MYTHBUSTING: Memory-Keeping Myth #4

Today we’ll bust the last memory-keeping myth I often hear.  If you hear others, post them in the comments below because I’d love to BUST them!  Today’s myth is a less-common one, but an important one to bust.  This one is about writing!

Myth #4

When I encourage people to preserve their photos and memories, I sometimes hear this myth:  “I’m not good at writing.  I can’t write out my memories and stories because I don’t know what to say.”

Sometimes people even tell me they prefer just having albums with photos but no words.  Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

And by “it doesn’t work,” I mean:  IT DOESN’T WORK.

If you don’t write anything to go along with your photos, they’re (quite honestly) meaningless.  A photo without some sort of notation–the reason you took the photo, the names and places and dates and memories–loses its value, especially over time.

Why This Myth Has to Be Busted

My mother knew who these sweet folks are.  One of them died before I was born, and I met the other one once when I was maybe 2 years old.  If she hadn’t put names and dates on this photo, I would be looking at this photo the way YOU are right now:  I’d be looking at strangers.  The fact that my mom wrote down some of her memories about these people makes this a very meaningful photo to me.

Writing something is vital.

I have a lot more pictures about people I DO know–grandparents, siblings, parents, children, and even friends.  I have pictures of first days of school and birthday parties and vacations and lost teeth.  However, if I don’t write what I know about those pictures, what I remember of the details will not only become lost to my children but will eventually become lost to me over time, simply because–as human beings–we forget.

“A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory.  What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives. … Bridges built between generations are not built by accident. If I want my children and grandchildren to know those who still live in my memory, then I must build the bridge between them. I alone am the link to the generations that stand on either side of me.” ~{Dennis B. Neuenschwander}

And, to do this, you have to write.

Busting This Myth For Yourself

The older I get, the more adamant I become about gifts, talents, and individuality.  God put you on this earth to be yourself.  If you are gifted at writing, that’s fantastic, but the memories of people who are not as gifted at writing are equally as valuable as the memories of people who are.  EVERY person needs to record his/her story.  Every one.  No one else can be you.

Writing down your experiences, stories, and memories does not require a special degree or training.  Your memories are yours.  End of story.

Two Ways to Overcome the Idea that You “Can’t” Write

  1. I’d like you to think of an exciting or happy or wonderful thing that happened recently.  Think about what you would say if a friend called you and said, “So, how did it go?  What did you do?  Who were you with?  What was the thing you liked the most?  What made it memorable?”  What you would SAY is what you would WRITE next to those photos in an album.  You don’t have to fill a page.  You don’t have to fill a paragraph.  In some cases, writing the story of your photos isn’t very long.  “Bob’s second time on the biggest roller coaster at Hershey Park, 7/7/2014.  He would have gone more if we had time,” is all that’s needed.
  2. Write to the future.  If your grandchild were looking through this album, would he/she know what happened, what makes these photos meaningful, and what links him/her to you?  He or she will be looking for things that he/she has in common with you.  So write!  Show yourself in this record you’re creating.

I always write to the future.  I know my kids won’t remember a lot of the details of the pictures they’re in unless I tell them about them.  I wrote down my youngest son’s reaction to going to the beach for the first time, his reaction to eating his first birthday cake with his hands, and what he did on his first field trip.  Those are things he may not necessarily remember in years to come, but my writing them down gives him a trigger so that he can remember more than he otherwise would, and it also helps him fill in the blanks with things he doesn’t remember  It also gives him the message that I care about what he does, thinks, feels, and experiences.

Tell Your Story Your Way

Memory-keeping doesn’t require anything fancy, anything hard, or anything complicated.  But it does require your story.  Tell your story using your own words.  That’s what people who see your memory albums want!  They want your story in your voice.  If you would say, “It was super cool,” then write “It was super cool.”  Be true to yourself.  Don’t over-analyze what you write.  Even grammatical errors and misspellings are actually true to you.  (This, by the way, is coming from a Type A English Literature major who is the daughter of two English majors and writers.  So trust me on this.)   Long paragraphs or short details are true to you.  Use your voice.  Show who you are.  Wit, wisdom, and favorite quotes show the readers YOU.

And that’s exactly what they’re looking for.

~Jennifer #familyhistoryfriday


  1. Neuenschwander, D. B. (1999). Retrieved from







Jennifer Wise

consultant at Heritage Makers
I'm Jennifer, and I'm passionate about connections.I enjoy helping people discover the very real benefits of preserving stories, photos, and memories because of the impact they have on children, families, and individuals. I blog weekly at sharing tips, ideas, solutions, and inspiration, and I'm over at, too. Learn more about me at the "About" tab.

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