CGSI Quarterly Meeting - June 2005

For this Quarterly Meeting CGSI had a presentation by Hella Buchheim.

Hella coaches ordinary people writing their life stories. Her company, Personal Histories, is committed to helping people document their stories from start to finish. Hella wants to make sure people understand that the inability to write should not keep them from documenting their stories.
By documenting ordinary things in your life, you can create you own legacy for your family. What smells do you remember? Do you remember large buildings such as a library? Document the party telephone, carbon copies, and ditto machine that you used. How did you live with a radio and no TV? Photos can be used but be sure you label them. But photos don’t tell how things affected you. Use photos whenever possible. Black and white photos are just fine. You may want to place all your pictures in one location in your book, such as the center. You don’t have to be a good writer, it’s the story that’s important. Everyone over 50 years of age should write their own book.

Your personal history would be a great way to communicate with your family members not ever born today. Imagine how excited you would be if you found a book written by your great-great grandfather. You can create that feeling in your family by documenting your family story.

Rules to use when documenting your life: There are no rules. Your life story does not have to be hard bound. A typed copy which is stapled with a plastic cover will make it easy to copy. This should be your story. Your sister’s or brother’s story may be completely different. Your story is being written for your family and not to appear in book store or library. This book will hold a special place in the books that are passed down from family member to family member.

If you are documenting a story you heard, say so. Document what you believe is true. There might be a difference between historical truth and emotional truth. Don’t get even with your siblings. Don’t avoid pain or any dramatic events. If you were abused or adopted, say so.

Start your story with a timeline then fill in the details. This may lead to another version of the outline. Your story does not need to be in chronically order. Record your feelings, beliefs, hopes and dreams for yourself and for your family. Document your words of wisdom. Write as though you were giving an oral history. Make sure your document has at least one hard copy. Computer files go out of style.

If your parents haven’t documented their story, use a tape recorder and interview them about their life. You should go back to your grandparents if they are still living. How you write your story is not important. Have post-it notes around to capture thoughts.

Some items that might trigger your thoughts; lowest price of gasoline, lowest price for cigarettes, lowest price of postage stamps, annoying habits, sleeper trains, which order did you read the newspaper, wishes for grandchildren, details about your service record, first job, first paid job. Document all your thoughts and stories. Later you can decide what sections you what to include in the final book.

Talk to your siblings about your youth events. If you are computer literate, use separate files. If you are not, use a 3 ring binder with individual sheets. It’s important to finish at some point. You can add sections in the future. Don’t put this project off until you are too old, or you are at a point where you can’t see or hear. Most people feel much better about themselves after they write about themselves. Provide an index of names to relate to page numbers.

In Minnesota, a web site is presented by Minnesota members of the Association of Personal Historians. You can find a list of people that can help you get started and finish your project. The web site is Got Stories located at