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.