Life History Outline - Writing your Personal History

Writing one's personal life history can be a daunting task. If you have been a good journal-keeper, perhaps you are already have a substantial body of reflections on your life. (In that case, you may be faced with the challenge of condensing or summarizing!) However, many people will have written little about themselves and their lives. They are faced with the obstacles of not knowing where and how to begin, and they are often overwhelmed at the thought of documenting years and years of activities and events.

The best approach appears to be creating an outline and "chipping away" at it, a "bite-at-a-time". You can create your own outline, or use the one provided below. This outline was gleaned from a set of questions used by Viola Lauper Johnson in writing her life history. (At present, the source of those questions is unknown.) The questions do not cover every possible topic, but they are a good starting point.

The questions have been grouped into a set of sections or chapters that are a combination of both chronological grouping and theme-based grouping. You may find that different groupings are more to your liking; feel free to rearrange as needed.

For your "bite-at-a-time" approach, you may wish to answer each question, in order, within a grouping, or perhaps you may wish to take a more random approach. Viola had each question on a separate slip in a large jar from which she randomly withdrew a question at a time. She worked on this as time allowed, sometimes answering several in succession, sometimes waiting several days until the next. (She answered all the questions across a period of two-and-one-half years.)

Almost invariably, writing about one memory or topic will trigger other memories. If you go off on these "tangents", you may stray too far from the question at hand. Instead, make note of these other ideas, so that you don't forget them; then, return to those related memories as convenient.

