Tag Archives: family stories

Encore! How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Campbell’s recent book  Start and Run a Personal History Business published by Self-Counsel Press. If you’re thinking of making personal histories a business, you owe it to yourself to get this book. Jennifer knows her stuff. She’s been a professional personal historian since 2002 and prior to that had a 25 year career as an editor, writer, and interviewer… Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup will tickle the fancy of typography geeks. If you’re one who loves fonts, check out A Periodic Table Of Typefaces and 6 Variations on Drop-Cap Typography.

One of my favorite articles is Memories of Mom’s cooking. For those who are working with or caring for someone with dementia this is a must read.

  • What It’s Like To Write A Woman’s Life. “Women’s History Month starts on Thursday. All through March, Tell Me More will dig into inspiring, bold and sometimes disturbing stories of notable women — from Cleopatra to Coco Channel. To launch the biography series, host Michel Martin talks with two essayists about why it’s important to tell women’s stories, and how that storytelling has evolved.”
  • Why Memoir Matters. “… memoir can also be looked at as the most literary form of something most of us engage in, actively or passively, most of our lives and even after our deaths. I refer here to what academics call “life writing”…[it] refers to all the forms in which human lives get inscribed or represented, whether public or private, written or graphic, print or electronic, static or interactive. And the forms are constantly evolving and proliferating.”
  • Character Witness. “A far cry from staid desk jockeys, biographers regularly court ecstasy, terror and obsession in illuminating their subjects.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • Memories of Mom’s cooking. “It’s a cold, blustery day and I’m planning to cook a hearty beef stew with the help of my elderly mother. This may not sound remarkable, but it is when you consider she lives several hundred kilometres away in a complex care facility. With advanced vascular dementia, she spends much of her time roaming the halls in her wheelchair, asking the care aides if they’ve seen my father. He passed away two years ago.”
  • For Typography Geeks, A Periodic Table Of Typefaces. “USA-based designer Cam Wilde of Squidspot created a Periodic Table for typeface junkies.The ‘Periodic Table of Typefaces’ is “the style of all the thousands of over-sized Period Table of Elements posters hanging in schools and homes around the world,” according to Wilde. The Periodic Table features 100 of the most popular, influential and notorious typefaces of today.”
  • How Not To Hurry. “…often we compete by trying to show how busy we are. “I have a thousand projects to do!”, “Oh yeah? I have 10,000!”. The winner is the person who has the most insane schedule, who rushes from one thing to the next with the energy of a hummingbird, because obviously that means he’s the most successful and important. Right? Maybe not.Maybe we’re playing the wrong game—we’ve been conditioned to believe that busier is better, but actually the speed of doing is not as important as what we focus on doing.”
  • Book Design: 6 Variations on Drop-Cap Typography. “The tradition in book design of making the first letter in a paragraph larger than the rest of the type goes back pretty far. In fact, it predates printing entirely. This practice started with scribes…Today, this practice survives in the drop capitals we see at the beginning of chapters. But like everything else in book design, it’s best to be guided by the long traditions of bookmaking when deciding how to use them.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup has a couple of useful articles that’ll improve your website. After reading Are You Making These 7 Mistakes with Your About Page?,  I realized that I’ve got some work to do on my About Page. And How to Write is a pithy 10-point list that all bloggers need to take to heart. If you’re a personal historian and unfamiliar with Cowbird, you owe it to yourself to read Cowbird Debuts New Saga on Valentine’s Day. It’s another innovative way of collecting stories.

  • My Memoir Helped Me Reconnect With My Family. “The writing of Man Shoes was a legacy exercise for my sons that turned into a therapeutic exercise for myself. The healing and understanding that has come about through the writing of Man Shoes is miraculous. At fifty years of age, I am now a much stronger, more secure, happier, and more productive individual than I have ever been. Hopefully Man Shoes continues to inspire others in the coming months and years–just as it did me as I wrote it.”
  • Graphic Atlas. “…a new online resource that brings sophisticated print identification and characteristic exploration tools to archivists, curators, historians, collectors, conservators, educators, and general public.”
  • Cowbird Debuts New Saga on Valentine’s Day. “Email and text messaging have left many of us accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to communication, though impulsive tweets and status updates often lead to regret. Our methods of communication have evolved so rapidly, many of us can now tweet about anything (or nothing) within a few seconds. In the era of 140-character updates, when the lingo has become so foreign that you may need a translator to follow Twitter conversations, have our messages lost their depth? Jonathan Harris thinks so – and says his new project, Cowbird, houses personal, searchable storytelling – and may someday be the one-stop shop for an inclusive public library of human experience.”
  • How to Write. “On September 7th of 1982, advertising legend David Ogilvy sent an internal memo to all employees of his advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. The memo was entitled “How to Write,” and consisted of the following list of advice.”
  • A Way with Words. “Public radio’s lively language show.” [Thanks top Wendy Ledger of VoType for alerting me to this item.]
  • Best of the Blogs: Old School and New Skills. “Don’t have time to keep up with design and photography blogs? Keep calm and read on. In this blog round-up you’ll find the most popular fonts of 2011, an amazing type book from 1912, a Herb Lubalin video from the 1980s, and a Photoshop cooking demonstration from 2007. Plus, there are plenty of Photoshop how-tos, digital photography tips, and design ideas.”
  • Are You Making These 7 Mistakes with Your About Page? “…lots of website owners have an easier time proposing marriage than they do writing a solid About Page. If that’s you, you’re probably overcomplicating things. A good About Page is simple, straightforward, and it communicates just a few key things.”

