Personal Historians Are a Diverse Group
November 30, 2010
The emails have been flying back and forth at a furious pace by the
members of the Association of Personal Historians. APH is an
interesting group, to say the least! The thread that produced such a
great outpouring was centered around what these people did before
historians. Apparently a bit of everything.
Many members came from fields you might expect like journalism,
teaching, Television production and graphic design. There are also
quite a few who've worked in the corporate world of management,
advertising, copywriting and sales. But then there are those who've
wandered a colorful path, from farmer to actor, anthropologist to
clergy, choreographer to attorney, fund raiser, crisis counselor,
librarian, tailor, photographer, songwriter...the list goes on and on.
Two of my favorites were a one-time manager of a comic book store and a
visual effects supervisor for Lucasfilm (George Lucas' Light and Magic).
This got me thinking about my own career path over the years. I had
various odd jobs growing up (paper route, mowing lawns, fast food
restaurants, short order cook), then a lengthy career as a radio DJ and
program director. I've also worked with Internet Marketing, at call
centers, in real estate and ministry. Now I'm on the path to
certification as an elementary school teacher, but I'll keep doing
The diversity and eclectic background of APH members shows that many
people have the passion to preserve stories. This may spring, in part,
from our varied backgrounds. We've all got a few stories to tell of our
own! You can find out more about the Association of Personal Historians here.
Kept The Pilgrims From Starving
November 23, 2010
The Pilgrims who settled in the "New World" of Plymouth Rock in 1620
could have been a footnote in history - a colony that died off early
because of the harsh conditions. But they survived, in large part
because of the generosity of the Wampanoag - the indigenous tribe of
natives led by Massasoit. He forged a peace treaty with the settlers
and attended with his people the "first" Thanksgiving.
Massasoit was a peacemaker and our annual celebration each November -
enjoying the "harvest of plenty" and giving thanks - stems from his
willingness to make peace with those strangers from across the ocean,
the Pilgrims. It wasn't easy for him to take this stance. Peace Talks Radio has a new episode, just in time for
American Indian scholars Darius Coombs and Bob Charlesbois about that
historic time. Chris Eyre, Native American film director and actor who
portrayed Massasoit in the 2009 PBS series We Shall Remain, is
guest. You can listen to the episode online here.
Norris of NPR Memoir - The Grace of Silence
November 22, 2010
Chances are there are things you've kept to yourself and never told
anyone - not even a close family member. I'm not saying all
of it demands privacy.
Yet some stories provide a glimpse into a person's
character that is very powerful. Take for instance how Michele Norris,
award-winning journalist and co-host of NPR (National Public
Things Considered, discovered her father had been shot by
police officer in "Jim Crow" Alabama and kept that a secret.
Norris considered her father to be a model African-American as she grew
up in Chicago. When she researched her memoir, The Grace of Silence,
she discovered this family secret. She also wrote eloquently about the
times when it is better to hold your tongue, times when others misjudge
and assume, how racism runs deep and yet how dignity triumphs. There's
an excerpt from her book and more here.
Evening Post Published Holiday Piece About Interviewing Family
November 18, 2010
Another sign that personal/family history is becoming more recognized
as important and viable to the masses is the piece in the current issue
of the Saturday Evening Post. The article is about interviewing
members during the holidays and saving those stories - something I've
encouraged many times in past years. Nice to see APH
recognized in this article, including Susan A. Kitchens who does a
great job commenting on the article and how it came about. See her
posting at Family Oral History Using Digital Tools.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Take some time to stir up the
family stories and record them, write them down, or at the very least,
get a conversation started!
as Sacred Work
November 14, 2010
The gathering of stories, the preservation of personal history, the
passing along of family values, traditions and legacy - this is all
profound work. Sometimes I need that reminder. I need to pull back and
look again at the "Big Picture" of what it means to be a personal
There is a lot of detailed work involved in recording the experiences,
events and meaning of another person's life. The hardest, and yet most
rewarding, part of this work is crafting those stories into an
interesting narrative. I love to read a good memoir. It helps me to
find purpose in life when I connect with someone else and help them
preserve their stories. And I enjoy writing. When I am able to
accurately capture these experiences in the storyteller's "voice" it is
a mission accomplished.