  1. Parents and Family
    • Describe your father/mother in looks and temperament.
    • What were your father's/mother's best traits?
    • How did your father/mother spend his/her time?
    • Did you and your father/mother share any interests? Tell about your relationship.
    • Did your parents have any "sayings" - proverbs, adages, expressions???
    • Where did your parents live when they were first married? Other places as well?
    • What was your parents' philosophy about rearing kids - discipline, rules, etc.?
    • What makes each of your siblings special? Be specific.
  2. Ancestors and Relatives
    • Do you remember any of your 4 grandparents? Any greats? What were their names?
    • Where did your grandparents live? What was their home like? Did it have a special feel?
    • Tell about any special memories of grandparents or great-grandparents.
    • What did your grandfather do for a living? Tell what you know about it.
    • What are some favorite anecdotes or stores about your ancestors?
    • Tell about a favorite aunt or uncle.
    • Did any relatives serve in the Military? What do you know about it?
    • Do you have special keepsakes that have been passed down in your family?
  3. Growing Up
    • What do you know of your birth and beginnings? How was your name chosen?
    • How did you like your position in the family?
    • Were you taught as a child to share? What are your thoughts on sharing in a family etc.?
    • Describe your favorite childhood games.
    • Did you have a favorite toy as a child? What memories are connected with this toy?
    • Between ages five and ten, what was your favorite activity?
    • Tell about any pets you had as a child.
    • What was your favorite book as a child?
    • Describe a smell from your childhood. What and where? What does it bring to mind?
    • Did it snow where you grew up? Tell how you remember it.
    • Tell about a favorite dress or outfit that you had as a child.
    • Did you participate in Scouts, Campfire or similar organizations?
    • Tell of a favorite friend and some things you did together.
    • What was your Saturday activity as a child?
    • Did you have a bicycle as a child?
    • Where and how did your family shop for clothes, groceries, etc.?
    • Did just you ever go shopping with your father? Tell about the experience.
    • Did you help with yard work as a child?
    • What kind of sports did you play, did you watch, did you like when younger? And now?
    • Tell the words of a song from your childhood. What memories does it bring?
    • Any experiences with outhouses?
    • What is your attitude about Halloween?
    • Do you have a special Thanksgiving memory?
    • Describe getting a Christmas tree with your family as a child.
    • Describe a childhood Christmas.
    • Describe a childhood birthday.
    • Describe any anniversaries, celebrations, gifts, trips, etc. you experienced as a child.
    • Did your family have unique celebrations? Upon what occasions?
    • Tell about some of your neighbors as a child or adult.
    • Do you recall any singular event or happening in your neighborhood while growing up?
    • Tell about some of the most notable people in your home town.
    • Did you live with other family members (Aunts, grandparents, etc.) while growing up?
    • Tell about your first automobile.
    • Tell about your early romances.
  4. Education and Employment
    • Describe a typical day as a child in elementary school.
    • Did you have a favorite subject in school? One you dreaded?
    • Describe a typical day during your high school years.
    • Describe any experiences with foreign languages.
    • Were you ever in a drama, speech, sports, or glee club?
    • Do you have a special high school or college memory?
    • Tell about a graduation in your life.
    • Did you have roommates or companions? Tell about them and what learned, etc.
    • Did you receive your education somewhere other than a school?
    • Describe your first paying job. What was your salary, your duties? Describe your boss.
    • What is your principal occupation, and what circumstances led to it?
    • Would you choose differently if you could choose your occupation again?
  5. Gospel and Church
    • Tell about religion practiced in your home - faith promoting stories, etc.
    • What do you remember about your parents' church callings?
    • What do you remember about the day you were baptized?
    • Did you go on a mission? Where and when? What do you remember about it?
    • Is charity or serving others important to you? Did you grow up with examples of this?
    • Tell about your conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    • Share a principle you have learned, or one you have taught.
    • Do you have a favorite book of scriptures?
    • Do you have a favorite scripture story?
    • What is your favorite scripture?
    • What hymns do you find especially comforting or uplifting?
    • Who is the first Prophet that you remember? What do you remember about him?
    • Who is you favorite general authority? Do you have more than one? Who and why?
    • Did you have a special church teacher or leader with whom you have had special rapport?
    • Is there someone in your ward or community who has a special influence on you now?
    • What church callings have you had? Which did you enjoy most?
    • Write a Testimony of a precept of the Gospel
  6. Arts, Sports, Personal Activities
    • Do you like to go to the Opera, the Symphony, the Theater? Which did you enjoy most?
    • What do you think of movies? What is your favorite movie?
    • Is there a movie personality that you admire?
    • What do you think about television? Do you have any favorite shows?
    • Is there a TV personality that you admire? Why?
    • What kind of music do you like? Do you have memories of specific music?
    • Do you have any favorite songs when you're working?
    • What instrument do you play or wish you could play?
    • Record players - Do they bring back memories? Tell about them.
    • Tell about your favorite book as an adult.
    • Do you have a favorite magazine? Name and describe it.
    • Do you enjoy sports?
    • What about the Olympics? Do you enjoy watching them?
    • Have you tried ice-skating?
    • How do you relax or unwind?
    • What does the mail mean to you? Are you a good letter writer? [this can be extended to include email]
    • Does it matter to you whether you write with a pencil or pen - or would you prefer to type your notes and letters?
  7. Spouse and Family
    • What convinced you most in your choice of a spouse?
    • Write a want-ad describing your spouse.
    • Tell about a special date you had.
    • Describe your wedding day.
    • How old were you and your husband when you were married? How old were your parents? What is a good age for marriage?
    • Tell about first meeting your in-laws.
    • Describe your first home or apartment on your own.
    • What was the first piece of furniture that you purchased?
    • Tell about any special friends you had as a young adult or young married.
    • Tell about the birth of your first child, then about each of the others.
    • Tell about dreams, expectations, and hopes for your children.
    • Tell about each of your children - names, characteristics, differences, problems, joys, sorrows, accomplishments, etc.
    • Tell about your grandchildren.
    • What are your child-rearing philosophies?
    • Tell about births, deaths, blessings, funerals, and how they are observed in your family.
    • Have you had Family Reunions?
  8. Medicine and Health
    • How do you like to be treated when ill?
    • Describe the most serious illness you have had.
    • What are your tips for good health?
    • Did you have any home-type cures for the following ailments?
      • - Hiccups
      • - Warts
      • - Toothache
      • - Colds
      • - Earache
    • What are your thoughts about modern medicine?
    • How do you feel about doctors and why?
    • How do you feel about dentists?
  9. Travel
    • Where would you like to vacation? Why?
    • Where is the most exciting place you've visited? What made it exciting?
    • Are there countries that you'd particularly like to visit? Why?
    • Tell about any camping experiences you had.
    • Do you have a special "away from home on the holidays" memory?
    • Tell your experience with trains.
    • What is your experience with flying?
    • Do you travel light, or do you need extra luggage for your stuff?
    • Tell of a frustrating experience you've had with a car.
  10. At Home
    • Tell some addresses and telephone numbers of places where you've lived.
    • Tell about interesting or important visitors to your home.
    • Do you remember a special birthday party given you or one you've attended?
    • Describe a typical day in your life now.
    • How do you feel about yard work? Is there a favorite or unpleasant part for you?
    • Do you do any indoor gardening? Describe good or bad experiences.
    • How do you feet about house cleaning ? Is there a special or an unpleasant part?
    • Tell about a frustrating or interesting experience you've had on wash day.
    • Did you help with grocery shopping while young? What are your experiences or thoughts about this task now?
    • What is mealtime like at your home?
    • What experiences have you had living in the city? The country? The suburbs?
    • Where would you like to live most of all and why?
    • Tell about some of the most notable people in your (current) hometown.
    • Describe walking down the main street of your (current) hometown.
  11. World Outlook
    • Who was President of the United States when you were born? What do you know about him?
    • What president do you remember most?
    • Where were you and what were you doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated?
    • Do you have thoughts on the progress/expansion of technology in general?
    • What is one invention that you could not live without and why?
    • What do you think of the social situation/influence in the world today?
    • What do you feel has been the most significant world event in your lifetime?
  12. Personal Values and Preferences
    • What are your favorites?
      • - Color
      • - Flower
      • - Food
      • - Activity
      • - Hobby
      • - Sport
    • What are some of your favorite smells? Why?
    • Where do you go to eat out? What do you order?
    • Are you a dessert person?
    • If you could be a flower, which one would you choose?
    • If you could be an animal, which one would you choose and why?
    • Tell how you feel about water--playing in it, seeing it etc. Tell about various bodies of water that you have seen and your feelings regarding them.
    • Do you like rainstorms? Share your feelings.
    • Describe the perfect spring day and activities done on that day.
    • Describe a perfect winter day and an activity you would do on that type of day.
    • Are you a "morning person" or a "night person"?
    • Are you a "people person" or a "private person"? Describe yourself in that way.
    • What are you frightened of and why?
    • What makes you cry?
    • What is the most trying experience that you have faced?
    • What is your greatest sorrow?
    • What is your greatest joy?
    • What is the "Good Life"? Is it now, or was it when you were young or perhaps somewhere in between?
    • What is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you?
    • What is the hardest thing you've ever had to go through? What did you learn?
    • What brings you the most peace and why?
    • What do you think brings good or bad luck?
    • How do you feel about winning and losing?
    • If you knew you had only a year to live, what would you change in your life?
    • What are your most precious and deeply-imbedded values?
    • What personality traits do you admire and why?
    • What is a big lesson in life you have found to be true?
    • What is some advice to those younger than you?
    • What is your personal secret for happiness?
    • How would you like to be remembered ?

Come Again!

Please return to this site for regular updates and more items of family interest.

Upcoming items will include:

  • more reunion schedule details
  • more and better pictures
  • more items of family history
  • registration to attend the reunion
Check the What's New page for a listing of what has changed.