Among the presentations I routinely offer is, “Capturing Family Memoirs”. It is often a popular topic and especially applicable to my peer group. Many of us are reaching a stage where we are concerned about losing family stories we may have grown up with that haven’t been committed to paper. As our parents, aunts, and uncles pass away, if we don’t have those stories written, they disappear. I will make the point that capturing a memory first-hand doesn’t always mean it is an accurate portrayal; merely it is the memory of the individual writing/telling about it.
There are really only three significant points about writing memoirs and everything else is linked to those. Point One is people tend to bog down by trying to go in some kind of chronological order. Content is what matters. An early memory might branch into something related that happened later. An event of special importance was likely to have happened at an older age. Capture the memory as it becomes clear, or as clear as you (or the individual you are listening to) can. Once the content is down, it becomes a matter of sequencing as part of editing. This can be critical for older individuals who may be providing oral history. Allow him/her to simply talk so as not to interrupt the memory process. In general, questions can be asked later. Point Two is it doesn’t matter if the memories are captured in sentences, fragments, bullet points, etc. Smoothing those is also a function of editing. Point Three is perspective. Individuals will often recall the same event in different ways or something one recalls as incredibly important may have been forgotten by someone else. In some cases, there can be objective information provided to clarify a situation/event. For example, the whole ancestry industry provides access to dates, places, and names that might have been either forgotten or errors perpetuated over time.
There are other interesting aspects I discuss during the presentation, but the essence is for all we may have in common, in other cases, we do have stories of unique things/events or obstacles/successes dealt with that later generations may want to know about. Even if the plan is not to share it with others, writing for oneself can have value.