Alan's Blog




What we Leave Behind

I have a very small library of books in my home. I was reading of one of them recently and it brought some thoughts to mind totally unrelated to the book in my hand. What makes some of these books particularly special is that the authors of many of them are now dead. This makes them extra special because, unlike most of us, these authors have left something of themselves in this world for us all to continue to enjoy long after their passing. They have made their mark on this world that will be forever theirs. Isn't that wonderful? How many of us can say that? Future generations will be able to read these texts and learn from the experiences of these writers of the past. To be able to leave something of yourself for future generations to learn from and enjoy must be one of the most rewarding things one can achieve during a lifetime.

This doesn't only apply to writers, of course. It applies to the many disciplines of the art world and other fields of human endeavour such as engineering. How wonderful it would be if we were all blessed with the talent of being sufficiently creative that we could leave something worthwhile of ourselves to future generations – something we would be permanently remembered for – for ever.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves, and answer, this question "What can I leave behind for future generations that will be of interest or value to them?"

For many of us lesser talented mortals, the answer may be the research we've carried out on our family history – all those hours spent researching and documenting our past.

One of the things that we can all leave behind – and share now - is photographs (and videos – even films - of family events). In particular, family photographs. A few days ago, I found some old photographs. The earliest of these were taken during the Whitsun Holiday in 1966 – well over 50 years ago. I would have been aged just 17 at the time. They showed some of my family on holiday in Kent. These were taken on a Kodak Brownie Vectra camera which was just a plastic box with a plastic lens. It was in no way adjustable for the lighting conditions and it took 127 size film. A 'toy' camera when judged against modern digital cameras. I scanned these prints and e-mailed them to those folks who were still alive. None of my family members who were in the photographs had ever seen them. How delighted they were to receive them. What a great surprise they had.

Also amongst the collection of old photographs were some old black and white negatives which I copied and sent to the various friends who were recorded on them. I didn't use a scanner for this task (refer to URL: as scanning negatives and transparencies is far too time consuming even with a purpose made scanner.

It was quite a job tracking down some of my old friends after all these years but, thanks to the internet, I succeeded in this task for many of them and, once again, they were delighted to receive these old photographs. As one of them said "At last I can now prove to everyone that I used to be skinny". She is aged almost 72 now and the photograph showed her at the age of 19 or 20. Something to add to her family history too.

Some of my most important possessions are old photographs of my family, some going back to the early 1900s. All the people in these photographs have already departed this life but their memories live on in the photographs. I knew quite a few of the people in these photographs. The photographs have been digitised and will be passed on to my children, who only have these photographs and our family tree with which to remember them – not a lot, but it's all we have, and that's a whole lot better than nothing. Just make sure you identify the people in the photographs and record their names.
Another way of recording your family history for passing on to future generations is to record interviews with those who are still alive, which may be recorded as sound files or, better, video recordings. Ask them about their life in 'the old days' when they were children / students / apprentices or whatever they did as young people. Don't forget to record your own history too!

I have found many other old photographs and have already sent out copies of some of them to those who are in, or have a connection with those people in the photographs. I have thousands more to digitise and distribute around the world. It's a huge task and I can only pray that I have time enough left in this world to complete it. This will probably be the only mark I will leave of my life in this world and it may be of no consequence to the vast majority of the population, unlike the works of the great artists and engineers, but, in my own small way I may be remembered by my family, if no one else, for generations to come for recording some of our family history in photographs and videos – without which there would be no record of our passing through this life and of our world during the time we were here.

We also need to leave as much of the story of our lives behind as we can. How often I wished I could have known more about the lives of our predecessors - especially as they would have told it to me.

I have noticed many times that older people often want to record their history – the story of their life. Famous people almost always do this – sometimes as a way of making money by getting their memoires published. Of course, this isn't always the case as many people think that others wouldn't be interested in knowing about what they think is their mundane life. I tried to get my mother to record her life story before she passed away but to no avail. She too always made the excuse that no one would be interested in her life anyway, so why bother.

However, just because you're not famous doesn't mean you haven't had an interesting life that would be of great interest to those of your family, and others, in future generations. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking I've had quite an amazing life in many ways, especially when I read my CV, which is an important part of recording our life story. After all, we spend many years of our life engaged in some sort of work, mundane as that may seem. As I look back at my very varied career, I am often reminded of the people I've met along the way and the stories I could tell about my working life. But would these stories be of interest to anyone in the future?

Many people feel inadequate to the task of writing out the story of their life, which, of course, can be quite a lengthy task amounting to many thousands of words. Not everyone is up to the task, especially in old age and if suffering from an infirmity. But there is another way.

Why not talk about your life? And record this either as a sound recording or, even better, as a video recording.

In my case, all I need to do is place my DSLR camera (with an external microphone for better sound quality) on a tripod, make sure the background is appropriate and then sit in front of it and start recording. What could be simpler?

Your life story can be recorded in many 'takes' – you don't have to complete it in one sitting, of course.

What a legacy you can leave for future generations. Just make sure they know where they can find your recordings! I might add that these recordings can also be transcribed into the written word using some speech-to-type software.

There we have it. The story of our lives as told by ourselves and our photographs. What a super legacy to leave behind.

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