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# Friday, 06 January 2017
Writing Your Life Story: How to Bring Back "Lost" Memories
Posted by Diane


Library of Congress

"Recording your own stories" is one of Family Tree Magazine’s list of 17 genealogy habits for success in 2017 (part of our hot-off-the-presses January/February issue). 

How many of us spend months or years tracking down every possible record of an ancestor’s life, the whole time wishing he or she had left a journal revealing personality, opinions, interests, hopes and pet peeves?
 
But then we neglect to record all those things about ourselves—whether for our own children or for children from other lines who may one day wish to really know us.

FamilySearch has launched the #52Stories Project encouraging you to write one brief story about your life each week. Find motivation, weekly writing prompts and links to others’ stories on the #52Stories home page.

Sunny Jane Morton's book Story of My Life has in-depth guidance on writing your life story, as well as fill-in forms and questions that help you organize and tell your stories. Her helpful tips and exercises for remembering the details of your life events, which will make your stories more meaningful to you and to others, include: 
  • Free associate. Start with a blank page and write a person, place or event at the top. Then begin with "I remember" and write anything that comes to mind, even if it’s not a complete thought. For example, if my page was titled “Grandma,” I'd might write “sewing” (she was a skilled seamstress), “potbelly bear” (she gave me one for Christmas when I was 6), “purple” (her favorite color) and “Wellesley” (the street where she lived). Keep going until you run out of memories.

  • Immerse yourself. Go to a place related to a time in your life you want to recall. Visit your childhood neighborhood, walk around your high school, have a drink at the dive bar where your friends gathered when you were young singles. Listen to the music and eat the food you liked.

  • Read about the places and times you want to remember. Books, contemporary news articles and photos detailing events and eras like the assassination of President Kennedy, Summer of Love and the turn of the millennium will bring back mental images and memory snippets of what you were doing at the time.

  • Reach out. Ask folks who knew you when what they remember about the junior high class trip to Washington, DC, or the day of your father’s funeral. Their memories might fill in where yours gets fuzzy.
Here's where to view all 17 habits for genealogy success in 2017, here's where to pick up the January/February issue, and here's where to get the book Story of My Life.
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Genealogy books | Research Tips | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Friday, 06 January 2017 08:41:46 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, 06 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 6
Posted by Diane

We're six days into the NaNoWriMo-inspired 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.  Today's post is from guest editor, Vanessa Wieland, who writes in response to this prompt:

Select your favorite family photo, and write about the moments just before and/or after the photo was taken. Why was it taken? Was your ancestor happy to be in it?



This is a portrait of my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Samuels. The occasion of this photo is presumably a happy one. According to the note on the back, it was taken on her 80th birthday. She seems to be listening here, perhaps to the photographer directing her to tilt her head just so and look over his shoulder. Perhaps she’s reflecting on her birthday plans. Was there a party? Perhaps the thought of cake is inspiring that smile.

My grandfather instilled in me an appreciation for my Welsh heritage, but seeing this photo was the first time I felt such a strong connection to an ancestor I’ve never met. As it turns out, I was born on my great-great grandmother’s birthday.

My grandfather mentioned loving her accent as a child, but he didn’t talk about her that much; his family stories tended to revolve far more around his Uncle Dan. Yet it’s her voice that echoes through them both in the strong sense of family she instilled in them - and through them, to my mother, my sister, and myself. 

When we first found this photo, it was as we were cleaning out the house of another of her descendants. The occasion was not a happy one; my mother’s cousin had passed and my grandfather was the closest living relative, so it fell to him - and us - to sift through a near-stranger’s belongings and tie up any loose ends.

Yet within those belongings, we found two items of note that my mother claimed; a cameo brooch and this photo. My mother found the brooch first and recalled seeing it as a child, but could not remember where. It wasn’t until a few days later that we came across this photo, and saw the same brooch pinned to Elizabeth’s blouse. The brooch was surprise enough, but even now, I'm struck by how much my mother looks like her.

I love this photo not just because I was born on her birthday, and a few decades after this photo was taken, but because the smile on her face seems to reflect a genuine contentment along with a sense of anticipation. I imagine her thinking, "I'm really looking forward to celebrating with my family, and a nice piece of cake."

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Writing about your family history
Sunday, 06 November 2016 16:50:02 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, 02 August 2016
How to Mine Family Memories for Genealogy Clues
Posted by Diane

Your family history begins with your own memories—and what you remember can serve as a useful springboard for learning more about your whole family's history, connecting you emotionally to past generations.

Your memories also can provide critical research clues for genealogy research. When's the last time you mined your own memories for details you can use to research your family tree? Story of My Life author Sunny Morton is here with a guest post on three focuses for your dive into your memories:
  1. People. Who do you recall—even vaguely—in connection with your family? The neighbors across the street from your grandparents? Your mother’s sorority sister? Dad’s business partner? Memories of people can lead to more memories, and even to research resources.

