My favorite family history possessions are personal histories: Oral Histories, Autobiographies, and Biographies–in any shape or size.
They can be handwritten notes
they can be spiral bound and typed
or hardbound and published;
they can be audio or video
comics or graphic novels
or they can simply be voice recordings.
Anything is better than this:
There are many ways to record and share your life story. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or hard or expensive. I’ll list some storytelling apps and professional service providers below, but my purpose in blogging about writing your personal history is to convince you to Just Do It!
If you feel stuck, read Writer’s Block – How to Stop Making Excuses and Start Writing Your Personal History, otherwise, here are a few basics to consider when Writing Your Personal History.
Oral Histories and Videographies
Oral Histories are recorded versions of an individual telling stories. We used to do this on cassette tape but you can now use a smartphone camera or app to record your history. The great thing about Oral Histories is:
- You save a copy of the person’s voice and possibly their image if you use video.
- You have a record of the person’s speech pattern and dialect.
- A narrated history tends to be less formal and will usually more closely reflect the narrator’s personality.
- Oral histories may be more honest. There’s less time to obscure the truth or be choosy about words and descriptions.
- Being able to hear the voice of a loved one after they are deceased can be an incredible comfort to living family.
- This rising generation loves video so a videography may be the perfect way to pass along your stories.
Oral history examples:
I have personally recorded many people’s oral histories and I love to have both the audio and the transcribed version of a person’s life story. I don’t generally listen to oral histories of people I don’t know, with the exception of some slave narratives. Many online library sites will link to oral histories you can listen to or read a transcription of. Here’s a site that links to many oral histories. The History Makers claims the largest collection of African American Oral Histories online. Telling Their Stories has oral histories of witnesses to important events of the 20th century including the Holocaust, Japanese American Internment, and more. StoryCorps is a free app and oral history project for sharing stories that are archived at the Library of Congress.
Autobiographies and Personal Memoirs
Autobiographies and personal memoirs are the stories about the author, written by the author. Autobiographies traditionally tell the entire life story and Memoirs focus on a few time periods or episodes, but they can be effectually the same thing and it’s a person writing about herself. Great things about autobiographies and memoirs are:
- The subject of the story is also the author and you know it’s their recollection of the event or how they want the event remembered.
- A written history has the potential to last longer than a history that is only recorded.
- A written history is easily reproduced and shared with multiple individuals–anyone can photocopy or email a paper version.
- A written history may have a better chance of being read. People may be more prone to pick up a physical book and read it than click on a link and listen to an audio file. One is a physical reminder you see each day and can easily pick up and read.
Autobiographies I love:
- When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a brain surgeon
- Open, by Andre Agassi, a professional tennis player
- Growing Up, by Russell Baker, an American writer
- The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, a Union General and former US President
A Biography is the life history of a person written by someone else. These can be great but there are also a few potential drawbacks.
- This is a great way to share the story of a person who didn’t leave an autobiographical account, either written or oral.
- This is a good option for someone who isn’t comfortable writing, editing, or even telling their own story.
- These can include basic events from their personal timeline as well as historical timeline events they lived through. Biographical material can come from yearbooks, scrapbooks, census records, birth, marriage, and death records, city directories, church records, and many other places.
- The biography may or may not be authorized. If it’s not authorized by the subject, it potentially has the slant or bias of the author and may not be an accurate account of the person’s life. (Of course, an autobiography or authorized biography could be equally biased.) If it’s an authorized biography, be sure to state that explicitly so the reader will know the subject of the story wanted this story told this way.
- If the biography is written years after the person was actually alive, many family stories will probably have been lost and not included in a biography. A biography is often the best we can do when the author didn’t record their own story.
Any library will have an entire section devoted to biographies so I’m not going to list favorites here, but I’ll mention that a lot of our ancestors used to submit biographies of their ancestors to societies like Sons of/Daughters of the American Revolution (SAR or DAR); Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (DUP), and similar societies in other locales. Any time I visit an ancestral spot, I check for a local historical society and see if they have any histories of our ancestors. These are fun to collect but beware the author was often incentivized to submit the history as part of their membership in the society so these should be fact-checked for veracity.
Don’t Quit Now!!!
- You can do this and you can do it without spending a great deal of money.
- The sky is the limit if you want to pay for professional assistance but don’t let finances prevent you from sharing your story.
- Your life matters and someone else will benefit from hearing your story!
Storytelling Apps and Services to help you Write Your Personal History–less expensive options
- Check your app store for Speech Dictation apps, there are some free ones
- Speechy – the app is $4 and you can record yourself telling a story and it will transcribe your story as you speak, then you can email the text, audio, or text and audio to yourself or send it to multiple other places. (Hint: I’m cheap. I own this. Best $4 ever spent on a family history app.)