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Don’t Do This!

Don’t worry. If you’re expecting this to be another New Year’s admonishment about unhealthy eating, excessive drinking, or lack of exercise, it isn’t. It’s about what not to do if you want to get the best life story interview with your client.

Recently there’s been some discussion among my colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians about the way to record life story interviews.  Some personal historians use a digital voice recorder. Others prefer taking notes by hand or typing the interview directly into their laptop.

The latter make it clear they can type as fast as people talk, edit on the fly, maintain eye contact, and save the time and costs of transcribing the interview. For those who take notes by hand, they explain that this helps them keep the story to the essentials.They may record the interview for reference to ensure the accuracy of quotes. All point out that this method of interviewing is what they’re comfortable with and their clients are happy with their work.

But achieving the best interview possible has nothing to do with the time and cost of transcriptions, what process a personal historian is most comfortable with, or editing on the fly. These are all factors that speak to the preferences of the personal historian not the quality of the interview.

5 good reasons to ditch the laptop and handwritten notes.


1. An integral and invaluable part of any personal history is recording and preserving the spoken word. Hearing  a loved one’s voice is a precious remembrance for bereaved families and future generations. Personal histories involve more than assembling edited transcripts into a story.

2. Laptops and note taking are distracting. I know this from having been interviewed a number of times by journalists. Imagine for a moment that you’re  talking to a columnist. You’re pouring your heart out but she’s writing nothing down. Then you move on to something that seems insignificant and the writer starts scribbling furiously. You wonder why these comments  elicited such a response. It’s unnerving. It’ll be unnerving for your clients too.

3. Multitasking doesn’t work. There is now sufficient research to show that the mind can’t process more than one thing at a time.  People can’t type or take notes and be fully engaged with a client at the same time. Trust me. It can’t be done.

4. Editing decisions are best made after not during an interview. It’s not possible to tell what portions of a narrative need to be dropped until you have a feel for the whole story. An item that seems of little importance at the time of the interview may turn out to be a crucial element in the story.

5. Listening to your interviews improves your skills. There’s tremendous value in recording an interview and being able to play it back. I do it all the time. For one thing, it enables you to see what follow-up questions to ask. But equally important, it gives you an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses as an interviewer.


Not all approaches are equal when it comes to recording personal histories.  Choose a good digital recorder and microphone over a laptop or handwritten notes. Your clients will thank you.

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Photo by DonkeyHotey

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this week’s Monday’s Link Roundup, if you self-publish, don’t miss Book Design for Self-Publishers: Raw Materials.   This is a terrific site for anyone involved in book design.  And if you’re like me and don’t include pricing on your website, you might change your mind after reading Why We Are Afraid to Talk Pricing.

  • Telling Life Stories Through Quilts. “Generations of women have been telling stories in fabric — with quilts. Lisa Morehouse paid a visit to one quilting bee in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Many of the group’s members emigrated to work in the local apple orchards and vineyards.”
  • End of life: You shared your stories. “As part of the Globe’s in-depth series on End of Life decisions in the 21st century, we asked you to tell your stories around this difficult topic. Readers from across the country joined the conversation.”
  • The Life Reports II. “A few weeks ago, I asked people over 70 to send me “Life Reports” — essays about their own lives and what they’d done poorly and well. They make for fascinating and addictive reading, and I’ve tried to extract a few general life lessons.”
  • Not Your Grandmother’s Genealogy Hobby. “Wikis, social-networking sites, search engines and online courses are changing genealogy from a loner’s hobby to a social butterfly’s field day. New tools and expansive digital archives, including many with images of original documents, are helping newbies research like pros.”
  • Why We Are Afraid to Talk Pricing. “Think about the last time you went to a website for a product or service that you couldn’t buy outright online. Did it list prices? Or did the site encourage you to call for more information? How many times do you walk away from a purchase simply because you couldn’t get enough information on pricing to make an informed decision?”
  • Book Design for Self-Publishers: Raw Materials. “When you sit down to design a book, there are organizational tasks you have to address right at the beginning. Getting your raw materials organized and making sure your workflow will produce an efficient publishing process are important enough to spend some quality time on. Let’s take them one at a time.”
  • Family Tree Magazine Podcast Episode Notes. “Tips on how to get relatives to discuss family history, a discussion of the Historic American Cookbook Project, and news on the Genealogists for Families project at Kiva.com. Plus: Learn more about creating a family history book from Family Tree University’s Nancy Hendrickson.”

