Recording My Own Story

I finally accepted the challenge. After listening to Steven Young, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer with FamilySearch, talk about writing your story at the 2019 Ontario Ancestors Conference banquet at London, Ontario, memories of events in my life surrounding family, vehicles owned and hobbies enjoyed have swirled in my mind. Yesterday I picked up my laptop, headed for the table on our deck and sat down to begin to write my memories of our camping days.

Memories can be subject to revision in our minds over the years and dates can intermingle. Fortunately I have journaled a lot of our trips over the years. When I was unsure of locations or years of events our hand written journal started in 1986 with our first long distance trip in Canada entitled “The Atlantic or Bust!” was a handy source of information.

Ironically there was a “bust” that happened during that first trip. Near Gananoque, Ontario, the seal in the transmission of our Buick LeSabre failed and several litres of fluid were sprayed all over our Jayco travel trailer and 401 highway. Since the Buick was aged and we didn’t want to challenge the mountains in the Maritimes hauling our travel trailer after the breakdown we had our it picked up by Donna’s father. We continued on our way after asking my sister and brother-in-law to bring a tent with them to our rendezvous at Canadian Tire. More adventures followed but they will wait for another story-time occasion.

Autobiographical Style
I have decided to create my autobiography with chapters related to topics. Yes, the stories I write will intermingle but I am aiming for readability instead of one long chronological tale. I plan to involve my wife in the telling of these stories because I have found that what one person forgets another will remember. The process will also give me a chance to involve my children in the memories when I ask what they remember about the trips. I am sure that if I ask my son about our trek to Banff Springs in our 1979 Chevrolet pickup hauling a 24 foot Sierra fifth wheel trailer in 1991, he will tell me about insufferable heat in a vehicle with no air conditioning. My most vivid memory of the trip, a North Dakota Highway 85 event, was watching a huge road grader speedily back up to the front of our truck –scary- having chains attached and being pulled through road construction after our tires spun in the soft muck. We did not have to get out of the truck or get our shoes dirty!

Probing Family Memories
The value of talking to as many members of the family about memories was driven home to me when my sisters and I sat together in Owen Sound, Ontario and sorted through my mother’s possessions after her death in 1991. Mother was a pack rat, thank goodness, and kept a lot of memorabilia that I used to reconstruct her life and that of my father. Items would trigger memories and as we shared I found that the memories each of us had were different, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in surprising ways.
Prior to publishing my first Campbell family history I sent a draft copy to my sister for her to review. She telephoned me to correct some dates related to my father’s employment with a sand and gravel company based in London, Ontario. I was able to prove that the dates were correct because I had the dated pay envelopes so carefully kept by my mother.

Talking to many relatives to find out as much about a family as you can help immeasurably in genealogical research. The caveat is that we all know that stories should be verified or noted for what they are – unsubstantiated family lore.

Collecting Items to Help in Writing Your Autobiography
If you look in my files you will find file folders for each of my children, I have graduation diplomas, hospital birth records, report cards – key items that I felt that they would want someday. Some were rescued before they were trashed. My daughter now emails me and asks if I have copies of certain things. I have been able to scan and send them to her.

Courtesy of my mother’s “collection” and my own decision to collect items that I considered of value, I now have two binders of official documents, letters, reports and cards that document my life and that of my wife. I have a Certificate of Birth with an official seal, the bill for my birth at a hospital and the Acceptance of Position Form that I signed when I was hired by the Lambton County School Board in 1969. These documents will be a good source of citations and illustrations for my autobiography.

Why is writing an autobiography of value for my family? I am reminded of a poster that hung in one of my wife’s places of employment that read “Life is hard, then you die.” The statement is not one that I would live by as I have been able to handle the bad with the good and still find considerable enjoyment in life. The reality is that life can give you lots of “hard knocks”. In writing my autobiography I am planning to let my children and grandchild know that with the help of others I rode above the difficulties and did have an enjoyable life. I am not measuring “having an enjoyable life” in terms of possessions, rather I am measuring it in terms of my efforts to help others and to enjoy my family.

Learning about the events that my ancestors rose above; the roof over the kitchen falling in during the winter in the cold North West Territories and my great grandmother burying five children between the Muskoka District of Ontario and the Crescent Lake Settlement in the North West Territories, strengthened me in the way that I dealt with my own “hard knocks” of life.

Should my descendants ever wish to record my time on earth in genealogical form, my autobiography will give them a “running” start. Hopefully it will also provide some chuckles and laughter!
Alan Campbell
Ambassador
Ontario Ancestors [The Ontario Genealogical Society] © 2019

Post Script:
Now I have something I can do when staying in campgrounds that are in dead zones for my cell phone. No need for online searching when you are searching in your memory!

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