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30-Year-Old Tape Solves 100-Year-Old Photo Mystery

A voice from the past solved an old family mystery and turned historian Lisa Jardine from a skeptic into a family-history convert. Jardine considered her sister’s research into family history a bit of fluff, “so much depends on guesswork and surmise, so many of the documents defy...

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The Best Gift: a Life Story

(Scroll down for a shopping list for the aspiring or should-be memoirist in your family.) “Forget about the mall,” writes Patrick Reardon, in The best Christmas gift — a life story (Chicago Tribune, 12-10-11). The gifts he treasures most are stories from his wife and children...

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Doing Oral History (a reading list)

Oral histories are a form of personal history with a fairly specific discipline – including a tendency to be focused on specific topics. These are some of the most often-used guides. Curating Oral Histories: From Interview to Archive by Nancy McKay (addresses the management, preservation,...

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Holding readers’ attention with a storyline

Biographers, writes Peter Ginna on Nieman Storyboard, are often tempted to organize a subject’s life story by theme. “They want to write about their subject’s womanizing, say, so instead of threading every extramarital affair into the ongoing storyline, it seems simpler to give...

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Art Spiegelman’s Take on Personal History

A personal history can take many forms and one of the most interesting is the classic graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. This “comic book” by Art Spiegelman is a biography of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The complete work (which depicts...

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Everyone Has a Story to Tell – Did you see this one?

Did you see this great story in today’s New York Times: An Aging Jazz Pianist Finds a New Audience (Dec. 9, 2011) “Boyd Lee Dunlop found his musical talent during the Great Depression. But after years of playing in bars and nightclubs, it took a damaged piano in a Buffalo nursing...

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Book Review: The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess

“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you…” Many of us grow up with dreams of a fairy tale life—falling in love with the handsome “prince,” living happily ever after in a life of luxury. Most of us grow up to accept the fairy tale as just that. Yet for...

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Book Review: Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin

Six years ago I was beginning my journey into writing memoir, capturing the stories of my own family. A neighbor who knows Christina Baldwin and understands her work lent me Storycatcher. Ten pages in, I bought my own copy so I could highlight the gems I found there. I was inspired by...

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Reframing a Painful Experience

Ray was the busy, successful CEO of a large corporation he had started; his daughter had roped him into writing a memoir with me. “Good luck,” she said, before we started. “I’ve never had more than a five-minute conversation with my dad in my life.”At his office, when I started asking questions, he tapped his foot, looked at his watch, and gave me short answers. His attitude was, Who exactly are you, what is it you want from me, and how long is this going to take?When I asked about his childhood, his stories started when he was five years old. I let that pass for the moment.

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