Tag Archives: personal histories

Why Haven’t You Done Your Life Story?

That’s the question I was asked one day by a personal history client.   I muttered something about being too busy and feebly joked about not being able to afford it. As a professional personal historian, it wasn’t my best moment. Why should anyone hire me if I didn’t believe enough in life stories to do my own?

I think as professionals we need to “walk-the-talk”. Would you hire an interior decorator who was uninterested in his own home’s appearance? What about the professional organizer who tells you she never has time to organize her own office? The chances are you’d probably have second thoughts about hiring them.

If we haven’t had our life story told, we can’t  talk about the experience in a personal and authentic manner.  Imagine, on the other hand, what a powerful selling point to be able to enthusiastically share with a potential client the rewards of having had your own life story documented.

I have a modest proposal. If you’re a professional personal historian and haven’t  had your life story told, here’s what to do:

I wonder how many other professional personal historians out there have never had their life stories told? Am I the only one?

Photo by Amarand Agasi

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20 Free Photo Retouching Tutorials for Personal Historians.

Where do you start to learn some of the basics of Photoshop? There are a bewildering array of Photoshop tutorials available online. But most personal history newcomers want lessons that relate more specifically to their work.

With this in mind I’ve selected these 20 free tutorials. Let me know if you’ve found a site, not listed here, that’s been particularly useful to you.

  1. Giving your Photograph an Antique Look
  2. Remove an object from background using content aware filling in Photoshop 
  3. Color Correction Basics in Photoshop  
  4. Old Paper Background Texture In Photoshop
  5. How To Repair Scratches, Tears, and Spots on an Old Photograph
  6. Local Contrast
  7. Super Fast and Easy Facial Retouching  
  8. Classic Vignette Photo Effect In Photoshop 
  9. Correcting a Red Over-Saturated Photo
  10. Overlapping Text With An Image In Photoshop
  11. Using Photoshop to Color a Black & White Photo From Scratch
  12. How to Change Skin Tone in Photoshop
  13. How To Straighten Crooked Photos
  14. Darken Overexposed Photos With The Multiply Blend Mode
  15. Brighten Underexposed Photos With The Screen Blend Mode
  16. Crop, Straighten and Open Multiple Scanned Images
  17. Fix Tone and Color with Levels In Photoshop
  18. Restore An Old Duo Tone Photo
  19. Shadow Recovery of Backlight Problem
  20. Worn, Torn Photo Edges Effect In Photoshop 

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Photo by Bart van de Biezen

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. 

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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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup two of my favorite items are Tracking Personal Histories Across Time and a Granata essay by Mavis Gallant, Memory and Invention. Gallant, one of the world’s great short story writers, raises challenging questions for all of us involved in helping others recall memories. And Tracking Personal Histories is a meticulous recreation of a present day portrait from one taken years ago. The pictures are shown side by side and the effect is totally absorbing.

  • Hospice patients put life stories on CD, video for loved ones. “David Bishop heard his mother’s voice on the way to her funeral last year. It was coming over the car’s speakers, and she was talking about what a beautiful day it was as she sat in her kitchen…Eileen Bishop told her story to volunteers as part of the “Life Legacy” service offered through Florida Hospital’s HospiceCare. The program, one of several in Central Florida, is free and is offered to all patients willing and able to participate.”
  • Story sharing to educate. “Hoping to foster better understanding of the everyday lives of LGBTI people, the founder of digital story-sharing site Rainbow Family Tree is urging community members to share their tales of “life, love, family and loss” online.”
  • All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books. “Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there’s a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME … magazine.” [Thanks to APH member Catherine McCrum of alerting me to this item.]
  • Tracking Personal Histories Across Time. “Sander Koot’s series Back from the Future is a pairing of new portraits of the individual with an older picture of that person from years past.. he only photographs individuals after interviewing them. “In this project, I ask people to find old portraits of themselves, of which they have good memories,” says Koot. “When talking to them about the picture, you see them reliving the happy moment. Only after I know all the details about the past of that picture, (do) we start the shoot.”
  • Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert [release date September 13, 2011] “I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me.”
  • Stationery’s New Followers. “Social-media fans are embracing paper. While United States Postal Service sees a decline in mailed letters overall, tech-savvy paper-lovers—in frequent contact via blogs, Facebook and Twitter—are giving rise to a host of small stationery makers.” [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]
  • Memory and Invention: An Essay by Mavis Gallant. “Imagination, all invention, will occur spontaneously – occur or interfere. ‘Interference’ means it is false, mistaken, untrue. Although I have kept a journal for years, I never look anything up. A diary is not a dictionary or the record of a meeting. Sometimes a sharp, insistent image caught in one’s mind, perhaps of a stranger glimpsed only once, will become the living source of a whole story.”

