If you’re a journal-writer or a devoted record-keeper, you may not need the help of personal historian to assemble your life story. There are wonderful classes, books, and internet resources available to help people write their own memoirs. If you start out with a good vision of what you want to accomplish, set yourself goals for working regularly on the project, and stick to it, there’s no reason you can’t produce a wonderful life story all by yourself.
One of my favorite books is Keeping Family Stories Alive, by Vera Rosenbluth (Hartley & Marks Publishers, © 1997). Vera offers many thoughtful and practical guidelines for interviewing your own family members. As she points out, telling life stories is most fun and rewarding when done in conversation with someone else; talking to a tape recorder or writing alone is much more difficult. If you have a friend or family member who has the time, interest, persistence and skills to help you through a life story project, that’s a precious resource.
On the other hand, it may be easier to work with a personal historian who’s not part of the family. You may find yourself being more open, less cautious of being corrected or opening a sensitive subject. Because your listener is hearing the story for the first time, you’ll be more likely to include plenty of background and detail – things the whole family now knows, but that future generations may not. Personal historians are skilled at drawing out reluctant speakers, prompting and encouraging them while remaining non-judgmental and unemotional.
Whether you write your life story by yourself, with the help of a family member, or with an experienced personal historian, the important thing is to get it done. Far too many people plan to get around to writing their life stories someday, and never do.