In recent posts, I wrote about how creating lists, identifying a theme and preparing timelines were good steps toward creating your own personal history. The next step should be research.
You may want to start by reviewing family photo albums. We document important events with photos. Photo albums can provide a good start for a timeline of your life.
Are you a journal keeper or did you write in your diary as a kid? Do you still have a stack of love letters from your courtship or a long distance relationships? Re-reading these will bring back all sorts of memories and feelings to explore.
Interview family members and friends to learn what they remember. If someone else is the subject, you may want to schedule several interviews. Prepare a list of questions in advance, but be open to following unexpected threads. And always record interviews. You won’t even need special equipment. There are inexpensive recording apps for smart phones.
If you have prepared a timeline, be sure to add historical context to it. This way you can consider the impact of important events in your (or your subject’s) life. How were you affected by World War II or the Cold War? Did you have drills where you went into bomb shelters? How did you feel after September 11, 2001? Did your life change?
The internet and your local librarian are your friends. Can’t remember the exact year something happened? Maybe you need to check how to spell the name of the town where you were stationed in the war. Research can be especially worthwhile when you’re working on someone else’s story and they’ve forgotten some details. It can also give you more interview questions.
The next step is choosing a format to tell your story. Stay tuned!
And remember, if at any point in the process you get stuck or overwhelmed, you can turn to a professional. For a list of personal historians in your area, visit the website of the Association of Personal Historians at personalhistorians.org.
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