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Tough Family Stories That Redeem

April 17, 2014

Sometimes we have stories in our families that are really hard to talk about. Therefore, they are hard to write. People want to keep those skeletons in the closet. But as another personal historian loves to say, bring those skeletons out of the closet and make them dance!

A recent NY Times story is a great example of a tough family story that ultimately redeems. An alcoholic sculptor abandons his wife and daughter and then dies under mysterious circumstances. The daughter was quite young at the time, but as she grew up she had questions and she went searching for answer. Her father had loved her deeply and she needed to know for herself what his life story meant to her; not her mother's version, but hers. What the Sea Took Away, a Daughter Restores is beautifully written. A poignant tale.

Boston Strong Marathon Runner Shalane Flanagan

April 14, 2015

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the tragic bombing that shook Boston at their iconic Marathon Race finish line. Knowing what it is like to complete a marathon (I've done two) and seeing the news footage, it all put me in a sad and fowl mood at the time. I wrote about it on this very blog. But as the stories of heroism and strength unfolded, I once again fell in love with the beautiful souls of true heroes. Some people are not out looking for attention. These silent heroes respond by jumping into action when horrible events happen. At the bombings some helped rescue or comfort the wounded; others housed displaced runners and family members. The accounts that came out of Boston resonate with the strength of the human spirit.

A year later and there is a hometown favorite who has a real chance of winning the women's division of this year's Boston Marathon (set for Monday, April 21). Shalane Flanagan has running in her genes. Both her parents were world class marathon runners. Although Shalane has only been running marathons since 2010, she has demonstrated her ability. And this year it is personal. Although she now lives in Portland, Oregon, she has returned frequently to Boston to run the course as part of her training for this year's race. As she put it in her interview with Anderson Cooper which aired on CBS' 60 Minutes, "I am all-in with this training. It's my ultimate dream and goal to win the Boston Marathon". You can watch her inspiring interview here.

Modern Day North Pole Adventure

April 7, 2014

My buddy, Rolland Love, writer in the vein of Mark Twain, expert fisherman, and cofounder of Imastory, tipped me to something his business partner in the personal history project is currently doing. Apparently Mark Andresen isn't just a tech wizard; he's a real life adventurer!

North Pole adventure with Imastory creator

Currently Mark is teemed with his explorer friend, Mike Ketchmark, on a trip to the North Pole. They are doing it with dog sleds, their wits and blogging their journey via Imastory. So far they've encountered bitter cold (no surprise), a large group of polar bears, uncooperative dogs, some treacherous ice and a lifetime of memories. As Rolland puts it, "Two men, a dozen sled dogs, a couple of tents, no bath for 30 days and K-rations". Follow their journey at

Life Stories From Down Under

March 26, 2014

There is a website in Australia where they are gathering stories and promoting life review and reminiscence. Life Stories Australia has the motto, "Where Memories Matter". Indeed they do and it is good to see that this is a global truth. I promote life story preservation in America. So do many other fine personal historians and story tellers. The same is true in Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

In Australia one of the leading personal historians and banner wavers for saving life stories is Annie Payne. She is instrumental in Life Story Circles and runs a terrific personal history business at History from the Heart. She is also a board member for the Association of Personal Historians and the founder of Life Stories Australia. She receives my free monthly newsletter and was struck by the feature article in the latest issue about nostalgia and reminiscence. In fact, she was very kind in posting it to the Life Stories Australia site (here). I am honored.

Personal History Awareness Month is coming in May. I will be doing things to help promote this awareness in my community, just as I know Annie will do the same with others in Australia. Other APH members are also doing their part. Maybe you  will have an opportunity to encourage people to save and share their life stories. Doing so is helping humankind carry on their legacies - a very valuable contribution.

Circling Back to Your Childhood

March 24, 2014

Apparently you "can go back home". The famous quote, "you can't go home again" is actually the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe.  The plot revolves around the character, George Webber, who has written a novel about his family and hometown. When he goes back home he's shaken by an outpouring of hate from the family and friends. Thus the message that you can't go back home with the interpretation that you won't be appreciated. However, when it comes to your personal history, going back home and revisiting your childhoood can have great value.