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5 Essential Marketing Approaches You Need for a Successful Personal History Business.

Not all marketing approaches are equal when it comes to your personal history business. Traditional print advertising, for example, isn’t that effective. Few if any of us could sustain the major expense of an ad campaign. And we engage our clients at a very intimate level which requires that they know, like, and trust us before buying our service.

So if not all marketing approaches work, what does?

The collective wisdom of personal historians  who’ve built successful businesses suggests that these 5 approaches are essential.


Having  satisfied clients sing your praises to their network of family and friends  is pure gold. A colleague of mine gets most of her clients by word-of- mouth. If you’re starting out, it’ll take some time before you’ve built a critical enough mass to ensure a steady flow of clients.

This doesn’t mean you can’t begin the process with your very first client. If that person is really pleased with your work, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Check out my previous post Lousy at Getting Referrals? Here’s Some Help for more help.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. ~ Jeff Bezos, founder Amazon.com

engage your community

Because our profession is a very personal business, potential clients want to be able to see, hear, and be inspired by us. So put yourself in the middle of groups  where you’re likely to meet face-to-face with potential clients. You can do this by volunteering, agreeing to sit on boards of community groups, and networking with business associations like BNI. I’ve written more about this in What Do Fishing and Personal History Clients Have in Common?

public speaking

I know this can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest souls but don’t pass up a great opportunity to promote personal histories. I’ve some help for you in  How to Get Control of Your Pre-Presentation Jitters.

Remember that your presentation isn’t about soliciting business but about educating people on the wonderful world of personal histories. Work up a variety of presentations that can fit a 15 or 30-minute time slot. You can read more about honing your presentation skills in my previous article Do You Want to Bolster Your Presentation Skills?

Next, contact groups in your community who might be interested in personal histories such as church groups, genealogical societies, book clubs, and service organizations.

build referral partners

There are a number of businesses which serve some of the same clients as personal historians. These include life coaches, wedding planners, financial planners, and eldercare transition specialists.

Over time you can  extend your reach by cultivating such referral partners. Read more about this in  You Can Do It! Get Referral Partners Today.

talk it up

Don’t underestimate the value of mentioning your work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Don’t be shy. Always carry a few business cards.

See your supermarket, bank, library, dentist office, and public transit as full of potential clients.  Chat with a stranger in a line up or with a receptionist or librarian. It works.  I’ve been asked for my card by a cashier at our local grocery store and by my dentist.

You just never know where your next client will come from.

Make it happen!

Don’t turn the chance to go anywhere. Join clubs, do anything you can to get out there and meet people. You are your product. Advertise it.
~ Max Markson, Australian marketing expert

Image iStockphoto

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Want to Start a Personal History Business? Here’s How.

Interest in personal history as a career is growing.  When the Association of Personal Historians was formed in 1995, it had a handful of members. Today that membership has swelled to over 500.

Increasingly people track me down and ask if they should start a personal history business. In order to help you decide if this is your kind of work, I’ve pulled together these articles I’ve written over the past 3 years years.

If there’s a topic you don’t see here and would like covered, please let me know and I’ll address it in a future post.

  1. What You Need to Know About Becoming a Professional Personal Historian.
  2. Three Crucial Steps to Starting Your Personal History Business.
  3. The Best Advice Ever for a Personal Historian.
  4. 12 Key Tips for Successfully Working Alone.
  5. The 10 Best Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  6. The 10 Worst Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  7. How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian?
  8. What Makes a Personal Historian a Professional?
  9. Are You Doing a Good Job of Conveying the Value of Personal Histories?
  10. 12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails.
  11. When Should You Quit Being a Personal Historian and Move On?
  12. Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  13. More Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  14. 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.
  15.  How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

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The Costliest Personal Histories in the World!

How many of you would have the nerve to proclaim, “We will NOT be oversold”? Yet that’s just what designer and retailer Bijan Pakzad did.  For thirty-five years he reigned over his exclusive Rodeo Drive establishment in Los Angeles. Bijan died last week at the age of seventy-one.

From his by-appointment-only boutique to his claim as “the most expensive clothing designer in the world”, Bijan was an unapologetic promoter of exclusivity.

You might be asking yourself, “But what does opulence and exclusivity have to do with personal histories?” Good question and here’s where I see the connection.

People buy products for their perceived benefits not for their features or functions.

We purchase a computer not for its technical specifications but for its benefit to us – namely fast research capabilities, entertainment, communications, marketing, and so on.