There is something profoundly sacred in this work. Dan Curtis, a fellow
personal historian in Canada, reminded me of this with a recent post of
his, As Personal Historians, How Do We Rekindle “The Sacred” in Our Work? I hope that you
recognize it, too.
of the key points Dan makes it to listen to our elders. For those who are interested in the spirituality of
men and how men can become mentors
and elders to other men check out malespirituality.org.
Do All the Old Web Sites Go As World Wide Web Turns 20?
November 12, 2010
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, so named by
British engineer and computer scientist, Berners-Lee. He coined the
term but thought it wouldn't stick. Yet, here we are 20 years later
with the same name.
Do you ever wonder what happens to old websites? Are they archived
anywhere? It seems many are consigned to a "digital graveyard". A new
British exhibition is attempting to preserve some of these designs, in
a sense conducting an archaeological dig of the Internet. The
exhibit, Digital Archaeology, has renderings of early sites along
video montages of interviews with the creators of these early web
sites. More here.
November 10, 2010
November 11 is Veteran's
Day - a day we mark each year as one to remember and honor
our military veterans. I never think of it as "honoring war", but
rather recognizing the great sacrifices our men and women in uniform
The Veterans History Project (VHP) makes it possible to
record the stories of our veterans. It was set up by the Library of
Congress and the Association
of Personal Historians is an official partner (more here). The VHP has been
featured as a Highlight Site
with us - go
here to see. And remember to
thank a vet tomorrow.
Mark Twain Autobiography 100 Years After His Death
November 8, 2010
Mark Twain, the great American writer and satirist deom Missouri, made
attempts at getting his thoughts down in an autobiography. Apparently
he discovered at one point how much better it went when he could
dictate into an early recording device. He also found that for him it
worked best if he could start at no particular place in life and wander
freely about for whatever interested him about his life at the moment.
Interesting. I think this technique is worthwhile.
One of Mark Twain's directives was that some of his writings
were not to be released until one hundred years after his death. That's
this year. So the "official" Autobiography
of Mark Twain (University of California Press) is coming
out, a 700 page tome. You can actually read it online for free! Go to
the Mark Twain Project.
Historians Conference in Victoria
November 5, 2010
This year's conference of the Association
of Personal Historians is now underway in magnificent
Victoria, Canada. I'm not able to attend in person, but I'm regularly
checking the Voices of the Elders website. The APH is a
great collection of talented and mindful writers, video specialists,
editors, transcriptionists, speakers, educators and life story
preservationists. Personal history is the stuff of all our lives and we
are at the forefront of a growing movement. You have a story to tell
and need to tell it!
a Novel in One Month?
November 3, 2010
More than 200,000 writers across the world are expected to participate
in this year’s National
Novel Writing Month challenge. It's the biggest number of
writers yet to commit to the annual challenge by NaNoWriMo.
Writing Month is an international event where writers
attempt to hammer out a 50,000-word novel within the designated 30
days. I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge, although I have an idea of
what to write about. Yes, even personal historians like to write
fiction! Perhaps as Antonio Sanchez of the University of
New Mexico's Daily Lobo
suggests, I should Stop thinking; start writing.
Goodbye Before, During and After Death
November 1, 2010
All of us at some point deal with the death of a loved one. Sometimes
we see it coming, a terminal illness or injury. At other times it is
sudden and rocks us to the core. Most of us don't like to think of our
mortality, or that of family members, friends and loved ones. But the
grief we feel (which we all do and must be processed) is greater if we
haven't had the opportunity to "say goodbye" - to really communicate
our values and love.
One of the reasons I've been drawn to the work of personal history is
to help people realize the importance of communicating their life
stories, including values and important messages, before they die. I've
been blessed to work with people in this fashion. In fact, I'm in the
midst now of co-writing an eulogy for a man who died yesterday. He was
a charismatic and extremely talented entertainer, but he was also a
loving father and husband. His daughter approached me three years ago
to help write tributes to her mother who had just passed, and when her
father became ill this year she contacted me and we've been working
together the past few months to preserve her father's legacy. What an
There are others who doing great work in this area. I'm currently
reading Your Legacy of Love: Realize the Gift in Goodbye by Gemini
Adams. This British Grief Expert hits on some key points in her book,
especially about the emotional assets that are far more important to
most of us than financial assets. You can visit her website - Realize the Gift.
Don't wait too long to begin the process of saving your personal
history. And when the time comes to face death - your own or that of a
love one - do it with dignity and foresight.
PS - Perhaps you'd like to see what I wrote when my mother passed away
in 2006. The article is Opening Death's Door.