preserving memories

There is perhaps nothing that could be appreciated more by your family than the gift of your stories and memories.

How often have we heard a family member tell a fascinating personal tale or humorous anecdote from long-ago? In my business, I hear many stories of romance, courtship, homecomings, marriages, war and peace, family squabbles and generational similarities.

I often meet people who comment on my vocation of writing memoirs and say, “I wish I had written down my grandmother’s stories,” or “I wish I had done a memoir for my father.” My first response is to tell them that it is never too late to record what you remember of that person, and I usually suggest they record their own stories now for future generations. The telling of your life in memoir form gives you the freedom to recall events as you remember them, without worrying whether the facts perfectly match up to the researched truth. It’s your version of your life.

Getting started on your own memoir may seem like a daunting task but one of the most proactive things you can do to preserve your family’s history and stories is to start writing them down. Think short stories as a great first step in tackling your extended biography. With the huge reservoir of technology tools available today, it might be as simple as setting up a Family Stories file on your computer, which can be shared with family members via Google Drive or Dropbox, and placing a story there occasionally. Shoot for one story a week to get started.

Another easy tool you can use is the Voice Memo / Voice Note app on your iPhone/Android. I teach classes in memoir writing at the Scarsdale Adult School and have helped each student learn how to record themselves telling a story with these apps. Just don’t forget to Label & Save it. Download the voicemail to iTunes or Double Twist and it will live in your cloud forever!

Whether you immortalize a memory by taking pen to paper or record your mother as she recounts a story, there are many ways to capture a piece of your family history. For prompts, I often use photographs. Who is in the picture? Who are you with? Where were you? What were you doing? I rarely have to ask these questions as the photo images lead the conversation. Use this opportunity to take photos of your photos to create digital versions. Programs like Flickr allow you to label each picture with key information (Aunt Harriett’s college graduation, Uncle Barney’s wedding and so on).

There are many formats in which to write your memoir. In my classes, students have presented their stories as videos and taped recordings. I have one student, Hal Silverman, who is writing his memoir in folk song format – complete with guitar accompaniment. Another asked her children to write about their memories of her parents as a birthday gift to her.

Don’t be afraid to start your memoir early. Those who start writing in their 50s (or younger) – with Volume One – will have more substantial stories for future generations.

Once you have recorded enough stories in your new role as a do-it-yourself memoirist, pair up photographs to match each story whenever possible. Putting together the actual book is the most time-consuming process and one that might require some expertise (offered through some self-publishing companies). But the rewards of your memoir are worth the effort and will live on to be shared by succeeding generations.

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