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Frequently Asked Questions
Why would anyone be interested in an ordinary person’s story?
Each life has value and meaning, and every person has a story to tell. And your story will be far more important and interesting to your descendants than the biography of any ordinary famous person with whom they don’t share any connection.
Many people will leave old photographs behind when they pass on. What a far greater gift it is to also leave behind the stories behind those photographs and your life experiences so that those who come after you will have a better understanding of your life and times. These stories and memories are precious and can vanish over time, or worse, in an instant! Preserve these precious family gems while you’re still able.
How do you turn an ordinary person’s story into a book?
Personal Chronicles is practiced in the art of turning your personal history into a narrative. Think of us as an investigative journalist. We begin our process with a series of interviews that will help us to learn your story. (This is your chance to feel like a star!) The photos and memorabilia that you’ve accumulated through the years can help us to better know you.
Then we take the information we’ve gathered and blend it with background research about the times, the places, and the institutions that played a role in your personal history. We’ll supplement what we’ve learned with interviews with others who can share their perspectives. Then we’ll turn it all into something that reads like an in-depth newspaper profile, complete with photos and sidebar stories—your own personal chronicle.
Once the draft version meets your expectations, we’ll send the work off to a print-on-demand book publishing company that has the capability to produce your story in a variety of formats. Soon after, you’ll hold in your hands a beautiful custom book that tells the story of a lifetime.
How is personal history different from genealogy?
Genealogists concentrate on researching and recording the names on the family trees. Along the way, they discover information about marriages, occupations, and places of residence. Much of their information is based on public records.
Personal historians are more interested in telling the stories of individual “branches” of the family tree. Beyond gathering basic factual information, they are interested in interviewing people so that they can preserve the rich and fascinating details of their life stories. In a sense, they are capturing individual portraits in words and preserving the photo histories that illustrate these stories.
Genealogists gather basic information about “who,” “what,” “when” and “where,” usually for multiple generations. Personal historians focus much more on the “why” and the “how” of individual lives.
Does the subject of the story have to initiate the project?
No. Many clients commission a Personal Chronicles creation as the gift of a lifetime for their parents, relatives, friends or colleagues. If you would like the Personal Chronicles book to be a surprise, we can work with you in a covert operation to produce your loved one’s story. Alternatively, if you would like your loved one to be involved in the process (which they might very well enjoy), we can provide you with a Personal Chronicles gift certificate that announces the special personal history project.
A book that captures your family’s personal history is in many ways priceless. At the completion of the project, it may be hard to decide who has received the greater gift—the recipient or the giver.
What is the process for turning a life story into a book?
The process of creating a Personal Chronicles book begins with a free 1-hour consultation. Once we have a good sense of your interests and needs, we can talk about the book format that would be most suitable.
After we come to an agreement about what the finished book will look like, Personal Chronicles will outline a project plan. Typically, we will first interview the main character(s), and gather the photos and memorabilia that help to illustrate the life story. Next, we’ll branch off to interview and collect the reminiscences of the supporting characters. Along the way, we’ll research the places, the institutions, and the times that were the setting for the story.
Finally, we’ll draft a narrative that pulls all of the aspects of the story together. We’ll marry it with photos and other illustrations, then lay out the complete book manuscript. While Personal Chronicles will edit and proof the manuscript, the main character or the person who commissioned the project serves as the ultimate editor and will have the chance to review the manuscript before it goes to print.
Once the manuscript is finalized, it will be sent to the book publishing house. In a matter of days, you will hold in your hands a handsome, bound book that is your very own personal chronicle.
Where and how are interviews done?
We find that our interviewees are typically most comfortable being interviewed in their own homes. All we need is a quiet, comfortable spot with the promise of as few distractions as possible. In most cases, we prefer to interview one person at a time so that we can be sure to capture their unique perspective.
Our interviews are always more of a conversation than an interrogation. Our goal is to get to know our subjects well enough to capture an accurate and detailed account of their lives. We often find that looking through old photos or memorabilia is a good way to get the conversation started. We have in mind a series of questions that will help us to gather your story, but are able to adapt the discussions as we go along. We enjoy learning about our subjects and believe that our interviewees enjoy the process too. Think of it as a conversation with the daughter of an old friend.
How long are the interviews?
For a full-scale book that covers a lifetime, we will spend at least 6 hours interviewing the book’s main characters. These interviews are usually completed over a series of 1-2 hour sessions. Interviews with supporting characters typically last 1 hour each. Of course, for a particularly in-depth or complex project, the amount of time devoted to interviews may increase.
When a number of people are asked to share brief reminiscences or tributes to the subject(s), we typically ask for these in written form and then follow up by phone with queries as necessary.
What if there are some things I don’t want to talk about?
You are the boss. Your personal history is just that—yours—and you can choose how much or how little to share. Personal Chronicles works with you to record the story that you want to tell. You will guide us on the focus of your story. We are not out to expose you to scrutiny or to uncover details that you do not wish to share.
That said, many people find that reflecting on the struggles they have endured and the lessons they have learned can be meaningful to them and to their descendants. However, you always choose how much you wish to reveal to your collaborator. And before your book goes to press, you always have the final say about what is to appear in print. So even if you have second thoughts, you will have the ability to edit out any episodes that you ultimately wish not to include.
Will you be able to use my old, non-digital photos?
Yes. Most photos have only existed in a digital format for the past decade. We have the technology to scan your print photos, turning them into a digital format that can be easily be reproduced in a book. Simply gather your albums and loose photos, and we’ll handle the rest.
How long does it take to complete a project?
It depends on the scope of the project. A shorter-length book may take only a few weeks to produce, but a more complex book will likely take three to six months. Much depends on how many interviews need to be completed, how much material needs to be gathered and organized, and how soon the work can be scheduled. Our clients typically enjoy the process of creating their personal chronicles, and we certainly don’t want to rush and end up compromising your book’s quality. However, we will do our best to accommodate any deadlines you have.
What will a project cost?
Interview packages cost a few hundred dollars. They offer an opportunity to capture a narrative before memories fade and the possibility of serving as the foundation for a book project at a later date.
Book prices vary according to the complexity of the project. Some of the factors that affect the price include:
- The scope of the life story that is to be featured in the book
- The number of persons to be interviewed
- The number of places and institutions to be researched and profiled
- The number of photos used
- The format of the book and the number of books to be produced
Book prices range from several hundred dollars for a short and simple book to several thousand dollars for a lengthier volume.
Why can’t I write my own personal history?
You can write your own personal history. However, many people have a tough time getting out of the starting gate or have difficulty finding the time to tackle the task. Consider this analogy—although it is certainly possible for many homeowners to handle a landscaping project as a do-it-yourself project, they often choose to hire professionals to take on the job. In a similar vein, most folks hire a professional photographer to capture precious memories on their wedding day even though most family and friends are capable of taking photos.
Many people choose to hire a professional personal historian to record and preserve their life stories. Skilled personal historians are practiced in the research, interviewing and writing skills that can bring a story to life in a compelling narrative. We can gather in a few months what it might take you years to do.
Can you use the memoirs that I already started to write?
Your work-in-progress can be a wonderful starting point for your story. We would be happy to work with what you’ve already gotten down on paper to further craft your story.
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The Personal Chronicles Bulletin answers common questions about personal history projects and shares ideas to help you get started on saving your life story.