Families are central to our lives. Our families mark where we have been and tell us something of who we are. Yet in these busy technological times, we seldom have a place for one of the most central acts of life:
Creating a personal history is about remembering, about conversation. I will speak with you or a loved one, offering questions that generate stories. I listen, record, transcribe, then edit, arranging the words into a meaningful narrative that will forever carry the speaker’s voice. Whether the finished product is an heirloom book or an audio of our conversations, the result may be one of your most cherished gifts, a precious touchstone to pass down through generations.
Should you have your own writing, I can help coach, direct, and/or edit.
We discuss the project, who I’ll interview, where, when, what to focus on. I write an agreement based on our thinking at that time—remaining flexible in case things change.
Depending on stamina, sessions last from one and a half to three hours. While we talk, I listen, record, ask questions. The story takes over.
Worried your person won’t talk? I’ve been interviewing people for more than 35 years. Listen well and people respond! Often, the initially recalcitrant have the most to say.
After we talk, I transcribe the sessions into a verbatim record. Some families leave it at that. Most, though, prefer to have their story read as a first person narrative, which brings us to editing.
My goal is to keep close to the teller’s words, so it is true to the way the speaker talks. But I shape the story. As I do, I note areas that could use more detail or clarity in our next conversation.
Life themes emerge. Such insights are often the most powerful outcome of this work.
You read the manuscript and make changes until you’re comfortable with it.
LAYOUT, PRINTING & BINDING
By now, you’ll have gathered photographs, letters, poems, along with other documents and images to be scanned into the book. I’ll create a design. Upon your approval, we will have the book printed.
There are many options. Some stories lend themselves to an intimate few. For those people, I can create lovely handbound volumes like those you see in this website. Some just want the story and prefer a more informal booklet, or a combination of a handbound volume and several booklets. Others want many copies of their book. If so, we work with an outside printer. All are archival quality, pleasant to hold and read.
Writers need readers. They also need copy editors, proofreaders, or just plain encouragement! Should you have your own manuscript, whether fledgling or complete, I can help move it forward.
While I love to hold books, some prefer videos, digital media, or a family website. There are other options, like creating an art object in which to store your album, a children’s book based on your story, a photo album annotated by tales. The ways of presenting stories are many—you just need to take that first step. Begin!
For those who can’t commit to this process now, start writing, talking, listening, recording on your own. As Bob Brody wrote in the Washington Post on August 16, 2020, “Unless we document our personal family history, it will go untold, possibly doomed to disappear.”
“…what the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.—Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe
Stockton Springs, Maine & metropolitan New York
donna [at] personalhistory [dot] org