proof of life lived

What is the earliest record that proves you are who you say you are?
What can you produce that shows where you come from?

For most of us living in a western society it will be the registration of our birth. Or possibly, our adoption records. For some of you young’ens out there it might even be a black and white ultrasound snapshot of you inside your birth mummy’s tummy.

My earliest record of life is this telegram sent to my grandmother in England which pre-dates the formal registration of my birth by about a month.
It says a lot – the time, date and place I was born, who my parents were as well as my grandma’s name and where she lived. Most importantly it says I am part of a family. This little slip of paper is gold to me.

From the minute we are born our parents-slash-guardians begin filling in forms and registration papers in order to sign us up to the life we have entered. By the time we finish primary school our mums have worn out five ball-point pens (and their next-to-last nerves) dealing with all the paperwork involved in getting us kids enrolled in everything from local community and school groups to federal government programs.

Where does all this paperwork go?

We could assume that by the time we reach 18, and are required to fill in and sign our own forms, there is a massive filing cabinet in a basement of a government building. Attached to it is our name stamped out on a dodgy dymo label. The drawers are chock-full of all the “necessary paperwork” of our childhood. Immunisation records, old dolomite savings bank books, school excursion permission slips, as well as regional swimming carnival ribbons and Year 8 school reports (Susan has an aptitude for history, but needs to apply herself in maths).

I know of some keen parents who lovingly save all the treasures of their offspring – baby’s first hair cut, toddler’s first shoes, kindergarten drawings in scrapbooks, best and fairest trophy for under-ten soccer. Well, these parents tend to start out super-keen with the first child, but by the third one they are lucky to remember to bring a camera along to Billy’s Year 6 prize-giving ceremony.

Then at some point there is a clean-out. We grow up and move out, and our parents decide to de-clutter. They ask us if we want to keep any of this “stuff” and, as young know-it-all teens, focusing on our future and not our past, we say “get rid of it”, or we box it up and store it on the top shelf in our parent’s garage for ten years.

When we are ready to claim our early lives, we find the box got wet at some point and now everything smells of mildew, the head has fallen off our swimming trophy and a mouse has shredded our diaries and school certificates to make a nest for it’s family.

So we’ve lost a few treasures of our youth, there are still the family photo albums, right? Sure, they’re full of fading “kodak moments” of birthday parties, family weddings, and class photos – none of them are captioned (who’s that guy? where was that taken?), most are not dated and there are just so many of them. In 50-year’s time when our parent’s minds have faded and we are doing a final de-clutter of the family home, no-one will remember who, what or when, and most will be tossed out.

And heaven help the descendants of the digital camera and email age. Does your grandma still cherish the SMS text message your dad sent her when you were born? I know you have thousands of family photos stored on that computer – but have you backed them up? What happens in a couple of year’s time when your computer’s hard drive fails? Where are your memories then – the proof of your life lived?

Yes there is facebook, blogging, “the cloud”, flickr and other electronic media. All exciting and easy-to-use methods of publishing. I’m a convert! They are great ways of storing your photos, publishing your journals, and sharing your life with your family and friends . . . and the rest of the planet. Whatever you do, don’t forget your passwords will you?

I understand not all of us are interested in keeping every treasure from our past – me neither. No, I’m serious! You’d be surprised at the amount of “my stuff” I throw out, give away or recycle. I live my life in the present and looking forward, I’m happy for my memories and life experiences to last as long as I draw breath, and hope I will be remembered fondly by those who knew me personally.

It’s just that I love social history, I like to collect “other people’s stuff”, to learn about their life experiences. That’s what I love about researching my family history, the detective work that brings an insight into how my ancestors lived their lives.

So at the end of my life what will there be to prove who I was? What will I have produced which shows where I came from?

My memories, my life experiences and my family history research.


3 thoughts on “proof of life lived

  1. What a lovely, sensible article and blog. Most of the problems you mention have happened to us with old documents but as you might tell, we have been lucky and have more scraps of information than many people.
    Keep up the good blogging.


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