The Blog

Touch Tomorrow (Guest Post)

Imagine

Close your eyes and imagine. You open a dusty photo album to a faded photograph of your great-grandfather. You gaze long and hard at his face. It is an interesting face. It is a face that reveals character, humor, tenacity. It is a face that resembles your face.

You’ve heard his existence led directly to your existence; the conditions of his life led directly to the circumstances of your life; his ingenuity and hard work created your destiny.

But who was he, really? What events shaped his life? What were his dreams and hopes?  Why did he work so hard? What were his choices and challenges? Why did he believe in the family business? What were his thoughts and feelings?

Unfortunately, no one bothered to ask.

You close the album, slowly, and ponder: just what was my great-grandfather’s story?

Intangible Asset

Families understand the importance of trusts and estate plans. Multigenerational transfer of tangible assets such as stocks, bonds, cash, real estate, art, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, and country club memberships is commonplace.

Although tangible assets are important, there is an even greater, often unrecognized, intangible asset: the family’s story—the story that tells what the family has been, who it is today, and what it can be.

Obligation

Mrs. Lavern Norris Gaynor, heiress to the Texaco fortune, suggests that is the family’s obligation to tell its story. She closes her memoir, Lal: A Legacy of Gracious Giving, by saying:

“This brings me to the end of my story—but not really. My story didn’t begin on my birthday. And, now, it won’t end with my death. Through the experience of telling my story, I’ve come to understand it was my obligation.

I close with love, blessings, and a peaceful heart. Finally, the Norris family legacy of generosity, caring, and gracious giving will reach out and touch tomorrow.” 

Touch Tomorrow

Family stories can touch tomorrow in a range of ways. I’ve touched on a few of them below:

  • Recording and celebrating the family’s history
  • Passing on values, traditions, goals, and culture
  • Affirming the family’s mission, core purpose, and original dreams
  • Bestowing knowledge and wisdom
  • Sharing hard-learned life lessons
  • Sustaining and building family relationships
  • Creating a sense of belonging and loyalty
  • Offering advice and guidance
  • Documenting and preserving philanthropic traditions
  • Giving meaning to the human experience
  • Building a lasting legacy 
  • Promoting the continuity of a family business

Story Forms

Many people tell me they understand why it’s important, but don’t know where to start. Luckily, we have a variety of forms to choose from when telling a family’s story:

  • A Family History is a comprehensive approach to recounting the people and the events that span generations. Family histories include genealogical research and are rich with social context events.
  • A Memoir is usually told from the perspective of a single narrator.
  • An Oral History preserves stories in a question/answer format. Transcribed verbatim and lightly edited, it records the exact nuance, flavor, tenor, and tempo of the narrator’s voice.
  • A Chapters of Life Memoir preserves life’s defining moments—life’s steppingstones. It is an anthology of short stories usually built around a collection of photographs.
  • A Business History records the stories, mission, values, and aspirations of a company’s founder(s).
  • A Culinary Memoir preserves favorite recipes, stories, and photographs. Recipes are scanned in the cook’s handwriting and, complete with spill marks, they memorialize life’s favorite meals and events.
  • A Tribute to Life Memoir honors the life of a deceased loved one. The story is told from the perspective of a family member or cherished friend.

Ultimate Memoir

Then there is the Ultimate Memoir. The Ultimate Memoir is, well, ultimate. It is a beautifully designed, heirloom-quality book and companion video. Any of the above story forms are appropriate. Narrative, combined with custom design, complemented with a professionally orchestrated video, creates a vanguard presentation of the family’s story.

Someday List Syndrome

Whichever form your family selects, the operative word is “selects.” Way too often a family scribbles “tell our story” on the Someday List. But when the Someday calendar page turns, it’s too late.

Please don’t allow your family to become a victim of the someday list syndrome. Start today. You won’t regret touching tomorrow. And your family will thank you– for generations to come.

About the author:
Dr. Judith Kolva is a personal historian, with a Ph.D. in the psychology and practice of preserving life stories. Her seminal doctoral research investigated the relationship between telling life stories and identifying meaning in life. She is the founder and CEO of Memoir Shoppe, an international organization that preserves and protects the stories of exceptional families.  Please contact Judith at judith@memoirshoppe.com or www.memoirshoppe.com

Telling the Truth – A Revolutionary Act (Guest Post)

“The telling of your stories is a revolutionary act.” –Sam Keen, writer

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with subtle–and not so subtle–messages about who we ought to be, it is a bold statement to take a stand for personal authenticity. One of the most transformative statements an individual can make is to tell his/her story with honesty and objectivity. At its best, this is what a memoir is–a statement that declares “This is who I am and who I think of myself as being.”

Lest you think that telling the truth is only about revealing scandals and unmasking dirty secrets, let me assure you that it is more often about smaller issues, within the realm of the everyday experience. Perhaps you were never ambitious of worldly success. This has embarrassed you, but you would like to make a statement for another set of values. Or, perhaps you have been attracted to people of your own gender and would like to bear witness to that, but still fear repercussions. Or, perhaps you were a parent but, if the truth be told, you and your children might have been better off if you had not parented. As you can see, “telling the truth” need not be earth shattering, but it is about essential features of ourselves.

The daring part of this “telling the truth” work occurs at the beginning of the memoir process, when the “juices are flowing.” It is then that you ask, “Do I dare say this?” You get nervous and can feel yourself sweat. You get up from the computer many times and can’t believe that you are actually writing what you are writing. Or if you’re being interviewed on camera, you sweat just thinking about the reaction your comments will evoke among the film’s viewers. But, you persevere. Over time, the fear of telling the truth seems to diminish and become less visceral.

Later, however, as you make your written or video memoir public, you tremble at the boldness once again of telling the truth of your life, the truth that may not be consonant with norms of society or family expectations. Others–an audience you both craved and did not know would be so intimidating–will now judge you. You fear this audience will not only judge the morality of your choices but your very essence.

This is the moment when, more than any other time, writers fear insignificance. But, if insignificance there be, I say–and I hope you will too–let it be MY insignificance!

Therein lies the challenge of telling the truth. It can revolutionize your life. And that is why it is so critical. Address the challenge head-on. You won’t regret it.

This post was contributed by Denis Ledoux, founder of the Soleil Lifestory Network. Denis is an accomplished ghostwriter who helps clients write memoirs, one story at a time. Denis was selected as one of the top 10 personal history bloggers of 2011 by Dan Curtis. For more information on Denis, including how to get a copy of the free Memory List Question Book, visit www.turningmemories.com.