How to Leave a Lasting Legacy

legacy book

Nobody likes to think of departing this mortal coil, but death is an inevitability for all of us. Loved ones we leave behind will no doubt feel the sad void of our passing, but important stories, lessons, adventures and experiences of our well-lived lives can, in some capacity, live on. While you’re still able minded, consider creating some sort of legacy project to leave for your family and friends to cherish after your passing.

Here are a few inspired ideas to get you reflecting on your life, and how to package it as a legacy project.

Create a Family Tree
Laying out a family tree is easier than you think, especially with the online heritage services like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org or Trace.com. If you prefer a printed version, many templates are available to get you started. It can be a fun bonding project to work on with an adult child or grandchild, as the process tends to bring up reminiscent stories of the past.

Simply start filling in the people and dates you know off hand – birth dates, birth places, marriages, children, divorces, deaths etc. If you need to dig a little deeper, you can consult local historical societies, genealogical organizations, census records and the like. A lot of this information is online these days, so you can no doubt unearth branches and offshoots of the family tree from generations gone by beyond what you know yourself. Sharing work with other distant family members uncovered online can also open up discoveries. It’s a fascinating process you’ll no doubt enjoy.

If you’d prefer to limit your tree to key people in the family within a few generations, consider embellishing your tree with photos and anecdotes. Having a framed tree or elegantly bound family heritage book will make a meaningful legacy gift to bestow upon your family. No doubt future descendants will enjoy this record too.

Make a Family Time Capsule
This out-of-the-box idea is, well, actually in a box. Put together a family time capsule to preserve artifacts, keepsakes, heirlooms, mementos and memories that are significant to you and your kin. Young and old can participate in this legacy project, perhaps to be opened at a future family reunion or special occasion down the road. Things you might consider including are:

  • Newspapers
  • Family letters
  • Photos (labeled, so you don’t forget details)
  • Questionnaire answered by current family members
  • School records
  • Family recipes
  • Letters of what family members project the future will be like
  • Artwork
  • Printed screenshot of social media profiles
  • Tickets
  • Travel itineraries

Don’t included anything too perishable, including digital items that future tech may not support. It’s probably best not to actually bury this “capsule,” as wet dirt isn’t an ideal environment. Just an archival box in an attic or secure cool, dark place will do.

Collect Family Recipes
Many family memories are made around the table. If food holds a special place in your family’s hearts (and tummies), why not compile a book of special recipes to leave behind after you’re gone. It would be treasured by current family members and may even transcend generations. It can be a simple as leaving a box of beloved recipe cards, or you can up your game by transcribing them into a book. Photocopy or hand write the recipes, along with anecdotes of times you enjoyed them together. There are also digital recipe books online that help you design, compile and print multiple hard copies for all your family members.

Design a Family Scavenger Hunt
This one takes a little creativity and whimsy. Prepare a family scavenger hunt for everyone to enjoy sometime after your passing (not your funeral, as emotions may be too sensitive then). Hide certain things around a house or property or even the town, leaving clues or even a treasure map to the next find. Be as cryptic or witty or memory-filled as you can manage. What a fun celebratory way for the family to gather and memorialize you in years to come.

Write Your Family Story
While you’re still alive and of sound mind, writing your biography is a wonderful project to engage upon. If you have a family member who loves to write, enlist their help. There are also professional services where a writer will interview you and help you craft your story.

Make this as short or a long and detailed as you wish. It can be more of a scrap book, interspersing photos with captions and side-stories, or a more traditional narrative relaying tales from childhood onward. Capture the memories and lore that everyone knows but can easily forget, but try to include some surprising details and anecdotes too. Try to capture a sense of time and place and emotions as well as the basic plot points of your life. It doesn’t have to just be about the highlights and major milestones. Some of the daily drudgery and quiet, unremarkable everyday moments make the best reading. Throw in some embarrassing moments, family traditions and crazy happenings too (we’ve all got ’em).

It can be a handwritten notebook, a printed document or even a self-published bound book. Whatever you produce will be cherished by your loved ones and future descendants.

Produce an Audio or Video Legacy
Similar in content to the written family tome, having an audio or video recording of your life story can be a wonderful legacy to leave your loved ones and to connect the generations. Hearing your voice and/or seeing your face adds a whole other nostalgic dimension to this kind of project, and it can provide incredible solace to someone missing you.

Take the opportunity to impart your life stories, knowledge, and wisdom in your own voice and words and keep the family history alive for all your loved ones benefit. It can be as simple as having a friend or family member interview you with a recording device or video camera over a couple of days. Or you can hire a more professional set up to light, record and edit your interview into a polished finished product. Ramble on freely, and worry about the editing, music, graphics and transitions later. Just capture the stories as authentically as you can.

Here are some sample interview questions to get you started:

  • What were your parents like, and how was your childhood?
  • How was your relationship with siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors?
  • Describe some pivotal moments in your life.
  • Describe any holiday gatherings or traditions.
  • What life lessons would you like to share?
  • How did certain historical moments affect you and your family at the time?
  • What have you learned about love and relationships?

Leave a Philanthropic Memorial
Philanthropy is a traditional means of leaving a legacy and a wonderful way to honor a deceased loved one. You could make arrangements for a portion of your estate to go to a favorite charity or cause. You could inspire your family to volunteer at a meaningful organization in your name. You can plant a tree, dedicate a park bench or maintain a hiking trail in your honor, with a plaque to memorialize your gift. You can also leave resources to start a charity event or scholarship in your name.

Whatever you choose, the simple act of creating a charitable memorial can help your loved ones cope with your loss and move on, knowing your spirit will live on through this meaningful contribution.

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