Tag Archives: Personal historian

Encore! As Personal Historians, How Do We Rekindle “The Sacred” in Our Work?

Last year I had the privilege of hearing First Nation elder STOLȻEȽ ( John Elliot) of the WASÁNEĆ (Saanich) territory address the 16th Annual APH Conference in Victoria, B.C.  He spoke reverently of the stories that were passed down to him about the land and sea and animals and the values to live by… Read more.

Personal Historians, Are You LGBT Language Sensitive?

The following article is reprinted with the kind permission of Personal Historian, Sally Goldin. She is a member of the Association of Personal Historians and can be contacted here. 
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As a lesbian mother and personal historian, I’ve been thinking about the issue of LGBT invisibility in regards to preserving life stories.

Even though LGBT issues have become more visible and acceptable in this society, there are still situations where you can be fired, harassed, or physically attacked for being an LGBT person. I was clearly reminded of this because of the harassment and discrimination a teacher friend of mine experienced in the Houston Independent School District. In this YouTube presentation to the Board of the H. I. S. D. he describes the harassment he encountered.  (The picture clears up at 30seconds). This is a person who had previously been named Teacher of the Year twice in 5 years.

I wonder how many of us are aware of the language we use, both on an everyday basis, and in presentations about personal history? You cannot tell if someone is lesbian or gay by looking at them. (Well, maybe sometimes you can, but not always . . .) Therefore, we have to be conscious of the words we use in conversation, and make an effort to be inclusive in our communications.

For example, a simple question such as, “Are you married?” might be difficult for a lesbian or gay man to answer, depending on where they live.  I live in San Francisco. I would not be allowed to marry a romantic partner.

During an interview with a woman, without thinking, you might ask, “Do you remember your first date? What was he like?” It would be more appropriate to say, “Do you remember your first date? What was the person like?

If you are getting to know someone, ask about a “sweetheart” or “special someone” instead of a boyfriend (for a female) and girlfriend (for a male).

Do you offer a family tree as part of your services? If so, how do you incorporate into that tree a child who has 2 moms or 2 dads? My son is now 25 years old and his family tree would include his 2 moms, his donor father, a half sister and a half brother with the same “donor dad”, 3 other unknown half-siblings, my ex-partner’s wife who has known him since he was 10 years old, and 3 sets of grandparents (from his 2 moms and his
father). Whew!

When talking to a group about personal history, remember to use the term “family” or “parents” as opposed to “Mom and Dad”.

Don’t assume that if a family is Hispanic or African American (or some other non-white ethnicity), they would not have lesbian or gay family members.

I am grateful and proud to be a member of the Association of Personal Historians, an organization that strives to be inclusive and diverse, and where I do not have to hide all of who I am from the membership.

Photo by  Charlie Nguyen

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Encore! 6 Lessons My Cat Taught Me About Time Management.

Annie

My cat Annie is full of useful lessons. And for those of you who say that lack of time is keeping you from getting your life story told, here’s what Annie knows about good time management… More

Encore! Ten Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Camcorder.

Ten Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Camcorder. For those of you who are new to doing video interviews for a life story, here are some common mistakes to avoid. Failure to … Read More


7 Tips on Creating a Winning Outgoing Voicemail Message.

Have you listened to your outgoing voicemail message lately? Does it sound professional? Like someone you’d want to do business with? If not, you could be losing potential clients. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Avoid old answering machines with poor quality audio.

What kind of business impression do you create if your prospective caller can hardly make out your voicemail message because of static and a barely audible voice? If I were hiring you to do a video or audio recording, I’d have second thoughts!

Be smart. Use a telephone company answering service or a good quality digital answering machine.

2. Make it clear as to the person the caller has reached.

You might say something like, “Thank you for calling. You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions.”

Don’t leave an announcement like, “Hi, I’m not in. Please leave a message after the tone.”  Callers have no idea if they’ve reached the correct number or if their message will actually reach the right person.

3. Leave instructions.

Many voicemail messages end with something like “Please leave your name and number after the beep.”  It’s a start. But if all you get is “Hi, this is Bob call me at 200-4000,” you have a problem. Who is Bob and what does he want? Does this call require immediate attention?

A better outgoing message provides the caller with some guidance. Here’s a sample: ” Please leave your name, the reason for your call, a number where you can be reached, and the best time for me to call you.”

4. Be concise.

Callers don’t want to listen to a lengthy monologue before they can leave a message. Your voicemail announcement shouldn’t be more than 20 seconds long.