    Mention your grandparents’ neighbors—the ones who always came to play cards—to your cousins or an aunt and see what stories come to light. Does anyone know how they came to be good friends? How did your grandparents act around their friends? What else do relatives recall about the neighborhood? Did anyone stay in contact with that neighbor’s family?

    If Mom’s sorority sister is still alive, her memories or memorabilia may give you fresh perspective on your mother’s younger years. Recalling the name of the sorority can lead to its records, photo collections and more insight into your mother’s time at college. A similar line of thinking about a father’s business partner may lead you to that family’s recollections, business records, ads or listings in city directories, or news articles about your father or his business partner.
  2.  
  3. Places. What places were part of your childhood, or your parents’ lives? Think about where you (or they) went for family gatherings, and about family cemeteries, churches, funeral homes, schools, places of business, vacation destinations and other locations that figure in family memories. Consider your old neighborhood, your grandparents’ ranch or farm, or your mother’s description of her childhood home.

    What can these memories tell you about your family history? Mention them to relatives and see what recollections they prompt. Look for Sanborn or other maps of old neighborhoods. See if you can find old images of the cottages at Lake Erie. And definitely look for records connected with these places, such as membership records for Grandma’s Methodist church or burial information from a cemetery or funeral home.

    Use the same line of thinking to explore the “researchability” of other memories: a sporting event you attended with your dad (find news coverage to flesh out the memory), or an annual trip to the state fair to see Grandpa’s prize-winning livestock (look for state fair award lists and photos).
  4.  
  5. Objects. The "stuff" you associate with your family, such as an automobile or household appliance, provides another piece of the family puzzle that can jog memories. Did your mother use only one brand of detergent? Was your brother obsessed with Superman comics? These details provide insight into daily lives, personalities and values. Memorabilia such as photos and heirlooms can further inspire your memory of people and places. What pictures or descriptions can you find, and what meaning did they have? Share these and other treasured family artifacts with relatives—you never know what they might remember.

My new book Story of My Life can help you remember and document memories of the people, places, events and objects associated with your family history. The book provides a place for you to organize your thoughts and tie them to a certain time, place or person.

Story of My Life
is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.


Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 02 August 2016 09:53:32 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 25 July 2016
To Write or Not to Write: Respecting Privacy in Family-History Storytelling
Posted by Diane

When you start writing your life’s stories, you may wonder what to put in and what to leave out. Should you mention that time you got arrested, or when your best friend betrayed you? What about your difficult relationship with your dad? What if telling your stories will reveal someone else’s secrets?

Writing your life story can raise questions about how to be fair and honest, and what stories of your life should keep private. Story of My Life workbook author and guest blogger Sunny Morton has three quick things to consider when you start writing your family history:

  • Everyone has a right to privacy. Writing about your life doesn’t obligate you to share all your stories. Chances are there are some events, relationships, failures or disappointments in your past you’d rather not write about.

    While you should consider acknowledging all life-changing events (even if you choose not to dwell on details), you don’t have to write about everything. For painful events that prompted major changes in your relationships, career, living circumstances or way of life, a passing mention—along with the results—may be sufficient: “After my divorce, I moved to Seattle, where my sister lived. I wanted to leave painful memories behind.”

  • Honesty is key. You don’t need to tell everything—but everything you tell should be true. Of course, you won’t intend to write falsehoods, but it can be tempting to downplay your role in a big family argument or skip over the nice things your “worthless” baby brother actually has done for you. Nobody is all good or all bad, including yourself. Try to write about everyone fairly. In doing so, you may discover some new truths in the process of writing: how you felt about someone, what you learned from a situation, how you feel now.

    Consider including at least some of these insights in your life-story writings. You may think it’s obvious what the past taught you or how you might feel, but that may not be the case. And your insights or life lessons may turn out to be the most valuable part of sharing your memories (for you and others).

  • Think twice before revealing someone else’s secrets. Many who write their life stories have to decide whether to divulge confidential or sensitive information about someone else. Should you write about a relative’s addiction, debts, temper or marital problems? Consider the answers to three questions:

    • First, is this your story to tell? If it didn’t significantly affect your life, it doesn’t really belong in your life story.
    • Second, what are your motives? Revenge, or an unfortunate but real need to set the record straight?
    • Finally, who may be hurt by your revelation? Even if the person with the secret is dead, that person may have living loved ones who may suffer.
After considering these questions, you may still see the need to reveal confidences, but you may approach it more sensitively.

My new book Story of My Life guides you through the process of deciding what stories to tell, telling them (including lessons learned) honestly, and focusing on what’s most important. You’ll find hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions about the people and events of your past.

Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a preformatted document you can print or share as you like.


Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Monday, 25 July 2016 10:54:01 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 19 July 2016
4 Ways to Jog Your Memories & Preserve Your History
Posted by Diane



Struggling to remember part of your past? Check out these four quick ways to spark memories from guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook, Sunny Jane Morton:

Recording your own history can be a rewarding experience, both personally and for your genealogy research—you never know what clues you’ll recall! But it can be frustrating when you don’t remember certain things as clearly as you’d like. Below are four strategies to jog your memories. Use these to evoke the feelings and facts of specific time periods, people, places or events in your past:

  1. Listen to music. Music can be especially powerful for evoking emotional memories. Play songs from the time period in question and see what feelings and memories surface. Pull out your old music albums, cassette tapes or CDs to remind yourself of your old “must-listen” albums. If you no longer own a device that can play these (or the cassette tape has deteriorated too much), look for updated formats at your local library. You could also use YouTube to look for individual songs or playlists of popular songs for a certain time period. Use search terms to bring up the name of a singer, band, song or album. Try a phrase like songs from the 40s or 1960s music, or do similar searches in your web browser. Billboard Top 100 songs 1955 brings up lists of hits you can then track down individually. If that search doesn’t work for you, try searching the Internet Archive. Its Live Music Archive is strongest for music recorded since the mid-1980s, but there is an enormous collection of Grateful Dead music (for example) that you can stream or download. Browse or search for the recording artists and songs you listened to. Or go way back into your family’s music memories with a digital collection of more than 3000 78rpm records and cylinder recordings from the early 20th century.

  2. Visit a place. Travel back to the setting of an event or time period. Walk through your old neighborhood, visit your alma mater or stop at the church or courthouse where you were married. If you can’t go to the actual place you want to remember, find a local surrogate to recreate the ambience. Visit a local beach, suburban street, high school football game or neighborhood street festival. The sights, sounds and smells (funnel cake!) may trigger memories. Or make a virtual visit to that place via Google Earth; try the Street View to see the place at eye level. Even things that have changed may make you better recall what was there before.

  3. Look at pictures and memorabilia. Get out your old photo albums, yearbooks, date books, letters, documents, clothing, jewelry, collections, awards, trophies and other mementoes of the past. Spend some time studying them in detail. Who appears in your memorabilia? What event or memory does it represent? Why did you keep it? What was going on in the background? What related memories does the sight of that person/object/place bring to mind?

  4. Reminisce. Contact someone who was part of your life during the time you’re trying to recall. After reconnecting, see if they’re willing to talk about “old times.” Compare memories: It can be both interesting and revealing when you recall things differently. Ask if they recall the things you’re trying to remember—why you all did something, or the name of the person on the left in a photo you can share. A couple words of advice: Be considerate of those whose memories of that time may be unpleasant or who may not want to bring up the past. And don’t argue when your memories conflict.

In the end, you still may not remember every detail as crisply as you’d like. But life-story writing is rewarding when it’s about your feelings and thoughts about the past, not just the memories themselves. Take special note of how your perceptions of the past may have changed (or not).

Reflect on how an event or person changed you—even if you don’t recall them perfectly. Note life lessons you took away with you, particularly those that have guided your life since. Write these things down.

A guided journal such as my new book Story of My Life is the perfect place to capture your thoughts and memories. It’s organized by time period and contains hundreds of memory prompts and reflection questions.

There are plenty of places to record specific memories and celebrate special relationships. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.


Genealogy books | saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 11:33:23 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 12 July 2016
3 Tips for Preserving Childhood Memories
Posted by Diane

Want to dig into your past? Guest blogger and author of the Story of My Life workbook Sunny Jane Morton shares three quick tips for recalling childhood memories:

What do you remember from your childhood? If you’re like most people, the answer may be, “Not much.” The older you get, the more remote and vague your youngest years may seem. That can be so frustrating when you want to document your life story (and the first chapter is missing!) or bring to mind clues from your childhood that would help you research your family history.

When starting to piece together your childhood memories, try following these three steps:

  1. Capture your memories as they are. You may not have many clear, consistent memories before about age 10. The ones you do have may seem fragmented. That’s because you experienced the world as a child, with a child’s emotions and perceptions, and you stored them away in the same fashion. But these memories still have value. Write them down. Then think about them over the course of several days or weeks. You may find bits of memory or explanation resurfacing. Add them to your written account.
  2. “Borrow” memories from loved ones. It’s not cheating to gather memories about your youngest years from those who remember them better. Ask parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, old neighbors and longtime friends about specific events or your childhood generally. Their memories will have limitations, too, but it’s worth asking.
  3. Research your past to fill in the blanks. Once you’ve compiled your memories alongside those of your loved ones, you may still identify gaps in the stories. Consider what missing details may be researched, particularly those that would bring the story back alive for you. Perhaps you could look up the specs on the 1950 Oldsmobile your father bought, the names of your grandparents’ neighbors or the route you would have taken on that road trip the summer you turned 12.

Learn more about each of these steps—from writing down and fleshing out vague memories to researching their contexts—in the Story of My Life workbook by Sunny Jane Morton. This life-story writing guide is packed with memory-jogging journaling prompts and more tips for fleshing out your life’s most meaningful stories. Story of My Life is available as an easy-to-use softcover workbook and as a writeable PDF—just type your answers and save them in a pre-formatted document you can print or share as you like.


saving and sharing family history | Writing about your family history
Tuesday, 12 July 2016 10:35:24 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]