- Dragon Home and Dragon Anywhere app– app and software, speech to text recognition, this software will transcribe spoken audio to transcribed text, $14.99/month, $149/yr, $0/1 week trial, then billed $14.99/mo till canceled (this is the industry leader)
- Emberall – a family history app that allows you to record stories and emails you a link where you can view your stories, also provides a DVD service, $495, full use of video recording and 1 DVD or USB finished product
- Joy Flips – a web and mobile app for preserving photos and stories for a fee, Free – $189
- Generation Story – a storytelling app for your possessions; upload a photo, voice over the story, share on social media, Free app, fees may apply
- Lifey – a Free app for recording and sharing stories publicly, created by a journalism major, intended to share life experiences, nice site to visit to be inspired by others and encouraged to tell your own stories
- TSO Life – The Story of Life, a professional app and service for recording stories of seniors, $14.99/month, download, share, cancel service any time
- Storycatcher app – an app for recording and sharing video stories you can share by email, YouTube, Facebook, or Dropbox, Free version or fee version is $4.99
- StoryboardThat – an online comic book creation site where you can tell your stories in comic book or graphic novel style, free/fee versions
- StoryWorth – for $79 you get one year of weekly story prompts by email, they save your responses and print a B&W hardcover book including stories and photos and up to 480 pages. You can invite people to receive emails fo the stories & you can download your stories any time
- StoryCorps mobile booths and app – free, you can get a copy of your recording, they retain intellectual property rights and stories are stored at the Library of Congress
- MyCanvas – partners with Ancestry.com, Family History books, $35 and up, depending on the number of pages
- Publish Your Legacy Now – this is a storytelling service that teaches you how to use MyCanvas and Ancestry to publish family histories and genealogies, fee
- Animoto – Personal and Business video storytelling service, fee
- Story2Ink– a comic book or graphic novel style storytelling art service
- Flip-Pal – a mobile scanner that allows you to scan photos and record voice-overs to tell the story of the photo, fee
- Keepy – a private photo sharing site that allows you to add voiceovers to photos, upload videos, and invite family and friends to view or comment, free and fee versions
- Heritage Makers – professional scrapbooks and storybooks for a fee
- Forever – a photo storage site that also offers books and storytelling options, fee
- FamilyArc – a cloud-based archive for your stories, photos, and more, fee
- Becky Higgins – a scrapbooking site where you can document your story with photos, fee
- Twile – this is primarily a family timeline but is a great help with any personal history, free and fee
- FamilySearch Memories – FREE but for memories and stories of deceased ancestors ONLY – an app or use the website to upload any .jpg, .tif, .bmp, .png, .pdf, .mp3, .m4a, and .wav, up to 15MB. If you’re working on a biography of a deceased family member, this is a great place to share memories and also search to see if someone else has posted their memories of someone.
- Legacy Messages – still in beta, a family history app
- Storybarrow – this site encourages you to tell the story of your belongings; a great idea for insurance purposes, to release yourself from the emotional attachment of items, and to explain the importance of items to family members, cost unknown
Storytelling Services to help you Write Your Personal History – the more expensive options
- Legacy Books – professional storytelling and editing and book publishing of personal histories, perhaps the most expensive service, up to $10,000
- Life Bio – a professional storytelling service for seniors, biography packages range from $89 to $349 depending on the service provided
- StoryTerrace – a professional story writing service, prices range from $1,700 to $5,100
- TSO Life – The Story of Life, a professional service for recording stories of seniors, $14.99/month
- Pass It Down – a professional storytelling company for organizations and businesses, but may introduce a product for individuals in 2019
- StoryTimeMe– turn your story into a children’s book, $49-$849
- Pictures and Stories – Tom and Alison Taylor present at RootsTech regularly and have a business dedicated to helping people self-publish personal histories. $2,000 and up
- Rememberize – Professional assistance creating books & photobiographies, prices range from $395 to $4,000 depending on the service you choose
- StorybookStorybook – a website where you can create online books accessible through this site for a fee
- Life Story Pictures – professional videographers to record your stories
- Tell Your History – professional service for oral histories and personal histories
- Verissima Productions – a professional video biography company for personal histories, business, or educational documentaries
I’ll share more ideas in future blogs, but even jotting down the simplest, handwritten note will be a treasure for a future generation. The photo for this blog is a handwritten note from my great-grandmother to my grandfather telling him some very basic facts about their family history. It’s the only story I have for her family and I love that it’s handwritten with less-than-perfect grammar.
Best with your family history and genealogy!