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January, 2006

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January 31, 2006

She was called the First Lady of Civil Rights. Coretta Scott King died today at the age of 78. She was born Coretta Scott on April 27th, 1927 in Marion, Alabama. When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Coretta continued her husband's work by building the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She later led the successful campaign to establish Dr. King's birthday, January 15th, as a national holiday in the U.S. She was an influential voice for social change and a great American, too. There are many tributes to her today (Google listings here).

You can learn about African-American history and genealogy with a four-hour documentary airing on PBS. The series is titled African-American Lives. According to the host, Renowned Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "No television series has explored black roots both in America and in Africa and used DNA research to investigate the origins of individual African-Americans. AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIVES will be a great way to introduce young people to the marvels of archival and scientific research and their practical applications. I hope that this project will encourage them - and all Americans, especially those of African descent - to explore their roots."

Check your local listings for more and see this web link.

January 30, 2006

Today's technology allows communication like never before. Nearly instantaneous, but often disposable. The art of letter writing seems nearly lost, yet that was (and still can be) the way we record parts of our family history over time.

The New York Times printed an article, In 200 Years of Family Letters, a Nation's Story, that is one of the largest collections of letters by a family - a true treasure trove of over 75,000 documents filling 200 boxes. The timespan includes the Civil War, early settling of Chicago, the early rise of feminism and the westward expansion of America. The current family owner is negotiating to donate the papers to an historical society.

What a remarkable collection. Most families don't have anything close to that amount of ongoing letters - but there are probably letters, cards and shared mementos. Perhaps you will be the one to collect and save these?

January 26, 2006

"Listen deeply...tell stories"

The above is the marketing line for the Center for Digital Story Telling. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, but I surfed by their site and it looks interesting. They offer public workshops and customized services and consultations. The Center for Digital Storytelling is a California-based non-profit 501(c)3 arts organization and you can visit their web site here.

January 22, 2006

I just sent out a new issue of our free monthly newsletter - if you are already subscribed look for it in your email box. I wrote about the idea of spiritual memoirs and I'd be happy to hear from you if you want more information about it.

If you are not subscribed but would like to receive the free Your Life is Your Story ezine go here to subscribe. You can also view past issues here.

January 17, 2006

You've got to hand it to Oprah Winfrey - she can be pretty sharp when it comes to marketing. All the press about James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces containing frabrications (her last "Book of the Month" selection) has resulted in lots of publicity for her and her book selections. Whether good or bad, it is still publicity. Now she has chosen her next monthly book selection. Night by Elie Wiesel is a first-hand account of of the horror he witnessed as a youth at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps during World War II. His family were among millions killed by the Nazis at these camps. Some have considered the book a novel, but Wiesel considers it more of a memoir.

The book Night was written in 1956 and first published in 1960 and over the years has earned high acclaim. Now it is shooting to the top of the bestseller lists thanks to Winfrey's endorsement. (more here)

January 15, 2006

Perhaps you've seen the recent controversy surrounding James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces. The book is a bestseller, propelled there in no small part by being an Oprah Winfrey "Book of the Month" selection.

Frey's story is about alcoholism and drug addiction, harrowing tales and eventual rehab and recovery. It has received lots of favorable reviews, but recently investigative website The Smoking Gun alleged that much of the book is fabricated. They state, in part: Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw "wanted in three states." (see story here)

This raises the whole issue about memoirs. It is one thing to embellish, but another to outright lie.

The author appeared recently on Larry King and denied the allegations and Oprah even phoned in and stood by Frey. Nevertheless, the book now seems tainted if some of the key elements are indeed more fiction than fact. It doesn't take away from James Frey's writing abilities, but it does raise a red flag about proper memoir writing.

I, along with many other professional personal historians, strongly believe that preserving and telling your life story is incredibly important and valuable. I hope that if you are planning on writing a memoir you will try to be honest about your life and the lessons you want to pass on.

January 6, 2006

I'm sure you run across quotations from time to time that resonate. Here's one from George Eliot that certainly fits for anyone who believes in a soul mate.

"What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are strengthen each be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."

January 4, 2006

Happy New Year to you all! As you move into this new year think seriously about how you might take some steps to preserve your family history and/or tell your story. The use of "ethical wills" is becoming a growing trend and an addition to financial planning as this article posted at the Motley Fool site attests. (Compose Your Legacy)

The year 2005 was a tough one for many, especially those affected by the many natural disasters (the hurricane season was one of the most violent ever). An interesting look back done by students in Albuquerque and published in the Albuquerque Journal's "Yes" section had the students doing a different reminiscing. Instead of looking back on the past year they wrote about the year 1905! That time was a buzz about a young Albert Eingstein's new theory of relativity, the possibility of widespread poverty in America and a proposed merger between Rolls and Royce for the fledgling automobile industry (with doubts that the machines would replace the tried-and-true horse driven carriages any time soon). It was an interesting read - sorry that it was not posted to the newspaper's website.

For all you football fans out there I hope you've enjoyed the exciting college bowl games. There have been some great contests and the big Rose Bowl battle between USC and Texas is going on now (so I've got to scoot!).

Everybody has a story to tell!
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