Documenting a Life: Writing My Father's Biography

On January 2, I lost my father to the complications of a very severe stroke he had last May.
I would have liked to have preserved his body (which I believe contained his "soul") for near-future resuscitation, but he was destroyed by the wishes of his next of kin. But in accordance with my belief in Universal Immortalism, I am still not without hope. Although my father was not placed into cryonic suspension, I look forward to his engineered resurrection in the distant future, when humanity will have control over the forces of time and space and the informational resources of the cosmos.
In the meantime, one thing I can do that may help make that possible is to gather together all the information about him I can. This will help keep him alive in my own memory as a permanent reminder of who he was and why he must be resurrected. The information may also be of some use to others in the distant future to locate and identify him in space and time.
This is a labor of love as well as a practical labor, and something that I enjoy doing although the task is very difficult. He was the best father I can imagine ever having, and the best human being I have known.
The evidence remaining about him is very scattered. There are memories I have of him, growing fuzzier with every passing year. There are my memories of what he told me about himself, and those memories are also growing fuzzier with every passing year.
My father did not keep a journal through most of his life. For a few years he kept a journal for therapy, but it is very sparse, with sometimes enigmatic and sometimes illegible notes. There is one school paper he wrote and kept; although I have not found it yet among his belongings, I assume I will come across it soon.
Other than that, most of the evidence remaining of him is in official documents and photos. The documents include things like his naval discharge papers, his medical records, his financial records, and his wallet IDs. Many documents that are not in his house may be available in government offices somewhere or in the homes or offices of other private persons. His own house contains thousands of photos that include him, as well as members of his family. His extended family and network of friends probably have even more photos of him including many that are not at his house. I will have to try to track all these down that I can.
There are very few videos of my father. Usually he was the one filming, since he was the technology-savvy one, and old cameras were quite user-unfriendly.
There is, beautifully, a video montage of home movies of our family with my father narrating it, on a day when he was obviously in a happy mood.
I have digitized most of the video, but my task of digitizing the photos and documents is just beginning. My scanner is new, but still slower than I would like.
I have a haphazard collection of my father's emails, which I have to sort through for any useful information. I would like to keep them along with everything else about my father, of course, even if it does not go into his biography. I also have many references to events related to my father in my journal, which is so detailed it will be very slow going to sort through and deciding how to summarize! But my journal does not go back very many years in detail.
As I go through old documents and photos, I can hardly resist digitizing the very old photos which may be in danger, even if they are not of my father, and even if they are of times before he was born. My father came from out West and his ancestors are quite fascinating. I put what information I have in a genealogy, using the Mormon software Personal Ancestral File. The application is a little clunky, but it does seem adequate, and you can't beat the price (free). But my family tree is sprawling, and I do not have time right now to follow every meandering branch. Eventually I would like to publish the genealogy to the Web to help other distant relatives find us and maybe make the connections to our tree.
It is discouraging to me to see how often the written records and genealogical documents disagree with each other, so that I cannot definitively determine dates or details about my ancestors. It is a very sobering reminder that no memory, and no document however official, can be trusted with 100% certainty. All traces of my father and his ancestors must be taken as all historical evidence is, a patchwork of guesses and possibilities and likelihoods. Few pieces of evidence are as solid as the "location mark" I made of my father's location in time and space while he was sick, using a GPS. I did this because names and even names with dates are insufficiently unique to identify a person (this is something I learned from looking at the genealogy! How often names repeated exactly! And how many duplicates there were in a country as big as the United States!). But even the GPS coordinates are vulnerable to error - most notably, the elevation coordinate.
I would eventually like to publish my father's biography to the Web, at least, an abbreviated version, with selected photos.
Eventually, all the data I can find about my father, along with some selected physical mementos and his archived DNA, will go into his total "bioinformation", into a secure permanent storage vault of the Society for Universal Immortalism, along with two backups, as extensive as possible, in my possession and the possession of the Society's Celebrant.
I do hope that what I make public about my father can give the world a glimpse of the man they would have been lucky to know.


K said...

This is an amazing undertaking and a tremendous labor of love!

After losing two close family members last year, I tasked myself with scanning all of the photographs that they each left behind (or at least, the ones I had access to.) They were huge projects, but it was tremendously satisfying to watch the "finished" pile grow and the data come together. I spent many many hours tagging these pictures, revisiting memories of places, faces and events that I was often merely adjacent to in my own life.

What you are doing is a much greater task, and I wish you luck in compiling all that you can gather and preserving it in perpetuity. I'll be interested in hearing how things progress and what tools you decide to use to ensure the best record keeping possible!


Arcturus3 said...

Hi Kim!
Yes, like you, I feel as though I am revisiting and reliving my life and the lives of my father and his relatives.
It is going to be fun to share, when I figure out a format for putting some of it on the Web.
I do need tips on tagging!

Stefani Twyford said...

Doing this both professional for our clients as well as on both of my parents while they are still alive, I understand the Herculean feat you are undertaking. It occurs as so much more work to have to piece this all together after the fact as opposed to scripting a storyline and then going about collecting all the bits involved in telling the story.

I have some great articles on my blog about these very tasks and I would like to recommend a couple of pieces of software you might want to try in supporting your collection and organization of media.

First is a program called Memory Miner http://www.memoryminer.com/, which I think would be a great resource for you to collect, organize and tag all your photos, video clips, awards and documents and stories.
Second, http://www.geni.com is a wonderful web display of generation relatedness that you can enroll other family members into helping fill out the missing links in your genealogical tree. You can also export the GEDCOM file into Memory Miner so you don't have to duplicate the work.
Finally, as time erodes those memories, I suggest you sit down in front of a camera, perhaps with siblings or others that might be able to support details in the stories and record yourself talking about specific memories of your father or stories that he told you. Yes it's second hand but it's better than nothing and your children and grand-children will have that to remind them of who they are and where they came from.
Good luck and let me know if I can help you in any way.

rememberme said...


Thanks to Stefani for the mention of MemoryMiner. The death of my father was a major catalyst towards creating this software. I think you would be interested in this video of a presentation I made last Summer at the Los Angeles Idea Project, a TED conference spinoff:


It talks about why I created MemoryMiner and where I hope to go with it.

Arcturus3 said...

Thank you both for the suggestions!