Many individuals and corporations don't know how to begin writing a history, or they don't have the time. So, they engage a personal historian to help. Here are some tips to guide you through the process.
What does a personal historian do?
A personal historian helps you write your memories. He or she records interviews with you and writes and edits a narrative based on the interviews. The project can include selecting and formatting photos, videos, and music; designing and laying out a book; printing and distributing the book; producing a DVD; or creating a family website. Some functions may be contracted to other vendors. You review and approve the final product and receive a copy of the work, often on CD.
What information is included in the narrative?
Whatever you and your personal historian agreed to. It can be a few stories of key events in your life or it can encompass your entire life. Major areas often are childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and married life, and elder years. Before beginning a project, decide the extent of information you want to include and whether you will be doing genealogy searches. A note of caution on genealogy: It can go on forever. Unless you are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in this area, or can engage someone who is, I recommend you stick to straight narrative. Not all personal historians will do genealogies. Another note: Your name will appear in the book as author; your personal historian is your ghost writer.
What will it cost?
That's like asking "What does a car cost?" It depends on the things you want in the final product. An experienced personal historian will conduct an initial consultation with you at no cost and then prepare a detailed written agreement on what he or she will do, including a time period to complete the project and what is expected of you. Family members may participate in the costs or commission a project for a loved one. Personal historians may charge by the hour or by the project. The interview process could take a dozen hours or more, usually in several sessions of one hour to ninety minutes each. Your personal historian then transcribes the recordings and writes the narrative. Writing can take ten times as long as the interviews. Then, there is editing and shaping the final manuscript for your approval and the production of a book or video as you direct.
There may be out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, lodging, food, and telephone. You work out with your personal historian whether these will be additional charges or whether they will be rolled into a package price. An experienced personal historian will not be able to do a well-crafted personal history for $1,000. Typically, projects cost $5,000 to $10,000 and can go over $50,000.
Where can I get more information?
Type the words personal historian into your Web browser’s search field.
Visit the Association of Personal Historians at www.personalhistorians.org/.
Subscribe to a free email newsletter at http://dancurtis.ca/.
Pick up a copy of How to Write Your Own Life Story, Fourth Edition, by Lois Daniels (1997, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated).