Our Generation Should Be Recording Our Lives for Our Descendants

By Jim Deeks

At 65 years of age, I find myself, more and more, curious about things that happened in my parents’ lifetime, or even my own when I was too young to notice.

Like, what did they do at night, before television?   Did my grandparents ever play golf? How much pre-marital sex went on back in the 30s?   Why was everyone so secretive about cancer when I was a kid?   How scary was life in the middle of World War II, when you didn’t know what the outcome was? Why did Aunt Marion divorce Uncle Bill?

These and a million other things I’d love to know. But then I’m frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t more curious when my Mom was still alive, and I’m sad to realize that, since she died, I’ll never know the answer to any them.

If my brothers and I had thought about it, 21 years ago when Mom was still around (she died then, when she was only 74), we could have, should have, and would have sat her down with a video camera running, and asked her all kinds of questions about her life, her experiences, her family and her friends.

As it is, now, about all I know about her parents and their lives is… well, their names.   And the fact that both of them died, five years apart from each other, before either had reached their 41st birthday. All that’s left of Mom’s parents, Arthur and Ruth, are some tiny little photos in partially-damaged album, and a trace of DNA in me and about 18 other descendants. And when I die, those tiny little photos will no doubt end up in a dumpster when my kids do the Big Purge of Dad’s Stuff.

This kind of melancholy contemplation, along with the sober realization that I cannot afford – mentally or financially – to retire for some time, was the catalyst behind a new venture that I’ve just started. I’ve decided, if I can’t do much about my own family history, maybe I can help other families to preserve theirs.

I’ve started a company to produce Personal Video Biographies. And since this is an article, not a commercial, I’ll dispense with the name of the company and the direct sale message here in the text. But here’s the gist of why I’m writing this piece…

I seriously believe that everyone, once they’re fully retired, should sit down and record their lives, either on paper, on audio tape, or on video. I’m personally biased toward video, because you can capture a person’s appearance, manner, and voice on video, along with all the accompanying photos, film, and other archive materials they own. In my view, it should become a moral obligation to do so, if not a legal one. That way, future generations will have a much better understanding of where and who they came from.

Imagine, for so many North Americans today, if they could see a film or video of their great great grandfather describing the hardship of crossing the Atlantic and emigrating to America in the 1880’s… or their grandfather getting wounded in Italy in 1944, or Guadalcanal in ’42… or their Mom’s experience at Woodstock in the Summer of ’69.

Now imagine the thrill that your great great grandchildren will get when they hear you describe the experience of watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon… or how you learned to use a computer at your office in the early 1990’s… or where you were on 9-11.

If you put these memories on video, before you die or, God forbid, before you get Alzheimer’s… your great great grandchildren will be able to see you, and hear you, sometime in the 22nd Century. And your distant descendants every Century after that.   You’ll be survived by more than a trace of your DNA.

The technology to record your life has existed for a long time, but until the last few years, and unless you were famous enough to have someone write your biography, the interest in personal histories just never caught on. The internet, however, has spurred a huge new focus on genealogy, because it’s made personal research and fact-finding so much easier, affordable and fun. And with that has come the realization that finding out about your forebears is actually interesting, instructive, and very revealing about who you are and why you are.

For someone like me, a former journalist and video producer, I’m just thrilled that I’m going to be able to apply what I am, to help future generations know who we were.

Jim Deeks is a television host and communications consultant in Toronto, Canada and President of the newly-launched Primary Counsel Productions, producers of Personal Video Biographies.