Q. What is a personal history?

A personal history is the story of a life or stories from a life. This can take the form of a memoir, a tribute, an oral history, a legacy letter, or an ethical will expressing one's values, wishes, regrets, observations about life, lessons learned, and so on. I specialize in creating elegant legacy books for families containing many stories from an individual's life.


Q: What is a personal historian?

Personal historians are creative professionals who help people tell their life stories. Think: journalist/storyteller. A personal historian may be engaged to help individuals, families, communities, or organizations preserve memories, images, voices, stories, and histories - often (but not always) in narrative form. 


Q: Why hire a personal historian?

Writing your own life story can seem like a complex and sometimes daunting endeavor. Working with a skilled collaborator turns the process from overwhelming to exhilarating and joyful. When we explore your life stories, I work as a neutral listener asking important questions so that the most meaningful stories are able to emerge. I have a process that helps you recall important life events while feeling confident that you are passing on important heritage. My goal is for you to feel really good about talking about your life and sharing what you have learned along the way. I believe that preserving personal history is important and that the connection it creates within a family is precious. As a personal historian, I am able to organize and preserve photographs, letters, diaries, and related memorabilia to support the preservation of your history.


Q: How much does a personal history cost?


Your investment in a personal history reflects the scope of work and the many variables that go into creating your book. Smaller personal history books (between 20 and 30 pages) begin at $1500. A full life history can be priced anywhere between $4,500-$6,000 and beyond, depending on the project. Your investment includes interviewing, transcribing, editing, revising, writing, printing, binding and shipping. A personal history project can be crafted to fit your budget, the price typically reflecting the number and length of interviews and the services needed to convert those interviews into the type of product you want. Often a personal history is commissioned as a gift - for a holiday, special birthday, anniversary, or milestone event. Family members may choose to share the cost, making the project an affordable investment for everyone, from which all can benefit. 



Q: How is personal history different from genealogy?

Genealogists research, record, and map family trees - who descended from whom. A genealogist's work is based on research in public and private records, while as a personal historian I focus on the stories within a family, gaining insight and wisdom to pass down through generations. 


Q: What's the final product? How do I know which product to choose?

My signature offering is a hardbound coffee table book but there are other possibilities and I am always happy to work within a budget. Among the possibilities are: an edited transcript of interviews (with or without photographs), a printed narrative, an ethical will, written letters preserved and organized, letters written to each family member, recipes and stories, audio recording, and much more. I get really creative with my clients and a personal history can take many forms depending on the individual. The benefits and price range are different for each option. 


Q: What is a legacy letter?

In a legacy letter, you may express to your family, friends, and descendants your love and gratitude, your personal and spiritual values and beliefs, what you stood for and achieved, the lessons you've learned, the things you regret or are proud of, your hopes and dreams for the future. Your message may be brief (e.g., "I want my children to know that I love them for who they are.") or several pages. Both a vehicle for self-exploration and the gift of a lifetime, a legacy letter may also be a chance to forgive and to ask forgiveness. A legacy letter is a love letter to the future. 


Q: What is the process for turning my life story into a book?

First, I will talk with you or the narrator (who might be you or might be someone else in the family) to get a sense of what period you want to cover and what general storyline and messages you might want to convey. We make a rough outline of ten to twelve themes and then we explore them together through interviews. I then transcribe your interviews, organize the material, usually as a narrative, and edit for accuracy, consistency, spelling errors, and the like - without editing away your "voice" (your way of expressing yourself). Sometimes I will actually write the narrative, capturing the voice, but filling in with material from other sources, too. You will be asked to read drafts for accuracy and to make sure you're saying what you want to say, the way you want to say it. After careful proofreading, the book will be printed and bound and sent straight to your doorstep! 


Q: Where and how are interviews done?

Ideally, interviews are recorded in a quiet, comfortable room, to minimize background noise. If you are being interviewed in your home, other family members are generally urged to occupy themselves elsewhere, to prevent distraction. I interview over the phone and Skype, which works beautifully. Before we begin working together, you can review a worksheet I created specifically for my memoir clients in order to evoke memory. Expect to enjoy the process. 


Q: How long does it take to do the interviews?

Recording a person's life story often takes a few hours to ten or twenty, depending on the narrator's memories and his or her desire and physical and emotional ability to share them. Sessions typically last 90 minutes, depending on your energy and comfort level, and are often spaced out over days or weeks. Some lives are more complex and some projects more ambitious - in which case the interviews may extend over many months. 


Q: What if there are some things I don't want to talk about?

Leave them out! This is your story and I want you to feel great about telling it even when you are talking about difficult experiences. I am not an investigative reporter, I am a storyteller and I want this process to bring your life to light. It often helps to talk about difficult periods in terms of how you survived them. Life writing is not therapy, but time after time I have seen its therapeutic effects. By understanding where you came from, you may come to better understand who you are. Even upbeat memoirs gain much of their strength from revealing the dark times through which a person has struggled, and the lessons you learned can be especially valuable to others going through dark times. But you don't have to discuss anything you are uncomfortable with. When you hire me, you control the content. 

Q: How long does it take to complete a project?

That depends on the scope of the project. Some projects can be completed in a matter of weeks, some take three to six months, and some take a year. Interviews captured in audio can often be completed in a matter of days or weeks. It depends on how much material there is, how much time you have to spend on the project, how many options you decide to include, and how soon the work can be scheduled. Sometimes families encourage a leisurely schedule, spread over time, so the narrator (the person telling the story) can relish the process and work at a comfortable pace. 


Q: Will I need to sign a contract for the work even if it is bought as a gift?


Yes. I include contracts and a scope of work with all of my projects to ensure the project gets completed with ease, efficiency, and understanding.




Any other questions about personal history? I would be happy to answer them!


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