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.

W hat Kinds of Things Do Our Posterity Want to Know?

                                                             What Were They like?
     I  was talking to a mother and daughter, Renee and Alair, about what kinds of things they would like to know about their ancestors. They came up with a pretty good list and chances are our posterity will want to know the same kinds of things about us.

What Posterity Wants to Know
A chronological story of events
Were they musical? Did they sing or play instruments?
Are there funny stories about their lives?
What were their personalities like? Were they humorous? Quiet? Loud?  Social? Withdrawn?
What were their activities?
What talents and hobbies did they have?
Did they have siblings? What were their siblings and parents like?
What was their health like?
Did they have a patriarchal blessing or some special guiding creed?
What were their family secrets?
What were their favorite colors? Did they have other kinds of favorites?
What were their trials and triumphs?
What was the history of their time and place?
What were their homes and land like?
Were there any family recipes?
Did they move from place to place, or travel?
     I would add:
What was their education like?
What was their religion, or did they have a religion?
Who were their children, and what were they like as parents?
What was their occupation?
What is the origin of their roots?

     What are some of the things you’d like to know about your ancestors? Feel free to add to our list by leaving your comments.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

                     Make Those Memories

                       Nothing I love better than an art project

            L iz, one military wife I knew years ago, got tired of being alone with her children all the time and fighting the mundane, day-to-day battle. She said she spent so much time changing diapers, holding crying babies, cleaning up food off the floor and highchair, and doing laundry, that she sometimes needed a creative change.
She periodically planned activities, saw them through no matter how hard, took pictures and wrote about them. All of this, she put into a book that her family could enjoy.
            One activity was simply an outing at the park where she ate sandwiches and cookies with her children. A large stray dog was on the loose that day, and while he tried to ruin their activity, she got some funny pictures. Another time she made cookies with her preschooler while the baby was asleep. Flour flew everywhere, dough dotted the floor, and clean-up was an additional project, but the preschooler had a wonderful time. Still another activity involved paper, glue, scissors, and glitter on Valentine’s Day.
            The journaling and pictures of these planned mini-memories became a lovely book to show Daddy. Not too many years later, the book became a life-line of love from the mother to her daughters when Liz died of cancer in her prime.
            Never underestimate the importance of making and recording memories—even small ones. They could be especially meaningful to the travelers left on down the road.

                          Pictures Do Speak

P ictures speak their thousand words in silence, but they do say a great deal, so never underestimate their importance.
This courageous little bride married a widower with six children. (The baby isn’t pictured.) When asked about it later, she laughed and said, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.” But the marriage lasted and she went on to have five children of her own, raising a total of eleven children.
While she worked with determination to raise the family on earth, she referred to the deceased mother as the family’s “guardian angel” who was watching over the family from above.
When this little five-foot, two-inch bride took over as the mother of this family, she instigated a rule that anyone who swore—including such words as dang, darn, heck, or sheesh—had to pay a quarter or buy her a candy bar. The family’s language cleaned up in a hurry.
Another rule she put into effect was that no one could say anything about anyone else unless it was two of these: kind, true, or necessary. The family’s thinking became more magnanimous.
Over the years, this little mother made heroic efforts to keep all of her family alive and healthy. In one instance, she even got better than the nurses at caring for a grandson born with heart defects. You could say many hearts beat for this lady.
There is no greater cheerleader than this woman for her family. She tenaciously defends and encourages all good things in every family member.
Knowing now, what you do about this woman, aren’t you glad to have a picture to view?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

                     Writing Your Story

Many people are willing and able to write their own personal and family histories. For those so inclined, here are some guidelines for getting started.

                                                  Artwork from my mother's book

     Be honest. Don’t worry about your image as much as showing the lessons you’ve learned. Remember that there is no story if there isn’t conflict. There is no lesson learned going from point A to point B by people who start out, and end, perfect. Show that you are human and have changed and grown throughout your life.
     Your goal is to let people know what YOUR life is like, where you’ve walked, how you’ve faced your challenges, and what sense you make of your experiences.

Start With a Hook
            Instead of starting at your birth, begin your story with a hook; an interesting mini-story; something wonderful or something dreadful—a high or low—that will create interest and hold your audience.

Make an Outline
            Decide what is important and what is not. Make an outline to help you decide what things to include in your story and what clutter to leave out. (At a future date, I’ll write about some different approaches you might use in writing your story.)

Use Sensory Detail
            As you describe places, houses, people, and other things, make them come alive by telling how a thing looked, smelled, felt, sounded, or tasted.

Don’t Forget to Include Your Feelings
            You may have gone through a series of difficult or wonderful experiences, but of what use are they to you or me unless you tell how you felt about them? Share your insights.

Tell or Soft Pedal the Hard Truth?
            Robert Walsh, in his Deseret News article “Author Offers Tips on Making Personal History a Page-turner,” (2010) tells how Dawn Parrett Thurston, a writer of personal history, and a presenter at BYU Education Week, shared ten points to consider when the truth is difficult to tell.
1.      It’s importance to your story.
2.      Your purpose in revealing the information.
3.      Your audience.
4.      Your family.
5.      Your tone of writing. Be fair and tell both sides of the story, or show both sides of the person.
6.      Your tolerance for criticism, rejection, and the possibility of being disinherited. “Tell the truth in love.”
7.      Make sure your facts are correct.
8.      Avoid moralizing.
9.      Let your readers form their own conclusions. [Here’s where your opinion is better saved.]
10.  Don’t exaggerate.
There are other ways to handle the family skeletons. You can tell only the bare bones of an unhappy detail, or only mention it once, or leave it out altogether, or allude to it enough to make sense of what you are writing. Just so you know, posterity loves the family secrets; the skeletons; the shocking truth. You can use them as an inspiration to show how people make mistakes, repent, pick up the pieces of their lives, and move on.

Two other things: Be concise--don’t keep repeating yourself. And leave out as many adverbs and adjectives as possible. They are usually filler. Trim all the fat you can in your writing.

Good Luck and enjoy!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Be Sure to Include Fun Little Anecdotes in Your History

                       Overworked Hero
                       A fun little story told by Mary

Mary, making use of that washtub and her brother

      When I was almost six years old, my mother used to take me to musical pictures and movies; then my brother and I used to act out the parts in the back yard. One night as it was getting dark, we were sitting on an upturned washtub singing, “Are the Stars out Tonight.” This song was from a picture in which Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler played. In the picture they absent-mindedly rode to the end of the car-line. As they were walking back home, he carried her and sang the song. So that night I had my brother carry me from the tub to the back steps while I sang the song. After staggering under my weight half a dozen times, he finally said, “Listen Mary, you gotta cut out this love business, I can’t take it!”
      However, it was worth all the hard work because the lady next door gave us each a nickel the next day.

 Marie Scott
     —A Personal Life Historian

Let your story reflect the tears, triumphs, and beauty of your life.
Leave posterity your legacy of light instead of silence.
Lend a hand to others beyond the grave—leave them your lessons of life.


A Cutting Edge Bachelor’s Degree:   Brigham Young University, 2010

Emphasis:                                            Writing / Editing

Other Skills:                                Artist / Musician

Contact Information

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