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Personal History as Emotional Insurance

In 1995 I founded the nonprofit Mothers Living Stories Project by convening focus groups of women ages 25 to 55 who were living with cancer while raising children. I wanted to learn whether they would be willing to record their life stories with the help of a trained Volunteer Listener or in a...

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What Do Personal Historians Do?

That is a question our members are asked every day.  Essentially, as personal historians we are “the life story people.”  Clients come to us when they need help telling their life story. As personal historians, we are in the memory business—helping to capture and give...

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Hooking Kids on Family Stories

I had one of my best experiences getting kids involved in writing family stories during a four-day Biography Writing Workshop at an island school off the coast of Scotland. It was my first experience in that country, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The sixth-grade students were delightful...

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The Accidental Personal Historian

I’ve had three careers. Each was an accident.In the1970s I worked a humdrum job for a power plant construction firm. After writing an unsolicited report on how to improve document workflow I became publications manager. It was a super opportunity, but by 1982 I needed greater challenges. “Why not work for yourself?” asked my husband. I knew nothing about being in business but it sounded better than working for someone else.Talk about timing. IBM had just introduced the PC; the technology consulting firm I started lasted 21 years.

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You Can Write Your Family History

Author: Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Book reviewed by Jennifer CampbellGenealogy is traditionally viewed as being about facts, figures, and family trees; personal history, as being more about stories. Here’s a book that shows how the two disciplines can be happy bedfellows.In You Can Write Your Family History, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack walks us through a 19-step guide to writing a first-rate family history, with an emphasis on genealogical research and social history. Her advice, directed to readers crafting their own family history, is also useful for personal historians writing narratives for others.

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Ethical Wills FAQs – A tool for reflection and sharing

Too bad the beautiful intergenerational love letters known as “ethical wills” are saddled with a name so stern and confusing, because their purpose is simple and their creation profoundly meaningful.That off-putting name has an interesting and venerable history. The term “ethical will” was given to the personal letters of instruction that medieval fathers were advised to write their eldest sons as a final obligation of fatherhood, each serving as a bequest of ethics and wisdom that the son was expected to follow and teach his children in turn. The oldest examples of these letters date from the middle of the 12th century; modernized, the practice is honored to varying degrees in the Jewish faith today.

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Love Always: A Dying Mother’s Legacy

I first met Susan at a woman's cancer support group where I’d been invited to talk about the value of personal histories.Susan was nearing the end of a long struggle. She was in her forties, married, with two daughters, 13 and 16. I didn't need to convince her of the merit of recording a personal history. She was eager to begin.Susan wanted the girls to know something of her life and she wanted to provide motherly advice on such issues as dating, marriage, and friendship. She asked me to film the special places and moments that were important to her and her daughters.

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