Friday, June 22, 2012

Saving Letters

 Letters and postcards saved in a loose-leaf binder

Y you’ve heard of saving stamps? Well, saved letters can be even more important to a family historian. My grandmother saved my mother’s letters from the time she left home until the very day she died. Those letters tell of my mother’s daily life, and more importantly, they showcase her attitudes. Grandma had no way of knowing how important those eleven years worth of letters would be.
            Another reason to save at least a few letters is for the sampling of a loved one’s handwriting. For some reason, we love to see how people write. There are even those who say handwriting can give the beholder clues about the writer’s personality.
            Letters often contain more personal information than journals. Grandma told all in her letters—more than you wanted to know, if you know what I mean—and for that reason were tossed out. (This is why they should have been kept.) In her journals she kept laundry lists of what she and grandpa did, who came to visit, what they ate, where they went, and how they got from one place to another. There’s little mention of how she ever felt about anything, and there are no circumstantial details. Because she was writing to herself, she even failed to mention such things as the name of her “dearest friend” who died. (Grandpa)
            Now we have email instead of handwritten letters, and while email doesn’t give us a handwriting sample, it is still as good as a letter in many respects.
            You can save emails in a computer file to glean one day for history, or you can save print-outs of emails in loose-leaf binders.
n  Just another idea for preparing personal and family history.

DNA Samples

                      Saved hair samples in Mother’s book

T here is no way to save samples of DNA in a printed family history book. But with all of the amazing things our scientific world can do today with DNA, saving a strand or two of hair in a safe place could be a good idea. The mention and whereabouts of saved DNA could be put in the printed history.
            In the old days, strands of hair of a loved one were often saved in a locket for sentimental purposes.
            In my mother’s scrapbook, she saved strands of hair from all of her children; a practice she learned from her progenitors.
            DNA tests are now being done to either link people to, or rule them out of, the family line in genealogy. Who knows what else DNA may be used for in the future?
            Perhaps hair samples of each family member could be put into small labeled envelopes or baggies and saved in the back of the genealogy book, Bible, or in a fireproof safe or lock-box.
            Our family reunion is coming up. That would be a good time to take along a pair of scissors, a permanent pen, and a pile of envelopes. Look out everyone, here I come!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Active or Passive Voice?

Passive and Active Sheep

P eople may use the passive voice in their writing, or mix passive and active voices without knowing the difference. Should you use the active or passive voice in writing your history—and what is “voice” anyway?
“Voice” is the way verbs express action—either in the active or passive voice. Note the following examples:
I read the story. (Active voice)
The story was read. (Passive voice)
She told me to leave and never come back. (Active voice)
I was told to leave and never come back. (Passive voice)
The man chased Anna down the dark alley. (Active voice)
Anna was chased down the dark alley by the man. (Passive voice)
The passive voice subdues emotion and obscures the doer of the action. It’s used mostly in scientific and technical writing. The passive voice stresses WHAT is done while the active voice stresses the DOER of the action.
            It’s best to use the active voice in your history writing, (and most writing), because it’s more vibrant, interesting, forceful, and alive. It’s less likely to put the reader to sleep and is more personal and human.
            If there is a particular incident you’d like to subdue on purpose, there could be a use for the passive voice. For instance, maybe you’ve married into the family of a long-ago enemy and you want to soft pedal an incident to avoid offending family. Instead of using the active voice and writing this: “The guards lined the captives up against the wall and killed them.” You could use a less active verb and write in the passive voice:  “The captives were lined up against the wall and shot.” Or simply, “The captives were shot.”
                        If you’re in doubt, stick to the active voice. It’s one more way to hang on to your reader, infuriated or not. J

Point of View

My Point of View (up close and personal)

