Share your story in a descendant treasure chest

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Categories | Storytelling, Writing

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Not a writer? Try sharing your story in a descendant treasure chest instead. #descendant #familyhistory #storytelling

Rushing home after being out all day, you find a parcel waiting for you. How exciting! You haven’t bought anything online lately, have you?

It’s a mysterious package wrapped in brown paper and string. Colourful stamps decorate the outside, along with a handwritten address. The writing looks familiar, but you can’t quite place it.

Who is it from and what could be inside?

You cut the string and rip off the paper, eager to see what it is. Fumbling with excitement, you lift the cardboard flaps to peer inside the parcel. Inside you discover a treasure chest of items from one of your ancestors. The mystery package contains personal mementos of their life. Each piece kept for a descendant like you to discover.

That sounds pretty amazing, right? A treasure chest of pieces of your ancestor’s life. A time machine into a different era and a look at their journey from their point-of-view.

You may not be about to receive a mystery package from an ancestor, but you can create one for your descendants.

What exactly is a descendant treasure chest?

It is an opportunity for you to tell your story with future generations. Rather than scrambling to piece together the picture of who you were, you’ll tell them.

The format of your descendant treasure chest is up to you. It could be a:

  • treasure chest – box photos, journals and other items
  • series of scrapbooks – one for each decade or stage of your life
  • memoir (or two or three) of your life
  • set of journals or visual diaries
  • a blog or website of your adventures
descendant treasure chest photos spread out on top of a map.
Photos are a fabulous keepsake for the next generation

Planning your descendant treasure chest

Now that you’ve decided to start saving your story, it’s time to create a plan to make it happen.

  • What to keep
  • Where to save it
  • How to share it
  • When to do it

Then create a regular routine to add to your descendant treasure chest

  • Add it to the calendar and to-do lists
  • Make it as easy as possible (save in a Google Doc, drop items into an accessible box, save to Dropbox)

The easier it is to do then the more likely you are to do it. Don’t choose scrapbooking as the format if you hate arts and crafts. Sure, the results might be stunning but you won’t keep it up.

What to include

You’ll want to save things that are important to you as well as items that give a clear picture of what your life is like.

Take a minute to picture the package your ancestor sent you.

  • How large is the box?
  • What do you find inside?
  • How full is the box? Half empty or bursting at the seams?
  • What questions does this answer about your ancestor?

Use these questions to help decide what to save or try the below list of keepsakes for inspiration.

Keepsake ideas

  • birthday and greeting cards – add a post-it note to explain your relationship with the sender
  • concert or movie tickets
  • theatre or ballet programmes
  • museum exhibition flyers
  • used or unused public transport tickets or passes
  • luggage tags
  • buy yourself postcards when you travel (don’t forget to include your hometown!)
  • event and party invites
  • funeral programs
  • family reunion booklets
  • photos or leaflets about causes that matter to you.
  • take at least one photo every week, yes including selfies. We all know the frustration of not being able to find a photo of our ancestors. Capture the moments that matter. Whether it’s a spectacular sunset or an unexpected letter in your mailbox.
  • write down your top 3 to 5 memories of every day. Stick to bullet points and don’t take more than 5 minutes. What was great about today? Or horrible? Did anything unusual happen?
  • keep annual lists of your activities (such as movies watched, books read, tv shows viewed, museums visited etc.). Add your own rating system or one sentence review to show what you liked or wasn’t your cup of tea.
  • keep a daily/weekly diary or journal
  • Write an annual letter to your descendants. A twist on the traditional Christmas letter to the family, this time you are writing to the future
descendant treasure chest postcards on a store shelf.
Send postcards to yourself from your travels

Where to save your descendant treasure chest

You’ll save pieces of your story over many decades, so where you keep everything is important. No point in keeping it in your mum’s garage if you only visit her once a year.

It needs to be portable enough to travel with you wherever you go but permanent enough to last the distance. Unfortunately, this isn’t a riddle with an easy answer!

The current format options to save your story are

  • digital (eg JPGs, PDFs etc.), or
  • physical (eg printed photos, cards, tickets etc.)

For me, a combination of digital and physical seems the easiest option.

I tend to move a lot so, for the most part, I’m going digital with my story. I scan items once a week (postcards, tickets, programmes etc) and save them in the cloud. That way if I never get around to creating the book, then I’ve organised all the bits and bobs in folders online. All physical items (such as Dad’s baby clothes) are in a waterproof container in my spare room.

Whatever you choose, it needs to be so easy to do that you almost don’t know you’re doing it. If dropping things into a box in your spare room is the easiest option, then that’s the way to go.

How to share your descendant treasure chest

Most of us won’t share our stories until after we are gone so you’ll need to plan what happens next. Some options are:

  • Include it in your will or list of personal effects
  • Gift it to someone for safekeeping and to pass it forward
  • Donate to a local family history society

Creating your descendant treasure chest

Be the ancestor that you wish you had, and take a few minutes every day or week to share the story you want to tell.

Telling your story doesn’t have to be a time-consuming task. Collect keepsakes, take photos and make quick notes as you go. Most tasks will take a couple of minutes or less, so you can take action while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Now I’d love to hear your ideas

What other keepsakes can you suggest? Share your ideas in the comments so we can all add them to our list.


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