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Encore! Scrabble And Family Stories.

Scrabble 2

Image via Wikipedia

I read an essay, Lessons Beyond Words by Darren Yourk, on the Globe and Mail website.  It’s subtitled, While thrashing me at Scrabble, Grandma did more than expand my vocabulary. She shared our family’s story. Yourk’s piece is both humorous and touching. Here’s an excerpt… Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

To start off your week, why not peruse some of these lively articles in Monday’s Links Roundup? I recommend The Power of Color! for tips on how to use color to sell your products or services.  And for a really creative memoir idea, take a look at The Sidewalk Memoir Project.

  • From Scroll to Screen. “Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all. The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type.”
  • Five Ways to Improve Your Social Media Skills. “The sites you subscribe to and the thoughts you post define you: as a connection, a customer and even a thought leader. If you have a product or service and you are not using social media to reach out to the masses you are missing a huge opportunity.”
  • The Sidewalk Memoir Project. “I’m teaching an 8 a.m. session of Writing Rhetorically this semester, which is Bridgewater State’s equivalent on Writing I. You need to be a little innovative when you’re trying to hold a class’s attention that early in the morning, so here’s what we ended up doing Thursday. The exercise — which doubled as a lesson in brevity as well as audience — ended up going much better than I thought it was.”
  • National Punctuation Day. “This Saturday, September 24, is National Punctuation Day. Founded by Jeff Rubin, the holiday seems readymade for copyeditors. Rubin’s site offers a few ways to celebrate his holiday, but for word professionals, the best way is to correct punctuation in your editing every day—not just on Punctuation Day—and instruct your writers on better punctuation usage. Gently, of course. Here are a few resources for punctuation lessons:”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup has two terrific lists, 100 Resources for Writers and 50 Best Memoir Blogs. And if you want to read about the value of life stories for terminally ill patients, be sure to check out For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life. 

  • Objects and Memory. “The documentary film Objects and Memory depicts experiences in the aftermath of 9/11 and other major historic events to reveal how, in times of stress, we join together in community and see otherwise ordinary things as symbols of identity, memory and aspiration. In its exploration of people preserving the past and speaking to the future, Objects and Memory invites us to think about the fundamental nature of human interaction.”  [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]
  • Blast From the Past. “Wondering what hot topics your grandparents discussed with the neighbors, or what tunes your mom whistled as a teen? Want to flesh out your family’s story with facts about everyday life? Enjoy reminiscing about days gone by? Our book Remember That? A Year-by-Year Chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines and Your Memories, by Allison Dolan and the editors of Family Tree Magazine, is an accounting of the whos, whats, whens and wheres of the 20th century.”
  • 100 Resources for Writers. “I don’t necessarily use or outright endorse all of these resources myself. Thing is, in compiling this list I started thinking, “Who am I to judge what is helpful for other writers?” My goal is to provide you with a starting point for online exploration, not tell you what to do. So if you hate some of this stuff? Fine, not my fault! If you love it? I take full credit!”
  • For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life. “For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.”
  • The Women’s Museum. “A Smithsonian affiliate, The Women’s Museum™: An Institute for the Future makes visible the unique, textured, and diverse stories of American women. Using the latest technology and interactive media, the Museum’s exhibits and programs expand our understanding of women’s participation in shaping our nation’s history and create a lively environment for dialogue and discovery. Thousands of stories recount public and private triumphs and the struggles of those who would be denied their freedoms in all its forms: political, social, and spiritual.”
  • 50 Best Memoir Blogs. “Our list of the 50 best personal memoir blogs is full of poignant childhood tales, scandalous anecdotes, and valuable resources for any aspiring writer. They may even inspire you to write your own!” [Thanks to APH member Catherine McCrum for alerting me to this item.]