T  here are two best viewpoints for writing a family or personal history. You can write in the first person, “I,” viewpoint, or you can write in the third person, “he/she/John/Mary” viewpoint. Each has its challenges.
            The first person point of view is personal and interesting. You tell the story according to how you think, hear, know, see, and feel. But that is also your limitation. You can’t step out of your own skin and into someone else’s without creating confusion. The temptation is also to get caught up in telling the story and forget to include description, action, and even dialogue.
            In the third person perspective, you have broader control and have the advantage of changing your focus from one character to another, but this point of view is less personal and interesting. You are telling his and/or her story and may be tempted to switch into your own first person viewpoint. Don’t do it, it will confuse your reader.
            It’s best to pick a viewpoint and stick with it.
            Here are some examples of first and third person writing:

First Person
            I spent the summer watching Dad build the extension on the living room. I always seemed to be in his way and got stepped on or clunked on the head many times before I learned.  Dad asked me to bring him tools, and though I tried, I took him the wrong tools so many times that he nick-named me Second-Time Tilly. It was funny but I was determined to be a First-Time Tilly. Eventually I learned the correct names for all of his tools and felt quite proud of myself as a helper.

Third Person
            Mike built an extension on the living room of his house that summer. His little daughter always seemed to be under foot, and got hurt many times. He often asked her to bring him tools, but she brought him the wrong tools so many times that he nick-named her Second-Time Tilly. By the end of the summer he’d trained her to know all the names of the tools and to be quite a helper.

Decide what viewpoint will best help you tell your story, and either one, enjoy making it as interesting as you can.

His or Her Point of View

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life Sketch Approach . . .
To Writing Personal History

Quilt of Many Squares and Triangles

            Quilters understand the importance of each square in a quilt, even though there are so many. It takes a variety of many squares or shapes, each one equally holding its place, to make a beautiful quilt. So it is with the people in each of our lives. Our circle (or quilt) of people are important in the make-up of our lives. We only understand how important if we take the time to think about them and pinpoint the lessons we’ve learned from them.
This brings us to the “people approach” to writing personal history. If we were to write a life sketch of each of our immediate family members and then branch out from there to include our dearest acquaintances, we would be well on the way to having a personal history. Then we could flesh out our story by stitching the patches of sketches together with narrative about places, events and things.
People are what life is about.
My father wrote a book about his family in this form. He wrote a nice-sized sketch of each of the lives of his siblings and how they influenced him. He included a full-page picture of each one, and gave the book a catchy title—“Baker’s Dozen,” indicating the large number of siblings he had. It’s packed full of wonderful details that will be appreciated by researchers and historians one day, as well as family.
Later in life, as Dad grew older and was left behind by family and friends passing away, he wrote a life sketch of each of the people he knew as their obituaries showed up in the paper. He sent a comforting greeting to the family of the deceased along with his write-up about the influence that person had on his life. He has kept all of his original write-ups together in a book which could one day be included in a local history, as well as a family or personal history.
The lessons we learn from the people in our lives are legion, both things we want to emulate and things we want to avoid. Either way, they are helpful to us, and give us a rich patchwork of knowledge and passed-on experience that we keep for eternity.
However you write your personal history, don’t forget to include the people in your life.

