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Saving history one person at a time
Nanette Randall

A voice silenced by disease, illness, or death is a story gone forever. Sadly, even with modern day technology, when and if it is unrecorded and unwritten, it is lost. Vibrant, rich, and heart rendering stories are buried with families every day. On the other hand, when a generous storyteller leaves a memoir, the history, the knowledge and experiences remain forever.

Envision your life as a treasure chest. Envision the chest locked, with no key, because nothing is saved except in memory. This is just the smallest sense of what is lost when a family’s legacy becomes one more lost life statistic. It does not have to be this way, though. We can change the course of history, we can preserve family stories when just one individual - an adult child, a grandchild, a friend – realizes the power of the key and begins the storytelling process, by either doing the work himself or hiring a professional to help.

When capturing stories yourself, there are some things to know before you begin. First, pick your story format, such as whether or not to write in chronology or short memoir chapters. Think about adding old letters and recipes. Think of old and passed down family stories and extract pictures and memorabilia from old scrapbooks. Work on your project with humor and love.

If genealogy interests you, do some basic research by visiting the website: www.cdc.gov/nchs ( for Health Statistics) or www.familysearch.org. Dig up old photos and use them as memory prompts at family gatherings. Record what you hear and what everyone says. Typically, when one person reminisces, others join them.

If overwhelmed thinking that such a project is out of your range because of either time or ability, one solution might be to hire a memoirist. These people specialize in helping people tell and write their stories. The perfect questions and recording format are already developed. The result is a very comfortable, in-depth interview which when transcribed is an unbelievable story treasure.

Every story is unique

The storytellers I have interviewed have varied in age but all recalled family history and known genealogy, unique stories and chapters of life experiences. For example, there is Lela and Gerry, two military veterans of WWII, as different as night and day but bound by the experience in having served with so many other fallen men and women in a war that identified our country. There is Eleanor, whose love story with George spanned 65 years until his death and Margaret, whose deep love of family and strong desire that they know their history compelled her to share her story. There is Patt, whose battle in and for life is an inspiration to all who meet her and Patricia, whose great faith has been an inspiration to all. There is Betty, the child of missionary parents serving in and later the mother of three boys, each born in three different countries; and Dayl and Wilma, true pioneers from , both of whom have lived for nearly a century. There is Marylin, whose knowledge of her Canadian roots and history spans 300 years and Mary Lou, who after reading Angela’s Ashes, was immediately reminded of her own Irish immigrant mother’s sadness and avoidance when she used to ask her to tell her story.

The stories are endless and the tales remarkable and true. These storytellers have overcome hardship, loss, and health but they persevere on the journey. They have used their memoirs to describe life lessons, love, faith, and family and tell their loved ones just what it all means and has meant to them.

Interviews are comfortably conversational. The interviewer and storyteller spend hours conversing and recalling the past. The interviewing process may range from a few hours or more. Trust between interviewer and storyteller is vital. Transcription, story writing and editing, printing, which includes photographs, and hand-made bookbinding services are offered. Finished stories are typically 100 pages, with photographs, in a coffee-table type book. Sound recordings (CD’s) of just the interview, are an option, too. An individual’s story can be a family treasure for years to come.

Nanette Randall is an experienced interviewer and writer and spent over 20 years in human resource management. She owns Memoirs by Design, which specializes in capturing life experiences, learned lessons, and family histories in a relaxed setting. She is passionate about offering others a way to preserve their real life tales in sound and print. Nanette believes that regardless of age, stature, or reputation, we are all born storytellers. She provides the help needed in transcription, creative writing, photography, editing, and bookbinding services. Other memoir services include help with anniversary, vacation, wedding, new parents, posthumous and birthday stories as well as manuscript and recording transcription services. Contact her at 303.885.3790 or go to www.memoirsbyd