How to start creating your relatives’ memoirs
How many times have you thought a birthday, special family event, or holiday would be a great time to start your book by gathering family memories to create family memoirs—like Grandma’s history as a Rosie the Riveter patriot working in factories during WWII or Grandad’s motorcycle trip across the country?
And how many times have you pushed it aside saying, “But I don’t know how to get started”?
Or maybe you just figured, “It’ll work better when we gather for the next event ‘cause we’ll have more people.”
If there’s one rule we’ve all learned from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic disaster it’s that—unlike for Scarlet O’Hara—tomorrow is not another day. At least it’s no guarantee.
So instead of waiting to gather family memories, start now to implement a few simple steps. When you do, who knows how many of your family will jump in and add even more ideas?
- Connect with emails or phone calls—It’s that simple. Start by reaching out to just a few key loved ones—e.g., your sister, oldest child, one of the grandkids—and tell them what you want to do. Then ask: “What’s the first step you can help me with?” Consider setting up a specific email address just for family messages.
- Be honest—Speaking of emails, don’t be afraid to admit if you’re not a techno guru. Ask for help from the generations that grew up with computers and the ‘net, ever-more sophisticated cell phones, email and text messages, and more.
- Explore other technology—Getting memories is not just about recording audio. Have you been part of selfies, but really can’t do them yourself? Are you going to need help making videos? What about uploading photos? Do you need a more sophisticated four-color device for printouts? Your techno-guru family members can help you not only record the memories, but keep them safe.
- Do your homework—No, it’s not about helping your grandkids with their sentence syntax or algebra—it’s doing your homework before getting started. An up-to-the-task memoirist researches and organizes questions ahead of time so when the person they’re talking to not only answers the first question but wants to keep chatting, the interviewer is ready to ask even more. Remember, good memoirs don’t just recite chronological facts—they have emotions and reflections for each event.
“Wow, Grandma, how did you feel when you first walked into the factory?” or “Hey Gramps, what did you discover in that defunct mining town in the desert?”
Get more personal
- Seek depth—Don’t just accept, “Our greatest family event was being in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s” or “Well, we were on the winning side of the Civil War.” That’s just the first sentence; you need more details. Your extra questions from #4 will help the family reminisce. Sometimes, putting yourself in their shoes helps family members respond more deeply. Try statements like, “Wow, I would have been scared” or “That would have exhausted me” and see if it leads to reactiona like, “Scared? No, I was…” or “I wasn’t tired. You got to remember I was only 23 years old…”
- Look for special family photos or a journal or other objects—Pictures speak a thousand words. Use them to help evoke even more memories—not only in others, but yourself.
Glean insights at events
- Decide on individuals or groups—Now that travel has opened again, are you seeing one or more loved ones at a special event? If more than one, can you handle it if, after each question, folks chime in together, talking over each other and interrupting so you only get snippets of real information?
Or are one-on-one interviews more likely to gain truly personal insights? Try breaking the group up by finding a quiet spot for individual interviews.
- Gather memories after that day—It’s unlikely you’ll gather enough memories from any one event. It could be even harder in 2021 when everyone’s delighted to finally be together again. That kind of excitement—even frenzy—at reunions that can make calm memory-gathering challenging.
To learn more, keep gleaning remembrances at other holidays and events, like Thanksgiving and noteworthy birthdays—but don’t wait for such gatherings.
Use the email connections you already established and ask them to keep sending you memories; encourage them to exchange insights with other. Set up regular phone calls and/or Zoom meetings to keep the project going. Hearing and seeing each other helps family members feel connected and builds trust—a crucial bond for talking about sensitive subjects.
For more ideas on how to interview, check out websites like Geneology.com and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When you realize you need extra insights on your book’s development come to Claudia Suzanne’s Wambtac.com.
Find out more from the Wambtac team through our website wambtac.com. It’s where you can also find the Certified Ghostwriter who specializes in making memoirs not only a wondrous family remembrance, but a marketable literary property.