Treasure People

                                                            Dressed up and on the way

T  here was a time in my life when I loved high heels, or “pumps,” and looked forward to wearing them one day. About the time when I would have worn them for real, chunky platforms were all the rage and regular pumps were nowhere to be seen—unless I wanted to wear stilettos—which I didn’t. The shoes of my choice passed me by and since I wasn’t a shoemaker there was nothing I could do about it.
We sometimes find ourselves in circumstances we didn’t choose. Sometimes life forces us into making choices we don’t want to make, or into choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, having made a bad choice, we are stuck with the unpleasant task of trying to do damage control. And sometimes we make a bad choice and can’t do anything but live with the consequences all the rest of our lives no matter how much we’d like to take it back.
Writers understand and treasure the human conditions people face. So do readers.
My sister and I have had the conversation, “If only I’d known better at the time, maybe I’d have made a better choice.” Bad choices and unfortunate circumstances are a reality in all of our lives. It’s often down the road, when it’s too late as we suppose, that we really gain understanding.
As you write about yourself and the people in your life, look for the reasons behind the actions in order to understand the actions. Was the person lonely, angry, in a difficult situation? Did they understand what they were doing? Were they caught in a moment of weakness? Were they in despair, or were they victims of low self-esteem? There are as many reasons for what we do or don’t do as there are actions. That reasoning is what sheds light on the story.
The mistakes we make, generally speaking, are universal. Most types of problems people have are found in any era of the world. People have always fought natural disaster and weather elements, pride problems, financial problems, family and people problems, health problems, self-esteem issues, and so on.
In writing my own personal history, I can write more clearly when I have thought about why I either did or faced what I did. How was I in a position to fall into that trap? Did I choose it?
Writers understand and treasure the conflict in peoples’ lives. So do readers. It’s the difficult times and the bad choices that move people on through growth and understanding.  If there were no problems in our lives, there would be nothing to write about that would interest another human being. We love the hero or heroine who makes a mistake and goes on to overcome it. However, the mistake is not the gist of the person.
The gist of each of us is how we go on from the big problems, and how we keep on in the face of all the little problems. It’s how we turn our mistakes into blessings for ourselves or someone else, or learn and help others learn that really tells who we are. Don’t forget the heart of the person and the heart of the matter when you write about people. Facts are good proof of a thing, but they don’t tell the whole story, the human story.
In your writing about people, include such things as descriptions, thoughts, words, wishes, intentions, favorite things, and so on—if you’re lucky enough to know such things or are in a position to draw conclusions. Look beyond the facts, but let the fact that you treasure people show in your writing, for writers understand and treasure people. So do readers.

People treasuring people 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beginnings and Endings

In or Out? Beginning or End? (An illustration I did for my book, The Elements and Principles of Design.)

B eginnings and endings cause writers the most grief. I have sat struggling over the beginning of a story many times. What am I trying to say? How should it be said or shown? What type of person would be reading this? And what would grab the interest of that type of reader? I sit at my computer and feel the blood rising in my head trying to feed my brain. I close my eyes, try to block out the distractions around me, and think. I write until I’m either satisfied or time runs out. Usually the time runs out—well—the time always runs out in my case.
Most writers write out the whole book or story from beginning to end. Then they make several passes back through the book fixing things—such as adding or subtracting details, rearranging things inside chapters, making sure of verb and pronoun agreement, and etc. Then they go back and rewrite the beginning and the ending. Here’s why.

·         Because beginnings should accomplish the following:
1.      Catch the interest of the readers.
2.      Introduce the characters.
3.      Set the stage—time, place, social atmosphere, era, situation.
That’s a tall order, and it applies to writing personal and family history as well as to books and articles.
            There are three approaches you can take with beginnings:
1.      You can start with an anecdote or little story that will generate interest.
2.      You can start with dialogue that makes the reader curious.
3.      You can make an interesting statement or raise a question that hooks the reader in.
Obviously, you have to decide which approach will work best for what you’re writing. And then the fun begins!

·         Because endings should accomplish the following:
1.      Wrap up loose ends.
2.      Answer raised questions.
3.      Make the reader feel satisfied.
There are three approaches you can take with endings:
1.      Create a summary.
2.      Conclude with a comparison of times, places, or people. (Harry was like his grandfather in that . . . .)
3.      Draw conclusions or submit final findings.
You need to make the work look, feel, and sound finished. And what a great place for a writer to finally be! Good Luck in your work.

Can you find the beginning or end to this one? (I did this a few days ago for a project I'm working on.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Journal Jar History

Salad dressing jar full of journal questions

            A  Simple but fun way to approach writing your history is to make a journal jar and draw out a topic to write about each week. What a fun read it will make in a few years!
            I made a journal jar in an evening by washing out a plastic salad dressing jar and filling it with strips of paper containing questions.
            I made it colorful by printing the questions on different hues of paper. (Not that it matters what the jar and etc. looks like, except for the artist in me or you.)
            You can find journal jar questions on the internet, or you can make up your own.
            As you write out or type your questions, look them over and add topics that are important to you. You can change typed questions into a pleasing font and size.
            I have also seen journal question books. In fact my husband and I have been writing responses to questions sent to us by our daughter who found them in a book of that sort.
            This journal jar idea is an old one I used many years ago, but is still around because it’s a good one. It’s another really fun approach to writing your history. Try it and enjoy!

