a permanent family journal for generations

michael werneburg
4 min readFeb 13, 2020

I’ve started a permanent journal and photo journal for the family that I intend to pass down to my kids.

The idea came to me recently when I noticed that with my first born turning twelve my having a journal online that occasionally talked about him might be a problem for him one way or another. Socially, surely, but perhaps in other ways I can’t guess. I’d originally started writing to let people know what’s up in my world, but the ’90s are gone and times have gotten meaner.

I took that journal offline, a series of four thousand journal posts dating back to 1999. But once I’d done that I realized that there were plenty of friends and family who might be interested in the content–people have been reading and responding for all twenty+ years. So I added user management capabilities to my home-made content-management system and started handing out logins to those who were interested.

I also set up the kids with accounts that can create and edit content. My wife’s been contributing journal posts kids since our son was born in 2008, and we’ve been posting photos and art produced by the kids themselves since they started making stuff. Giving the kids privileged accounts meant that they could continue to add and edit their own parts of the journal. The final piece of the puzzle for this opportunity finally clicked for me when I realized that journal could now become infinite. Once I’m gone, the kids can still be generating content. And then, if there’s another generation they too can add content.

I can only imagine what we’d have if our ancestors had had the chance to contribute diary entries to a shared running journal that just kept growing. We’d have an assortment of voices and different languages and geographies in the mix, going back centuries. We have are things like portraits of people we can’t identify old wedding rings with labels and a broken katana and even a track-and-field medal with a prominent swastika. But we have precious little telling us anything about the lives of our ancestors in their own words. I met only one of my great-grandparents and it’s turned out the same for my son. My daughter doesn’t even have that. Until today we’ve grown up knowing virtually nothing about the day to day existence of our ancestors. But we now have the tools to make sure that that stops. I won’t be around to see it, but my grandchildren will have those first-hand records of the lives of all their great-grandparents. And their kids will not just have photos of their great-grandmother playing the piano, but also her compositions.

Someone’s future great-grandmother learning the piano

What I envision is a collection of written, photographic, videos and media pieces (songs, movies, whatever they get into) evolving and growing down the generations. Maybe there will be 3D constructs through some form of media we don’t yet comprehend. Maybe there will be some sort of automata built out of our personalities that will hang around in the website waiting for some distant descendant to log in with some questions for a high school history project.

Who were these people. And who was shooting film in 2008?

What I don’t envision is any tech giants wading in and getting their mitts on the data or altering things or feeding the family bullshit political ads bought by some half-mad strongman. No data breaches and no commentary from the public and automated bots.

I’m going to speak with my mother about digitizing some of her diary entries from the sixties, and also some of her father’s from further back. Those things were written by hand (or by typewriter) and seriously predate the Internet but they should be preserved if we’re going to do this. I can even start writing some longer-form articles by asking my parents to relate some of their experiences. For instance, I’ve never really heard the story of my father’s coming to North America.

It’ll be a challenge, but I think we can do it. I have already amassed more than twenty years of near-daily journal entries, and have 40,000 thousand photos and probably five hundred videos. I’ve made a dozen photo books, and both kids have already produced music. Carrying on for centuries sounds like a grand adventure.



michael werneburg

I am Canadian, but married in Japan. As a new father, I do what I can. Once was lost, but not any more. Learning to juggle, not yet up to four.