What is a personal history?

A personal history preserves the story of a life, memories, and/or special events. While a genealogist captures names of ancestors and places and dates of births, deaths and marriages, a personal historian tracks people’s stories and weaves together a rich history to share with current and future generations. Memoirs can encompass the story of one’s ancestors and continue to present day, or it can review the story of one individual’s life or one segment of his or her life. A personal history also can be about a couple, a family, or even a company or nonprofit. It preserves — in print — a full story for family, friends, employees and/or potential clients.

Why do a personal history?

Have any of these thoughts ever crossed your mind?

  • One day I will sit down with Mom and Dad and get more stories about their childhoods.
  • I wish my grandchildren understood better the traditions of our family and culture and appreciated where we come from.
  • I really need to write down Grandma’s stories about long ago so I can preserve them for my grandchildren – before it is too late.

Too often it is too late, and those treasured stories and memories disappear when a family member dies. A personal history, either of yourself or a loved one, helps ensure those stories are shared and passed down.

Why hire a personal historian?

Memoir writing has become increasingly popular in recent years, but it’s not an easy task for everyone. I use my interviewing, research, writing and storytelling skills — along with my education in reminiscence and life review — to help you recall memories and piece together events. Often talking with a member outside the family is more comfortable for people when sharing certain memories, and as an outsider I can provide support and ask new questions. I also conduct research about places and time periods to help put your story into context, and I can extend your story — if you desire — by talking with other family members, friends and colleagues. You set the parameters around the topics you wish to discuss and whom you want to be interviewed for the project.

How is a personal history completed?

The individual(s) interested in a personal history signs an initial contract to terms of the project, including the parameters of the history, who will be interviewed, where interviews will be conducted, whether the interviews will be recorded, a promise of confidentiality, length of project, etc. As we proceed with the project, further terms on the final product will be discussed and finalized.

The length and number of interviews depends on the project’s parameters and the individual. Typically each interview can last 1-2 hours, but can be shorter if the individual prefers. The number of interviews and the time to complete a project depends on the material to be covered, the length of each interview, and the scope of the final product. Between interviews, I conduct research that often helps elicit memories and stories, and may write segments of the story between interviews or compile the full product at the end. The client(s) previews the final written story before publication.

What does the final product look like?

The final product is presented in book format of your choice and at a range of costs, and includes photographs that you provide.

How do I begin?

If you think you or a family member or friend may be interested in completing a personal history or memoir, contact me at christina@bylyons.com  for a free consultation.