Think about the important life decisions you’ve made over the decades. Which ones do you hope that your descendants and loved ones will respect? Learn from? Understand?
Without a record of the choices we made, that understanding fades. Descendants may know that an important life decision was made, but without your input, they won’t know the whys. And they won’t have access to the backstories.
The following make great topics for memory narratives or journal prompts:
The lack of explanations of our ancestors’ choices is the genealogist’s bane. We find evidence of family decisions, but have no idea what motivated them. For instance, my husband’s ancestors leave us with unanswerable questions. Why did this line change their name from Hitchcock to Hedgecock around 1800? What would make landowners in North Carolina decide to go to Nebraska to homestead?
If you know of important decisions made by earlier generations, by all means, write about them! Don’t just write about the moves the family made. Write about the choices they were making. Did they move to own land or to practice a career? Did their decisions have a religious component? If you can, document these important life decisions for the entire family.
Family decisions also often include decisions that were made for you. Perhaps your parents moved, enrolled you in a specific school, or decided not to pay for college. These are important life decisions to write about, even if you didn’t have the luxury of making them yourself.
Many of our important life decisions are personal, such as choosing a spouse or making a commitment. Deciding to have a family—or not. Walking away from destructive relationships. These memories make great narratives. How did you feel about your decision then? How do you feel about it now?
Did you make a change in your career or education course? Did you go into business for yourself? What prompted the decision? Your loved ones don’t simply want to know that you became an engineer. They want to know if this is the career you dreamed of or something you turned to later in life.
Decisions for children or others
The most difficult decisions are often those that affect the people we love. We’re okay with suffering the consequences ourselves, but important life decisions that implicate others are grueling. Did you have to make difficult choices as a custodian for a child or vulnerable adult? Did you have to make a decision that would impact your entire family?
These are precisely the stories that family members and loved ones want to hear about.
Looking back on important life decisions with 20-20 hindsight
Your perspective on past choices will resonate with your loved ones. It will help them connect with you and might even give them some perspective on their own important life decisions. (Hint: A good example is Cody Fleener’s Stanford University. The Best Choice I’ve Ever Made.)
Decisions that turned out well
It’s not secret that best decision I ever made was marrying my husband. Do you have a decision that changed everything for you? What were your important life decisions that turned out well for you and your family?
Decisions you regret
If this weren’t a captivating question, it wouldn’t be such a popular essay question. When did a decision have an undesired and/or unexpected outcome? Do you regret your decision itself, the options you had at the time, or the decision making process itself.