Making Maps and Drawing Diagrams

My Canadian Grandmother’s Stomping Grounds

            M y dad and uncle both wrote history about their families and included pictures where they could. But one of the things that charms me most is their maps and diagrams. Dad drew a picture of his hometown neighborhood as it looked in his childhood. It’s fun to see how things have changed in that town. He also drew pictures of farm equipment they built by hand. Wonderful history! My uncle made sketches of home floor plans, and yards equally interesting.
            I can guarantee you that history buffs and ancestors will appreciate any maps, floor plans, or diagrams you can provide. I’m sure my daughters would rave over anyone’s home floor plan—especially if it includes the placement of furniture.
            Below is an example of a map I drew of the small town of Cockersmouth, Cumbria, England where my grandfather grew up. The town is very old, and was built around Cockersmouth Castle. By looking at the map, you can also learn many other things about the town. You can see a river runs through it, and there was a mill and a brewery there.
            The name Cockersmouth is also a clue as to how the town got its name. It used to be the gathering place for cock fights, even after cock fighting was outlawed—say the history books.
            Don’t be shy about including drawings of rooms, homes, yards, towns, or anything else you don’t have in a picture. It will only add in the interest to and understanding of your history. Make it fun, I always say!

Cockermouth, Cumbria, England

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Did Grandma Do?

Grandma on her birthday in 1972
            W hat did Grandma and other forebears do to deal with the challenges of life? We can learn how they coped if diaries, journals, or personal histories were left behind from which to glean clues. For instance, I raised a question while I was researching a paper on writing, art, and depression. Did Grandma or Grandpa ever feel depressed? If so, what did they do about it back in the days before there were anti-depressant drugs?  (Depression, brought on by mental or physical stress or distress of some kind, causing people to become sad—even  mentally disabled—was also called many things through the ages, such as “the doldrums,” or “the blues.)
Can we find clues about the coping methods of our ancestors that will work for us as well? This is what I learned about Grandma and her “blues.”
            Grandma lived in rough, hard times for Utah folk, so it follows that life wasn’t easy. She was also raised on a farm by her mother, with an often absent father, which means life was that much harder.  I know that her husband was killed in a car accident up Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, that she described to me. His brains were dashed out and scattered all over the road, and she gathered them up with her hands, and put them back in his head. She was left a young widow with four little children.
Over the years, she remarried, lost babies, and raised thirteen children through the economic “Great Depression” of the forties.  She had every right to be depressed, and I do remember her saying she had “the blues” periodically.
Here are some of the things I watched her do while fighting off the blues.
                        She found a job that needed to be done and worked hard at it.
                        She prayed and took her troubles to the Lord.
She found comfort in reading her scriptures.
She sang songs or hummed while she worked.
She did her “handiwork,” which was enjoyable and comforting. (It could be mending, sewing, embroidering, or crocheting)
She escaped into a good book.
She played games with the family or went to a movie.
She put on a record and danced.
She wrote in her journal.
She took a walk and paid attention to nature.
She gardened.
She looked for the humor in her situation and laughed.
Most often, she found someone in need and served them.
            Those are mostly things we still do now.
I checked other sources for indications that people dealt with depression in the “old days,” and I didn’t have to go very far to find out that they did. In an old book edited by Parley P. Pratt from the 1800s, there is the mention of some of the things people suffered with, including depression. Here’s what it says and what it names as the cause:
Indigestion, giddiness [dizziness], headache, mental depression, etc.,
are often the effects of greediness in meat and drink. Omitting one, two,
 or three meals, or more, allows the system to rest, to regain strength,
and allows the clogged organs to dispose of their burdens. (Home 
Economy, Etc., Second Edition. Compiled and Edited by P. P. Pratt. Copyright, 
1895, by P. P. Pratt. Printed at Geo. Q. Cannon & Sons Co., Salt Lake City.)
We may not blame too much food and drink as a cause of depression now, but they were on the right track, as generally too much of anything that causes a biological imbalance can cause a mental imbalance.
How lucky we are to have all of Grandma’s options for dealing with depression, as well as more options that put good literature, music, movies, games, and information at our fingertips through advanced technology.
 We now have proven research that tells us why serving others or doing something creative is an antidote for depression. (Surprisingly, we also know now that one of the best methods of self-help for depression is writing and doing expressive artwork—the very skills we use to do personal and family history.)           
As time goes by, people tend to lose track of their forbears’ solutions to life’s problems—some of which are just as well lost. But others remain timeless in combating life’s problems. That wisdom we glean, and the lessons we learn from Grandma’s written trail, may be the one thing that speaks to us when nothing else will—a good reason to record and pass on our own family history. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hire Me as Your Personal Historian