5. Avoid being cute and clever.

Even if you have the wit of a Mark Twain, cleverness can wear thin if a caller is hearing your message for the third time. Keep it simple and business-like.

6. Script and rehearse you message.

We’ve all heard voicemail messages that covered the spectrum from flat and bored to breathless and rushed.

The tone of your voice is as important as the words being spoken. I once worked with an actress on some narration for a documentary of mine. At one point she said, “I can do that line with a smile in my voice. It’ll work better.” She was right. She actually spoke the line while smiling. It sounded friendly and welcoming.

Begin by writing down what you want to say. Read it aloud. Edit your message until it sounds right. Now try it on a friend or family member and get a critique. Before recording your message do several rehearsals so that you can deliver your lines flawlessly and with a  smile in your voice.

7. Record your message in a quiet environment.

Nothing reeks more of amateurishness  than a voicemail message  with a background cacophony of dogs barking, kids screaming, and TVs blaring.  Find a quiet room to record, preferably one with lots of sound absorbing material like a bedroom.

And finally…

Here’s a sample of an outgoing message that you can adapt to suit your needs.

Hello.  You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions. Please leave your name, telephone number, the reason for your call, and the best time for me to reach you. Thanks for calling.

Photo by Christomopher

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Encore! Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work?

Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work? It’s not uncommon for those starting out in the personal history business to offer their expertise at rock bottom rates. And while this might be important for the first project or two, it’s definitely not a plan for financial solvency and success in the long run. How much are you charging per hour for your personal history services? To give you some idea of where your fees fit with others, I’ve compiled some lists. From PayScale here are … Read More

Encore! Do You Want to Improve Your Presentation Skills?

Do You Want to Improve Your Presentation Skills? In a previous article I covered six ways you can “Get Control of Your Pre-Presentation Jitters”. In this post I’ve assembled six great sites that provide a range of practical ways you can improve your personal history presentation skills.  … Read More


How Much Detail Should a Life Story Contain?

That’s the question some of my colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians  have recently been examining.

Some feel that details count because they can enrich a life story by providing a social history context for it. They suggest that what might be tedious to the interviewer could in fact be fascinating to family members now and in the future.

Other personal historians  see a  need to be selective with details, choosing only those that enhance a story – sifting out the chaff and creating a more readable and entertaining narrative.

But the debate about how much detail to include is better settled after thinking through the following questions:

Is this a book or video life story?

In the previous article Book or Video? Which Makes a Better Personal History? I extolled the strengths and weaknesses of both print and video.

Books are more suited to detail than video. Video’s strength is in storytelling, broad strokes, and emotional content.

What’s the budget?

If you want detail,  it’s going to take time and time costs money. Ten or more hours of interview isn’t uncommon for a full life story.

While your client might want their very own version of Gone with the Wind, their budget restrictions point to a more modest affair like Swayed by the Breeze. ;-)

How open and revealing is your storyteller?

Some people  need little prompting to unleash a wealth of detailed stories. Then there are those who are more reticent. No matter how sensitive and clever your questions, you’re lucky to get the bare bones of the person’s life.

What kind of questions are you asking?

The interview is at the core of a comprehensive and entertaining personal history. I’ve written extensively about the art of interviewing in 11 Articles on Interviewing .

If you want to get the stories behind a life,  avoid questions that focus exclusively on names, dates, and places. Instead, use open-ended questions that begin with How, Where, When, What, and Why. And don’t read from a series of scripted questions. Make sure to go deeper with prompts like “And then what happened?”

Conclusion

I believe that details can enrich a life story. Ultimately though, we’re  hired as professionals to edit and weave those details into a coherent and engaging story.

Photo by Chris Beckett

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Encore! Remember When. Songs That Recall Our Yesterdays.

Remember When. Songs That Recall Our Yesterdays. Music can evoke strong feelings and memories. It’s one of the ways we personal historians can help  clients unlock stories from their past. Not long ago some of my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians began compiling a list of their  favorite songs that brought back memories. I’ve included some of them here and added some of my own. To listen to these selections, just click on the title. Here are four songs that resonate with me: … Read More


Encore! Are You Part of “The Great Vacationless Class”?

Are You Part of "The Great Vacationless Class"? Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed that,  for the most part,  mothers and housewives were the “great vacationless class”  because they had little time off. I would add the self-employed to her list. If you’re self-employed as I am, it’s often difficult to see your way to a holiday. You’re either too busy or too broke or both. Here are a few tips that you might find useful if you’re still struggling with the notion of taking a vacation. …Read More