The History of the Association of Personal Historians

The Association of Personal Historians can trace its beginning back to the day that Kitty Axelson-Berry, then working on the staff of an alternative weekly press, read a press release about Denis Ledoux's workshops for turning memories into memoirs. In 1994, she launched her own business, publishing her mother's as-told-to memoir as a sample. Looking for like-minded colleagues, she organized APH's first informal conference in 1995, inviting more than a dozen businesses similar to hers to attend.

APH Is Born

Twenty people came together in 1995 in Amherst, Massachusetts, excited to be sharing experiences and information instead of inventing a new process and product on their own. Twelve of those attendees formed what they called "the Association of Personal Historians."

At that first conference, people met at a round table and took turns leading workshops. Two therapists spoke about responsible interviewing and an attorney spoke about the legal aspects of a personal history business. There were discussions of business experiences, marketing strategies, subcontracting, fees, group marketing, and the pros and cons of computers, video, and print.

1995 conference breakout group

By 1997, APH had fifty-seven members. More than half of them attended the third conference in Decatur, Georgia. That year, APH elected its first officers: Kitty Axelson-Berry as president and Bob Joyce as treasurer. Audrey Galex was in charge of collective marketing. Shortly after that conference, Bruce and Anne Washburn set up the APH Listserv®, which Anne manages to this day. In 1998, Bob Joyce organized the fourth conference, which was held in Santa Ana, California. Membership was at just under one hundred, and sixty-five people came to the conference. That year, the first APH logo and website were introduced, and the first newsletter was published.

Lettice Stuart was elected APH president and helped to create more national awareness. She came up with the slogan "Saving lives, one story at a time," and pushed reporters (including a friend at The Wall Street Journal) to write articles about APH. Soon articles appeared in Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and TIME magazine. Membership doubled, then tripled. In 2000, when the conference was held in Dallas, Texas, there were 277 members.

APH has continued to thrive, capitalizing on a growing interest in memoirs, genealogy, and family history. In 2015, APH celebrated its 20th anniversary with approximately 600 members worldwide. 

This article is derived from a longer article on the early years of APH written by Pat McNees for the Fall 2013 issue of Perspectives, the APH member journal.