                     I OFFER THESE SERVICES:

                1. A free initial consultation
                2. Personal and phone interviews
                3. Writing, typing, and editing your personal
                     history using interview material and your
                     own notes, writing, pictures, and memorabilia
                4. Adding graphics as you desire
                5. Seeing the book through to publication

In addition to the reimbursement cost of publishing, I charge the low 
rate of from $8.00 to $15.00 an hour for my services, depending on 
the demand and scope of the work. Optional artwork is an additional 
cost discussed at the time of hire.

        Let’s start your story today!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Problems
With Writing My Personal History Are . . .

Treasures of Truth Book -- a Life Story

I don’t know where to start.
It takes too much time.
I’m no good at writing.
I don’t know what to put in or leave out.
I seem to keep starting and never finish.
I’m too young to have a story.
I’m too old to get the job done now.
I’m just not interested in doing it.
I can’t do it myself, but I can’t spend much on having a historian do it for me.

Possible Solutions to the Problems

I Don’t Know Where to Start
Start by writing stories about your life that you think would interest your children or grandchildren. You know what? Write stories about your life that interest you, and they will surely interest your posterity. Write about whatever you want, as the stories occur to you. After you have several stories, they can be organized chronologically or under topic headings, and become your history.

It takes too much time.
            It does take time to write. But if you do it in small increments, on a regular basis—say on Saturdays or Sundays—you will eventually have a nice history. Give up your television, reading, or game time one day a week or month, and put your history down. Persistence in creating small portions is the secret to finding time. If you’re computer-savvy, you can organize your efforts so as to type and save the stories as you go, then it’s easy to rearrange them in the order you wish. If not, write and end each story separately, then you can stack the stories in the proper order as you go, or do it after you’re finished.

I’m no good at writing.
            Not everyone is a writer, it’s true. But let me tell you a little secret: Some of the most interesting writing is done by people who simply write from the heart. Being honest is better than being grammatically or technically proficient. Think of diary or journal accounts you’ve read or listened to that were written by early settlers or pioneers. Not all pioneers were good at writing, but those who wrote at all have been read, researched, reread, and enjoyed. Your writing will be too.

I don’t know what to put in or leave out.
            That’s always a good question. I would suggest making a timeline, or an outline of the most important things, and then filling in the detail that most shows who you are. Certain details are just as important to include as the big events, so give a sampling of the little things that make up the big picture. Use my three bears rule: Include some of the big, medium, and little things in each of the three eras of your life—your childhood, middle years, and older years. Find and record important dates, places, people (use full names), and historical information that could be useful to your family researchers. If you give information about family members, make sure you document it, or tell how you came by that information.

I seem to keep starting and never finish.
            That’s okay. Don’t throw any of it away. Keep it together until either you, a personal historian, or one of your ancestors, can sort through it and write it up properly. If you leave it to an ancestor, it may not be just as you would have done it, but it may be done better, because family members who take an interest in these things are usually the ones who are also good at them. Take good care of the information, label it, and indicate you’d like it given to an interested party, so some super-cleaner doesn’t pitch it out.

