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Read about quality family history and life story news, views, methods, products, links, services

                     ...and whatever else catches our fancy

August, 2014

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Flights of Fancy Storytelling

August 25, 2014

Shortly after last year's Association of Personal Historians Conference in Washington D.C. (Capitol Reflections) the Washington Post published an article listing some very good reasons for hiring a personal historian to preserve family history. In particular, they highlighted how the Lanning family used their intergenerational history of piloting planes across the wild blue yonder to preserve their stories. They mentioned how long they had wanted to do this, especially to preserve the life stories of the patriarch of the family, 84 year old James Lanning. Somehow they could never get around to it. This is one of the biggest challenges to doing it yourself. It is time consuming and hard work.

Hiring a personal historian can be a significant investment. But can you put a price tag on your own family story? Many people think of it as priceless. Read Families turn to professionals to document their stories and perhaps get motivated to do something about your family history.

Doing Life Without Parole

August 18, 2014

This blog, website and my personal history business all emphasize the importance of preserving our life stories. Most of the people motivated to do that are either wanting to record their stories for family and friends, or perhaps to better understand their life. And a few are hoping that their story will reach a wider audience, perhaps helping them gain some fame as an author.

For the most part the stories of people's lives tackled from the motivation of preserving personal history have a self interest, either by the subject of the story or the family members who crave to know more about loved ones.

Today I read about a reporter who is interested in getting the stories of lifers, people convicted of life sentences without the possibility of parole for at least 25 years. I think this can yield an interesting perspective. What if your life of freedom came to an end and you knew you would be behind bars quite possibly for the rest of your life? What would you be willing to reveal to an interested writer? It can't be easy to speak about crimes committed that lead to a life in prison, but there could be redemption in the telling and certainly a lesson to others. The Edmonton Journal posted this story by their crime bureau's chief reporter Jana Pruden, The Lives of Lifers.

Seriously Funny, Robin Williams Was A Manic and Majestic Comic and Actor

August 12, 2014

I remember watching Robin Williams on cable comedy specials in the 1980's and being amazed at his rapid-fire manic impressions and hilarious, yet cosmic comedy insights. The man was a whirlwind onstage, yet as his career developed we witnessed a nuanced dramatic actor who could certainly be humorous, but also capable of delivering performances of ringing truth.

The news that Williams died of an apparent suicide spread like wildfire yesterday, thanks mainly to this age we live in where social media can make us aware nearly instantaneously of breaking stories. I saw it on Facebook first and yes, it shocked me. But it didn't take me long to begin reflecting on his legacy. I knew he'd had a history of drug and alcohol problems, that he'd found recovery and yet also battled his demons of depression. Perhaps one silver lining from his passing will be a heightened awareness of those struggling with such problems and how there is both help and hope available.

We should also remember that he still found many opportunities to help those who needed a laugh and a kind visit, be it deployed troops, kids with cancer, or the homeless.

I certainly want to remember Robin Williams for the laughter he gave us and to also appreciate his acting talent. Stories at NPR and the New York Times certainly helped me recall some of those special moments. From the dramatic The World According to Garp and his Oscar winning role in Good Will Hunting, to the comedic brilliance of Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, there is something to enjoy from a wide variety of movies. Two films that especially resonate for me were Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poet's Society, probably because I've worked in both the radio broadcasting and teaching professions.

So long, Robin Williams. Carry that laughter into the afterlife. Thanks for being seriously funny.

Self Awareness From a Distance

August 8, 2014

"People who keep a journal often see it as part of the process of self-understanding and personal growth. They don’t want insights and events to slip through their minds. They think with their fingers and have to write to process experiences and become aware of their feelings. "

The above is a quote from the beginning of a very interesting article by David Brooks (online at the NY Times), Introspective or Narcissistic? The gist of the article is that for many of us we learn more about ourselves when we can see our lives with some distance. This is the gift that life story writing and, in particular, journaling, can give you.

If you are like me, you are well aware of how easy it is to rationalize my actions or fool myself. Shakespeare's Hamlet has the line, "To Thine ownself be true" and when it comes to life examination (which is certainly part of memoir writing) this is particularly important.

Brooks goes on to point out that we can also oversimplify our self analysis or become obsessed - both leading to less than the truth about us. Of course, our truth comes from knowing ourselves and ruminating about life, including journal or diary writing, can help us get some emotional distance. I know how important it is for me to do some journal writing whenever I am restless, irritable or discontent.

Another great insight from this article refers to the value of narrative writing (another way of saying life story). "We should see ourselves as literary critics, putting each incident in the perspective of a longer life story. The narrative form is a more supple way of understanding human processes, even unconscious ones, than rationalistic analysis."

If you are looking for a great computer journaling tool, I highly recommend DavidRM's The Journal - more here.

iPhone Left Clues to an Estranged Father's Life

August 5, 2014

Jordan Jayson works for The Huffington Post. That's an online site where I often find interesting stories, but they are usually written about people "in the world", not stories that give insight into the personal life of their staff. However, Jordan's story about finding her father's iPhone after he died and how it gave her clues to his life was a very poignant tale.

Her father passed away in the Virgin Islands, a destination he'd moved to many years ago. As a result Jordan had almost no contact with him for 25 years. She never got the chance to see him and say goodbye face-to-face before he died, but when she discovered his iPhone after his passing she was able to piece together a number of digital clues about her father's feelings for her as well as bringing up a number of old memories. She found some recipe apps that reminded her of when her family would order Chinese take-out. She also saw some pictures that showed how he looked in his final days. And she was able to peruse music on his phone and see that he also received daily jokes to his email along with the type of news and sports he was following.

Although she didn't get personal closure she did get a better understanding of her father. It wasn't a written life story, but she was able to put together some pieces of the puzzle. It's an interesting tale that could only have happened  in our digital time with our modern devices.

Below the Waterline

August 4, 2014

I live in the desert, so it is unusual for us to get a lot of rain, especially enough to cause flooding. But it can happen, and it did a couple of days ago when a thunderstorm dumped enough water on downtown Albuquerque to flood streets. A few unfortunated motorists tried to cross some of those streets and their cars suddenly became amphibious.
Car caught in Albuquerque downtown flooded street
Flood waters can be scary and damaging. It can also be exhilarating, as long as you aren't in danger. I recall a summer many years ago in Oklahoma. I was attending the University and that summer we had a lot of rain! My roommates and I sat on the porch of the house we had rented one morning and watched the water rushing down our street.  It was as if a river had suddenly replaced our residential road.

Last year I reported on a story of a flood in Colorado and how a family's portrait had been swept away in it, yet was miraculously recovered.

Do you have memories of floods? Sometimes they can be devastating, sometimes less so, but they usually make an impression. This is particularly true if you have belongings that get caught below the waterline. Try writing about such an experience and see where the memories take you. If they come "flooding back" then perhaps you've discovered some material to add to your life story.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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