens. Of the people killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, fewer than one-third had a legal will. Even fewer had taken steps to preserve their family histories.
Some people think that writing a person’s life story is a sign of an overblown ego. Others think that to withhold such information is a selfish act. I happen to value the stories of my ancestors for they’ve helped me become the person I am. I hope that my unborn grandchildren will want to know about me at some future date. But I’ll leave that up to them. At least they’ll have the material available so they can make an informed decision on their own.