I’m too young to have a story.
            I suppose my mother could have said that because she died at age 31. But instead, she left the family a four-inch thick “Treasures of Truth” book full of memorabilia, including her life’s story, genealogy, and life sketches on all of her family members and best friends. There are pictures and bits of information about each of us children, and even snippets of our hair. Her life is in that book, short as it was. Her spiritual testimony, patriarchal blessing, hobbies, favorite stories and Bible characters are all included in that book. That book is worth its weight in gold. It catches the gist of who she was, what she believed, and how she loved each of us. Anyway, now days children are encouraged to keep journals and scrapbooks—besides their therapeutic value, you just never know how they might come in handy.

I’m too old to get the job done now.
            Then save your things, pictures, memorabilia, any writings, and do as I suggested above. Store it carefully, label it, and give it to a family member who loves you and has an interest in family history. Better yet, hire a personal historian and let them do the leg-work and pull your story out of you. It will be some of the best money you ever spent. You’ll love your book when it’s finished.

I’m just not interested in doing it.
            Then don’t. That’s one of the best reasons I’ve heard yet for hiring me to do it for you. And let me just say, I’m glad my mother didn’t feel that way. I could lecture you about how your posterity will wonder about you and feel the same way we historians and interested family members do when we have no information of any kind on our long-gone relatives. But I’ll save it.

I can’t do it myself, but I can’t afford to spend much on having a historian do it.
            To hire a personal historian to make you a good quality book, is in the ballpark of about $1,500. But we’re talking about a nice hardcover book with reproduced black and white pictures, and the payment of your historian to do at least one personal interview—depending on how much written information you can produce, some phone interviews, and the work of organizing, typing, and designing your book. The cost can be greatly reduced by simply going with less costly options for publication. (Spiral bound, medium-hard cover plastic front and back, copied- paged book, being the least expensive way to go.)
Also, many personal historians are not in the business just for the money. They are generally willing to do the job according to your budget. They do need to get reimbursed for their costs and make it worth their while, but many of them will do the work at a surprisingly low cost. Personal historians love their work, understand the importance of each client’s story, and come to love their clients as a result of the work. Whatever you spend on having your story preserved will be some of the best money you ever spent on this earth.

If you haven’t realized it yet, hiring a personal historian to do your history automatically takes care of all of the above problems.  J

Friday, February 3, 2012


Timeline of an event

          A ny good personal history might include one or more timelines. A timeline is a chronologically ordered chart, table, or outline listing dates, events, summaries, and/or pictures. Timelines don’t include all the detail, but they list the most important events, steps, or graphics. For instance, the above picture shows a typical event in a man’s life, not because that event was so important, but because this event captures an important trait of this man’s character. He saw what needed to be done, and would find ways around the limitations and get the job done. He did this throughout his life. By using this timeline I was able to quickly illustrate—with proof—one of his dominant character traits.
Another man worked at three part-time jobs, went to college, picked up his child from daycare each night, and fixed dinner. A timeline could be used to show how he fit all this into his day.
            A timeline can be used to list events that span a century, or  just one day. It’s a good way to map out your life chronologically, or to show yearly pictures of you as you were growing up, or to illustrate the events of a typical day.

            Here are some simple examples of formats they might take.

Timeline of Life’s Events

1948    Was born on . . .
1954    Started school at . . .
1955    Was hospitalized for . . .
1960    Started junior high at . . .
1963    Started high school at . . .

Timeline of Schools

Elementary          Junior High             High             Junior              State                   Etc.
School                  School                      School          College            University

Timeline of Pictures

First                               Second                                    Third                                  Fouth                       Etc.

Notice how even picture genealogy charts could be considered timelines.

Use timelines to give a quick view of graduated events, or an over-view of your life. Timelines can be a form of artwork—almost like scrapbooking. Have fun with them.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does Anyone Care About the Small Stuff?

