Finding Our Way: From Courtrooms to Living Rooms

A few years ago, a survey of members of the Association of Personal Historians about their “past lives” yielded interesting results. Members bring a wide array of skills and experiences to this profession. Some have worked as attorneys or psychologists, some as mediators or counselors. Many come from fields involving the written or spoken word—from journalism to broadcasting.

I came to my new career in personal history from court reporting. As independent contractors, court reporters move beyond the courtroom, inhabiting a parallel universe of personal history, recording life stories.

As natural-born listeners (and personal historians in a sense), court reporters are predisposed to memorializing events. The personal history business has become a field court reporters easily relate to and transition into.

After spending three decades as a court reporting agency owner in New York City and on Long Island, I decided it was time for a change of pace, so I immigrated to the legacy profession. I always loved hearing my grandmothers’ stories about their early childhood . . . and there were lots of stories. I started helping others memorialize their stories for coming generations to enjoy.

It’s funny, that change of pace I was looking for really turned out to be not that much change at all, except for the venue: from courtroom to living room. As a personal historian, I consider the storyteller “the witness.” The “swear-in” is their introduction with their name, address, and date of birth. Photographs and personal memorabilia are “exhibits” and friends and family are “expert witnesses.” There is technical, legal, and medical “testimony” when corporate clients tell about starting their business (perhaps decades earlier) and the evolution to present day. There’s even “off-the-record discussion” when recording is paused for an occasional break.


Believe it or not . . . in court reporting stenography, this says: “I’m a personal historian.” (EUPL=Im; AE=apostrophe; AEU=A; PERPBL=Personal; HEUS=His; TOR=tor; KWRAPB=ian; FPLT = . (period) You might find it interesting to learn that  all letters on the same line are depressed at the same time—at 225 words per minute!—not individually depressed like in regular typing.


Of course court reporting skills are not required for those pursuing a career as a personal historian. The job requirements are simple: exemplary interpersonal communication skills, organization (you are an independent contractor after all), and good business acumen—along with a passion to preserve our heritage, in print, audio, or video.

What skills do you have from your current career that would make you a great personal historian?

~APH: The Life Story People~

About today’s contributor:  Deborah Tomasetti Perham owned a court reporting agency with offices in New York City and on Long Island before opening her own personal history business, A Lifetime Legacy, in 2012. She specializes in audio and video recordings, printed memoirs, and treasured family recipe books. She is an active member of the Association of Personal Historians, currently serving as secretary on the Executive Board.

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6 Responses to Finding Our Way: From Courtrooms to Living Rooms

  1. Deborah, I love how you correlate court reporting and personal history, and I am fascinated to see an example of how court reporting works. It confirms my long-held suspicion that court reporters’ brains are more advanced than mine. I cannot imagine learning how to do that, much less how to do that at such speed!

    • Hi Lettice. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Court reporters are fascinating creatures. It takes several years of training to master the art. (I went to CR school for a year before deciding I was more entrepreneurial in spirit, and naive enough to think I could start an agency without being a reporter! But hey, it worked for me!) Court reporting is an amazing profession. It takes much patience (working oftentimes in a volatile environment), knowledge of countless topics, a memory second-to-none — having to essentially parrot every uttered word, an immense vocabulary, and…well, I could go on and on. I respect my former colleagues, and am so fortunate to have found new colleagues at APH.

      I’m looking forward working together with my new APH friends for many years to come.
      xo Deb

  2. Annie Payne says:

    Yet another great blog, Deb.
    I use many of the skills I first learned as a registered General Nursing Sister and then as a registered Psychiatric Nursing Sister.
    In both of these early professional specialty areas, listening carefully to the patient was imperative, sometimes a matter of life or death!
    Then, while my children were very young, I commenced part-time study for my Social Work degree, which I was unable to complete due to a family crisis during then end of my final year.
    However I learned the art of the empathetic interview, the skills I use each time I interview a client now. I was always complimented for my careful and detailed case notes – which is not unlike writing a personal history based on the stories uncovered during the interview process.
    Those professional skills, instilled into me in my late teen years as a student nurse(I was 16 when I commenced my nursing training) have always stood me in good stead.

    Thanks for starting the ball rolling on this topic!

  3. Thanks Annie. We can always count on you for enthusiastic, enjoyable comments. I loved my job in the CR field. Now, in PH, I get the best of both worlds: satisfying my sentimental streak and my desire to memorialize events.

    • Marilyn says:

      Hi Deborah,
      Loved your blog post. I am just starting my business as a personal historian and already have 3 clients, so I lie awake at night trying to figure it all out! It’s a good kind of insomnia I suppose, so I look forward to joining APH to have the privilege of associating with people like you. Interestingly enough, I spoke with a dear friend who has a court reporting business in Miami about going to school for court reporting about 5 years ago. I was intimidated about the commitment necessary, so never followed up on it. I feel a lot more skilled and confident in this business. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful analogy to court reporting…

      • Hi Marilyn. Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog post. Personal history is such an exciting business (and so fulfilling). I feel so fortunate to have found APH. As for court reporters, I can’t say enough about their skill, and commitment as guardians of the record. I wish you all the best in your personal history journey. You’re off to a terrific start with three clients.

        Wishing you a healthy, prosperous, memorable 2014,

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