Bijan wasn’t selling clothes. He was selling celebrity, exclusivity, and glamor.

As personal historians what are we selling? If you said books, videos, or CDs, you’d be wrong. Those are the products of our work. What people are buying are:

  • Time. People are busy and don’t have the time to document mom or dad’s story.
  • Satisfaction. People feel good honoring someone through a life story book or video.
  • Expertise. Generally people  aren’t skilled in the many aspects of producing a personal history and need our help.
  •  Closeness. People perceive that a personal history will bring families closer together.
  • Understanding. Participating in the recording of a life story gives people a better understanding of who someone is and how that person got to be that way.

people will pay a premium price for specialty products and services.

The truth is that while  Bijan’s clothes are priced at the high end of the designer market at $1,000 for suits, they are hardly the most expensive in the world. His clients are drawn by the cachet of exclusivity and pampered service.

On a more pedestrian level, Starbucks pioneered the brewing of premium coffee in North America.  Before  Starbucks  opened in Seattle in 1971, a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee and could be had for 10 t0 15 cents.  Many a skeptic would have questioned the wisdom of charging 10 times that amount for a “fancy” coffee. They were proved wrong. The story of Starbucks success is now part of pop culture history.

In a previous post  Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work? I wrote:

Something else to think about. A  Stanford University study showed that when subjects were given the same wine and told that one bottle was $5 and the other $45, people unfailingly found “the expensive wine” tasted better. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored the research report.

What do these studies  say about how you price your personal history services? They show that pricing too low can be perceived by your potential clients as you’re offering an inferior product. People still believe the old adage – you get what you pay for.

Personal historians provide a specialty service and product. Like Bijan and Starbucks, we need not apologize for charging a premium price.

I’m not suggesting that every personal historian should  sell exclusive products at eye-popping prices. What I do want to emphasize is that we  need a shift from seeing ourselves solely as “craftspeople” toiling away in obscurity for the love of our work. That’s okay if you’re into this as a hobby. It’s not okay if you want to build a successful business.

So, who will proudly proclaim that they produce the costliest personal histories in the world?

Photo iStockphoto

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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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Would You Hire Yourself?


Every time we meet potential clients, we have to prove ourselves.  They’re sizing us up and assessing whether we’re the right fit for them.  Here’s a cheeky question. Would you hire yourself? My quick reply  is of course I’d hire myself. Why wouldn’t I? Here’s a list of my qualities and skills:

  • Friendly
  • A calm and inquisitive nature
  • Good listener
  • Reliable
  • Sense of humor
  • Meets deadlines
  • Six years in business and a proven track record
  • Testimonials and references from previous clients
  • Prior life and work experience that shows a connection to my current interest in personal histories
  • Membership in two professional associations – the Association of Personal Historians and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.


This sounds like a pretty good list.  Right? But here’s the catch. What’s missing? Some years ago I did a little self-examination that revealed some cracks in this otherwise “sterling” picture of myself. And to be honest, these weaknesses  contributed to the loss of potential clients. Here’s what my analysis revealed:

  • I was focusing more on “selling”  rather than “soliciting the  needs” of the client.
  • I failed to show samples of my work.
  • I wasn’t precise and clear about my pricing.
  • I didn’t offer alternative personal history products that clients might find more within their price range.
  • I failed to show my passion for recording life stories.

I’ve since worked on these weak points and can now claim that I’m almost perfect. ;-) But seriously,  we all need to do a periodic self-examination and ask, “Would I hire myself?” You might be surprised at what you find.


It’s your turn to shine a light on your abilities and shortcomings as a personal historian. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Have you have a body of work you’re prepared to show potential clients?
  • Do you get projects delivered on time?
  • Are you clear about your fees and how they’re structured?
  • Do you have a “stick with it” attitude or give up easily?
  • What have you done in the past six months to keep up with changing technologies?
  • Do you belong to any professional associations? How active are you in them?
  • Do you present yourself in a professional manner?
  • Are you a good listener and able to empathize with people?
  • How much experience do you have in running your own business?
  • Do you have testimonials available for distribution?
  • Do you offer a variety of products and services?
  • How do you show passion for your work?

What other questions could you ask yourself? Please share your comments. I always enjoy hearing from you.

Photo by Visionello

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What Everybody Ought to Know About Life Stories and Palliative Care.

I’ve been writing about the value of life stories in palliative care since 2008. I felt it was time to assemble these articles in one place for those of you who are interested in this subject. The posts are arranged chronologically from the most recent to the oldest.

Photo by David Hsu

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