                                            Relatives, all gone now, having a great time working together.

D oes anyone care about the little everyday things we do? I have learned that I do. I’d like to know what my grandmother’s routine was as a child, as a young mother, as an empty nester. I’d like to know how she made her bread and soap. I’d like to know what her surroundings were like, and what her opinion was on a myriad of mundane subjects.
“There’s nothing interesting in my life to write about,” said my sister. “I go to work at my first job, go to work at my second job, come home exhausted, fix dinner anyway, and go to bed.”
Then she continued to talk about the appalling politics at work. (Guy One wrote up Guy Two just before quitting his job—effectively making Guy Two look bad enough to want to leave his job as well. Someone left a company phone behind full of incriminating information.)  She explained some of the fun things her older son does with his Sunday school class at church. She talked about her brand new hair style, and why she made such a dramatic change after years of wearing the same style. On and on she described her life, full of interesting details.
Those little things combine to become our days, our years, and our lives; interspersed with the big things such as births, deaths, marriages, moves, job changes, trips, tragedies, triumphs, and so on.
Grandpa got dressed up and sat in a chair most of the day toward the end of his life. As a child I wanted to know why his legs hurt so bad. I also wanted to know why his hand was missing two fingers.
My children might wonder why my dad sits in a chair now too. And why did he go to Saudi Arabia and work for King Fahad after his retirement?
No life is uninteresting. It takes a lot of effort to thrive or survive, and the effort takes us through a lot of high and low experiences.
Take a lesson from Jane Austen who got a lot of mileage out of writing about the small stuff.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Home Approach to Personal History

I f you’ve moved around a lot, one approach to writing your history is to write about the events that took place in each home. Take a historical walk through each room of the houses you lived in and glean the stories seen by those walls.
“I can picture my sisters’ bedroom in one place we lived. Their room had wallpaper of white flowers on a faded yellow background. On the beds are rock star magazines, mailed to us from our grandfather who lived in England. There are Beatles posters on the wall near one sister’s bed, and Herman’s Hermit pictures near the other sister’s bed. Living so far out in the country as we did, those magazines linked us to the historical rock star revolution in our time, of which we would otherwise have known very little. Yes . . . now I can think of other stories and details of that place.”
And that’s how it’s done, one place after the other.
I actually wrote my own history this way at one time. As I look back at it, writing done that way gives a wonderful sense of time and place—very nostalgic. It’s almost delicious to read, now.
Even if you didn’t move around in your life, take that historical walk through your home anyway. Describe the rooms, and what you see in the rooms. Tell the stories of those rooms, then go on to tell about those outside gardens, those hay fields, those city streets, those country paths, those cow barns, those memories.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Borders and Artwork

T here are times when borders or artwork add a fantastic element to a personal history. I love creating a combination of art and story.
I have drawn portraits for family history records from old, worn photos with the detail rubbed out. I have drawn portraits from discolored pictures of babies who died shortly after birth, but I made the babies look sleeping and beautiful in the drawings. I once drew a picture of a mother whose face was burned in a fire while rescuing her baby. She cried to see a portrait of her face made whole again. In my own family, there is one small picture of me and my twin sisters when we were very young. When blown up, it became blurred and grainy, so I enlarged the picture in a drawing.

Old, Worn Picture Drawn With Enhanced Detail

Small Picture Drawn Larger

I love to create a family crest, or a personal logo. My own logo is a rose on a background of music notes. The rose reminds me of God and his creations—my growing family and the lovely things of the world. The music reminds me of the creative arts and my love of music, art, and writing. What might your personal logo picture? Or would you love a vignette of you and your sweetheart with your home, a temple, or other symbols of your past in the background?

My Personal Logo

I can create a hand-designed border that will add a taste of the outdoors, of family roots, of culture, or anything a client may want.

Borders and Art in Color or Black and White (as you wish)

I can take a family character and write his or her story into a picture book for children. Below is a painting I did for a children’s story of a set of faithful draft horses, Preg and Dan. There were no snapshots of these favorite old horses, but now they are captured in an illustration that helps to tell a wonderful family story.

