Tips + Tricks

Capture the moments and the memoir will write itself.

Why Moments Are Easier Than Memoirs

Capture the moments and the memoir will write itself.

He was 93 and has been in terrific health, but we can’t count on that. My friend looked at me and said: “tick-tock, tick-tock.”

He has an incredible story to tell, and we all know that the time to capture it is dwindling. I needed a way for him to capture the stories without the burden of turning the narrative of a lifetime into a formal, structured memoir.

My 93-year old friend looked at me and said “tick-tock, tick-tock.”

In talking to many families, we’ve discovered it is a familiar refrain. The elder generation, today in their 80s, 90s and older, are the last generation to remember their grandparents who were probably the first generation to be photographed in the mid-19th century. Many have vivid memories of their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They’ll recognize the porch, mantel, and lamp captured in your old family photographs.

Sitting with seniors to capture those little moments can be vastly easier than crafting a narrative that summarizes a lifetime of experience. Start with facts and your loved one gets some easy wins. The classic journalists’ rule can be helpful: “Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?” These simple fact-based questions can help contextualize an image.

When you ask a few more evocative questions, the stories start tumbling out. One useful technique is to invite your subject into a memory palace with her senses. You might have started with facts about a place based on photographs of a former home with a porch wrapped around the front. So ask obvious questions about the porch. “Did you have a swing or rocking chair out front?”

That simple question can lead to more that will evoke memories of sounds, smells, and other sensations which will, in turn, wake dormant memories. You might follow-up with a question like “I’ll bet that made a creaking sound.” or simply “Did your papa tell you stories from that porch?”

Once you have the structure of facts in place, the tall tales and modest exaggerations, and slight embellishments start to make sense. Even as fiction, they might tell a larger truth in your hero or heroine’s personal narrative. As Mark Twain (was said to have) said, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

For your genealogy, like journalism, facts really do matter. A good rule of thumb is to be clear about your sources and enjoy the story, as a story. 🤓

If you'd like to experiment with telling a story in a picture, let us know in the Live Chat window in the bottom left ⏎. We'll be happy to set up a time and walk you through an invite you to one of our own pictures—live.

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