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup includes two excellent essays not to be missed. Living life is by a student at the University of Virginia who appreciates the great value of recording lives before they’re lost. In the second essay, Paying Grandma’s nest egg forward, the author Peggy Morrison writes, “The week in Winnipeg taught me that families and their rich legacies endure for a long time, and it is important to discover the past in order to learn about – and appreciate – the personal sacrifices made.”

  • Living life. “TRAVELING is defined not only by the places you see, but also by the people you meet along the way. While traveling this Spring Break, I happened to sit next to an elderly woman who quite unexpectedly taught me an invaluable life lesson.”
  • The 3D Type Book: A Typographic Treasure. “After months of anticipation, The 3D Type Book by London-based design studio FL@33 is finally here. Dubbed “the most comprehensive showcase of three-dimensional letterforms ever written,” the book is nothing short of stellar: With more than 1,300 images by over 160 emerging artists and iconic designers alike, it spans an incredible spectrum of eras, styles and mediums.”
  • I’ll Have a Short Story to Go, Please. “Want to enjoy short stories on your iPhone and Android? Award-winning short story writer Tessa Smith McGoverns has the solution. She’s the creative brainpower behind eChook, an app that delivers bite-size fiction for online consumption.”
  • A race to document the mysterious history of 1000 English words. “At the University of Minnesota, a linguistics professor is racing against his own mortality to finish a dictionary that will explain the origins and history of some of the most mysterious words in the English language. If he completes it, it will be the second time any language has had its linguistic history documented in this way.”
  • Rare Footage: Home Movie of FDR’s 1941 Inauguration. “This silent color movie was shot by FDR’s son-in-law (Clarence) John Boettiger, who was then working for the Motion Picture Association of America, and the quality of this rare footage is quite outstanding. Watch the full 14-minute version here.”
  • Paying Grandma’s nest egg forward. “My brother, Jim, my cousin Janice, who is the daughter of my uncle, and I were meeting at my brother’s home to begin to pull together the history of our Finnish grandparents, Andy and Katri Jacobson.”

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How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

Disclosure. I’ve contributed one small item to this book but I will not be receiving any renumeration from its sale.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Campbell’s recent book  Start and Run a Personal History Business published by Self-Counsel Press. If you’re thinking of making personal histories a business, you owe it to yourself to get this book. Jennifer knows her stuff. She’s been a professional personal historian since 2002 and prior to that had a 25 year career as an editor, writer, and interviewer.

This 180 page book is packed with the kind of information I wish I had when I was starting out. The 16 Chapters cover:

  • the world of personal history
  • the business of personal history
  • getting started
  • business foundations
  • pricing
  • producing a sample
  • a guide to producing a personal history
  • interviewing
  • marketing
  • an online presence
  • publicity and promotion
  • sales
  • client relations and customer service
  • time management and project management
  • growing your business
  • accelerating your success and managing growth

In addition, the book comes with a CD-ROM which includes all of the sample templates used in the book as well as resources to help you in your business.

If you buy Personal History Business for nothing else than the chapter on pricing, it’s well worth the investment. For personal historians who are starting out, determining what to charge clients is a challenge. Jennifer’s detailed step-by-step approach will give you the help you need to ensure that you keep your business profitable.

What struck me about the book is that Jennifer makes it clear that running a personal history business takes more than just a love of people and their stories. Her book is like a splash of cold water.  After reading it, if you’re still enthusiastic about establishing a personal history business, you’ll  go into it with your eyes wide open. A word of caution. Don’t become overwhelmed by the content. There’s a lot to digest. Read it through once for an overview and then come back to chew on smaller portions.

I like Jennifer’s candor. For example, on business plans she says, “Like a lot of small business owners, I resisted doing a business plan for a long time. I think it was a psychological block…I finally got some serious business coaching…”  In my eyes, her honesty makes her more credible because I know that she’s writing from personal experience.

The book is also sprinkled with useful tips. They’re terrific. And I wish she’d included more of them and highlighted them so they stood out from the surrounding copy. This brings me to my only real concern and that’s the overall layout and design of the book.

My personal preference is for some breathing space around blocks of text. I found the information on the pages visually congested. I longed for more white space, bolder titles, and little sidebars with tidbits of information, like her “tips”.  I would have found it easier to absorb the wealth of material with more visual help. Having said this, I’m aware that there are production costs to consider when designing a book. And Self-Counsel Press, the publishers,  probably have a standard layout from which there can be  little deviation.

Layout and design aside, this is an excellent book. If you’re serious about establishing a personal history business, you need to do two things -  buy a copy of  Start & Run A Personal History Business and join the Association of Personal Historians.