THE DESCENDANTS: You need to think about them before its too late

2013-07-12T17:54:00Z 2013-08-01T13:30:07Z THE DESCENDANTS: You need to think about them before its too lateBy Pat Colander nwitimes.com
July 12, 2013 5:54 pm  • 

Everything came together last year. First I read Mark Twain's recently published autobiography. For the benefit of a few of you young'ns, Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, was the first genuine celebrity author in America. He basically got rich the same way that David Sedaris does. By writing books that made people laugh and then going on lecture tours to support his writing habit.

When he got old and didn't have to go out on tour so much, he went to Europe and when he returned he visited his friends, agents and publishers in the book business in New York. One of his very good friends was former president Ulysees S. Grant, who wrote what is regarded as the best autobiography every written. Most of the book was dictated to a secretary while Grant was living in a beautiful greystone building near Central Park. Twain's autobiography explains how the book was written and why in his autobiography. Grant and Twain had invested with the wrong person and both lost a lot of money, although Grant lost everything. At the time, there was no pension provided for former presidents and so Grant, who was in poor health, determined that he had to establish a reliable income for his wife and children. That all worked out in the end. Twain goes into the gorey financial details in his book.

The gorey details were the reason Twain stipulated that his autobiography should not be published until 100 years after he died.

That made good sense, especially after I read his book. Mark Twain had very candid observations about a number people who are still famous today. Can you imagine how many people would have been offended if they outlived the author long enough to read the book? This is definitely a concern of mine. While I would like to write an interesting and amusing autobiography, I would rather not offend anybody or humiliate my children. Not that I would tell every story totally honestly, but I would at least try to tell my version of the truth to the best of my ability.

So publication in 100 years after my death sounds about right to me.

The second covergent factor in the decision to start writing an autobiography very slowly for the next 20-30 years, was made after I went on Ancestry.com. You can go on Ancestry.com for a short free-trial for free. I found out a bunch of relatives of my maternal grandmother had been on the web site and traced themselves back to the 1600s in Scotland or somewhere. This was probably common back then, but what used to happen in my family, was that the men would get married, have 7-8-9 children and the first wife would die of exhaustion. Then he would marry a younger woman and have 7-8-9 more children and she would die of exhaustion. And this would keep going until the man finally died in his 80s or 90s. Depressing for girls, right? Although, I sort of take the attitude that I'm very happy I was able to qualify for another job besides having babies.

I was amazed by a fascinating coincidence I noticed in my family tree ---- one of my relatives was born exactly 200 years before I was. He lived in North Carolina, which means he was just about the right age to be a rebel in the American Revolution and maybe he had done and seen a whole lot of even more interesting things in his life.

The sad part for me is that I'll probably never know for sure if he could even read or write. I really wish he would have left a book to be published 100 years after he died.

Then there was another converging factor: My grandson Teddy was born and will be learning to read very soon. He can already work an iPad-mini so there is no stopping him now. So I decided that I should write a book about my life and everything that happens including the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, the power going out for three days last week, what it was like before we had computers, and what I remember about the day President Kennedy was killed. So, now everyday I try to write about what happened and I remember to give it some big picture context like,  “Oh by the way, the Supreme Court decided today that the Affordable Healthcare Act was a tax and it's all right for the federal government to tell somebody like your Aunt Ida that if she doesn't get health insurance she won't get much of an income tax return.”

And then after I die, Teddy can read my autobiography on the condition that he keeps it to himself until I've been dead 100 years.

When I think about it, I may have already written about certain things that Teddy may not especially want to have out there. But even if Teddy doesn't mind, I don't want to embaress his parents anymore than I already have.

So that's my story about telling my story.

Your story is probably the most valuable inheritance you could leave any one of your descendants. People aren't sitting on Ancestry.com because they want to find out when their ancestors moved to Ohio, they want to find out the kind of people they were---ordinary farmers or poets? Or both? Were they happy? Did they hate the people who lived next door? Did anyone know how to play the piano?

That's the kind of stuff I want to know.

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