The gist of an article by David Brooks, Going Home Again (NY Times, March 20, 2014), reinforces the value of reminiscence about our growing up. For Sting - yes, the musician and songwriter, Sting - it inspired a creative breakthrough. He'd been in a dry spell with his music when he started thinking about the town he grew up in Northern England. This town had been home to a busy shipyard that built large ocean-going vessels. As Sting circled back to his childhood and recalled this place of his youth he suddenly discovered a resurgence in creativity. It resulted in a musical, "The Last Ship" which has been performed in theaters and could be headed to Broadway.

Could it be that conscious reminiscing about the places of your childhood might spark your own creativity? I think it is highly likely. At the very least, it will cause you to reflect on your life journey and that can lead to an appreciation of your experiences, which is typically a very good thing.

Age to Wisdom Studies

March 20, 2014

It has been a long held belief by many that as we age we get wiser. I like to believe there is some truth in this. But wisdom can be allusive. Surely as we age we pick up more knowledge. But that doesn't always equate to wisdom. Being wise has a lot to do, I think, with how we apply what we learn to life, and how we learn from our experiences. Our values and beliefs are certainly affected but those experiences. Living well and living with kindness, truth, justice, compassion and integrity are the byproducts of wisdom

A recent New York Times article, The Science of Older and Wiser, is a good read about the subject of aging and how personal wisdom develops. One of the takeaways I had from the article was Professor Staudinger's five elements of true personal wisdom. He lists them as self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities. I purposely emphasized the third element because of its importance to life story review and preservation.

The article also states that an impediment to wisdom can be thinking! When people dwell to much on their short-comings or their problems that often come with age they can become depressed, angry or bitter. But not if they accept reality as it is and look at life as a wonderful journey full of incredible experiences, both good and bad.

Searching Your Irish Roots

March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! As the saying goes, on March 17th everybody's a little bit Irish.
Saint Patricks Day Google
Genealogy is one of the favorite (or most popular) pasttimes on the Internet. As a personal historian I find it more interesting to discover the stories behind of the people hanging out in the branches of the family tree. But if you are looking for some good online resources to search out your Irish roots, I can make a few suggestions.

There are a number of subscription and fee-based sites. One of the biggest is There is an large Irish database section. You might also try FindMyPast or EmeraldAncestors (featuring Northern Ireland & Ulster Ancestry).

I would suggest you also check out some of the large free sites, such as FamilySearch and the National Archives of Ireland.

May the sun be on your face and the wind be at your back as you journey forth on the discovery of your Irish roots. And check out the section or Google's St. Patrick section for more.

Some Visuals from the 1950's and 60's

March 14, 2014

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty and has build an online community for those 60 and older. She lives in Australia, but I found her post, Going back in time to remember the things of the 50's and 60's, contains lots of visuals that had me waxing nostalgic. Take a look and see what you think.

The Right Time to Tell Your Story

March 10, 2014

As a personal historian I speak to lots of different people with different ideas of their life story. Some have grand ideas of a big, sweeping autobiography. Others are more interested in a short biography that they can use for professional reasons. Some people want something simple for their family. Others are looking to leave their legacy and come to grips with the meaning of their life journey.

Every one of these ways of telling your life story is valid. There are many approaches to personal history. There is no "one size fits all". The important first step is to decide that indeed you are going to get your story told. From that decision you can move forward by choosing a genre (written, audi, video, graphic novel, scrapbook, quilt or whatever turns your propeller). Every story is unique because each person is unique, special, and one of a kind. Amidst all the differences, however, there are similarities in types of life stories.

I've been reminded once again how important it is to not wait too long. Over the weekend I received the news that a onetime client of mine passed away. I'd edited Lynn B.'s writing the past couple of years and she had a good, honest and whimsical approach to her story. One of her concerns when she approached me to edit and even do a bit of co-writing was that her "voice" would be lost, replaced by my writing style. I assured her that would not be the case and that I always worked hard to stay true to the voice of anyone I wrote for. Happily, we finished her project last year. She'd become sickly, but she was glad to have done it. And her family, including a daughter who managed the project for her mother when she became too ill, were thrilled. They will always have the memoir and the memories presented in her writing.

A good memoir will take some time and planning, but don't delay. Time goes by, memory fades, illness or financial hardship hit, and, yes, people die. Just in time is way better than too late.

 Everybody has a story to tell!
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