Preg and Dan; Children's Book Illustration

Some people like their history plain and straight forward. Others want some tasteful embellishment, and still others want some fuss and feathers. I’m all for making your story reflect who YOU are, and be as comely, lovely, or fun to look at as it is to read.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Include Family Recipes in Your Personal or Family History

                                                                 Family Recipes

                                 Homemade Cookies

         A  couple of years ago, my sister phoned me and asked if I had Grandma’s old raisin spice cookie recipe. She wanted to make cookies for Dad’s birthday, and those were his favorites. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find anyone who could find it. That’s how easily a family recipe can be lost.
            Of the thirteen children in my Dad’s family, he is the only one still alive. All of Grandma’s grandchildren ate her raisin spice cookies, but none of us have had the recipe until now. I think I found it.
            Definitely include family recipes in your personal and family history. I can’t tell you how many times my children have phoned to ask me for old family recipes.
Family recipes should be preserved for future generations—even if it’s just to give them an idea of what we ate. Maybe they’ll laugh or maybe they’ll be delighted.

                                   Grandma’s Raisin Spice Cookies

Cook Time: 12-15 minutes     Oven Temperature: 350 degrees

·         1 cup water
·         2 cups raisins
·         3/4 cup shortening
·         1/4 cup butter
·         1 3/4 cups sugar
·         2 eggs, slightly beaten
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
·         3/4 cup chopped walnuts
In a small saucepan combine water and raisins; bring to a boil. Cook for about 4 minutes; remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and butter with sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together dry ingredients, including spices; gradually add to creamed mixture, blending well. Stir in chopped nuts and cooled, undrained raisins. Drop raisin cookies onto greased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cookies are done.
Makes about 6 dozen raisin cookies.

What are your favorite family recipes? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


                                 Grandpa's Pickle Jar

     In life’s busy shuffle today, family heirlooms may be forgotten, neglected, or even lost. It is absolutely appropriate to take pictures of your family heirlooms and tell the story of their origins and what they mean to you, and include this information in your personal or family history.
     “Things,” though they don’t last forever, and can’t be taken with us when we die, are still part of our mortal experience. We need some “things,” (though surprisingly few) to survive. To make music, we need instruments—or a singing voice. To lift our spirits, free our creativity, or beautify our surroundings, we make or acquire lovely or curious things. Some of those things are passed on to us by our posterity, and become heirlooms. They may have some special story attached, or were given to our ancestor by a special person.
     I have an old English pickle jar in my china hutch. If I take a picture, write about it, and include it in my personal history, my children and posterity will be able to do more than wonder about it. They will know what it is and that it came from my grandfather in Hythe, Kent, England.  
     The other day, my son asked me about my old worn-out bear with the missing ear. I was surprised to find out that he didn’t know her name is Matilda, and she came from his grandmother. I’ve had that bear with me since I was nine years old. She hasn’t got much more life left in her, so I took pictures of her. Her story is that she’s been with me through thick and thin, and also saw my mother through her whole life. Potter’s Velveteen Rabbit has no more grand story.
Matilda, the One-Eared Bear

     There is an heirloom I’m particularly fond of that came from my grandmother, which belonged to my mother. It’s a leaf bowl with a figurine that stands in the center of a pair of herons or flamingos. It’s so characteristic of the fifties! When I look at it, it reminds me of my mother and her living room, and what it was like living in the fifties.
     My step-mother crocheted a beautiful blessing dress for my youngest sister. It hangs in a glass-framed shadowbox at the end of her bedroom hall. A peak down that hall gives the viewer a “Wow” experience. It hasn’t been passed anywhere yet, and it’s already a family heirloom.
     Heirlooms speak of family skills, acquisitions, and values.
                       Heirlooms translate to memories.

                               Mama's Fifties Bowl and Figurine

          What are your favorite family heirlooms? Tell us about them in the comment section.