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What Is Personal History?

A personal history is often the story of a life, or from a life. It can be a memoir, a tribute, a life story, an autobiography, a biography, or an oral history. It may also be a legacy letter or ethical will.

Is it a book? a letter? a video?

Personal histories come in various formats - chiefly print, video, or audio - and are often illustrated. A life story, for example, might be as simple as an audiofile and transcript or as long and polished as a book; a video might be a short tribute or a full-length documentary. Personal histories can also take such unexpected forms as a family or community cookbook, a personalized quilt, a memory box, or a photo-art collage.

What do personal historians do?

They help their clients - individuals, families, communities or organizations - preserve memories, images, voices, stories, and histories, often (but not always) in narrative form.

What does a personal history cost?

You can do your own personal history, or that of someone else, for no cost except your time and expenses. If you hire a personal historian to help you or to work with a loved one, projects range in price from a few hundred dollars (for an oral history--audio and/or transcripts) to a thousand dollars and up (for a simple life story, with photos) to tens of thousands of dollars (for longer or complex projects). You determine the scope of the project, talking about what you want and how fancy a package you want. It's mostly a matter of how much time it takes and how many hours of work (by how many experts) must be done.

Why do a personal history?

Personal histories connect generations - including generations unborn. Personal histories typically engage nostalgia, but also allow you to reflect on what you have learned from life. Reminiscence and life review are now recognized as important life processes - sifting through memories to find the patterns, meaning, and value in our lives.

header image Rose Marie shows a book she presented to her
client filled with photos and stories.
header image Gus wanted a keepsake of his dog, Suzie
as both a book and a photo video (DVD).
header image Kate wanted to preserve her photos and stories
told in her voice, as a video (DVD), for her family.
header image Annie presents her client with his completed
manuscript on his 90th birthday (Australia)