Susan Saunders: Family Stories, Memories, and Alzheimers's: What You Can Do

Susan Saunders
Guest Article by Susan Saunders

When a loved one starts losing family memories, it affects the whole family. Sometimes, the changing stages of Alzheimer’s disease are marked by a renewed interest and focus on preserving family stories, history, and keepsakes, by family members who realize how much stands to be lost to future generations.
If you, or someone you care about, have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, there is really nothing that can be done to restore memory for the one with the disease. That is just the sad and degenerative nature of the condition. There are, however, things that you and your family can do now, that may make it easier to cope with this loss and ensure that some family memories will live on forever.

Share family stories.When family members gather, simply talk about what you remember–about the person with the illness, about your lives together, about the places you’ve lived and the experiences you had.

Turn on a recording device.Just let it run while you share. Record snippets of conversation (even the repetition) with the loved one, too. This is a voice you’ll want to remember.

Take lots of pictures.Be sure to label them digitally with dates, names, and other important notes. These can live for a very long time.

Go through old photos.Instead of watching a movie or TV some evening, how about pulling out those shoeboxes of old photos and going through them together to see what memories they conjure up? Someone take notes, or lightly pencil on the back of the photos, who, when, and where (as much as possible).

Stay in Touch.If family is far flung now, use email, Facebook, and other social sharing tools to set up groups for staying in touch.

Plan a family reunion.Or at least make a point of connecting for the holidays or just a plain old weekend. Make the theme one of storytelling and remembering together. Have everyone bring a favorite picture or two and other family memorabilia.

Organize.Designate a family historian, or a family history team. This responsibility can rotate from time to time, so that no one gets burned out or overwhelmed.
Living with Alzheimer’s in the family is not easy, and the loss of memory and recognition may be one of the hardest things to bear emotionally. Taking steps now to gather and document family history as you know it will at least ensure that your own stories and memories will be preserved as a legacy for future generations.
Photo courtesy Susan Saunders. Contact Susan Saunders at familylinestudios.com.

Free Newsletters by Email Help You Write Your Memoirs

A lot of free information is available to help you write your memoirs. Among the quickest and easiest to use are newsletters sent by email. Written by professionals who have done just what you are doing, the newsletters provide tips for writing, organizing, editing and publishing, as well as encouragement and support to assure you are not alone.

Newsletters can include:
  • Tips to get you started and keep you moving.
  • Motivating articles.
  • Links to other resources.
  • Information on classes and workshops.
  • Methods to make the best use of your time.
  • Tools for better storytelling.
  • Connections with other memoir writers.
  • Techniques that work to unblock stalled thinking.
  • Assistance growing your memoir-writing business.

The following newsletters may include information on memoir writing or on general writing. Some issues are weekly and some are monthly. Some of the resources may offer to sell you services or products.

Compulsive Reader

Dan Curtis

Explore Writing

Extraordinary Lives

Footprints Writing Clubs

Free My Memoir

Grammar and Composition Guide

Jo Parfitt. Free report, “How to Write Your Life Story, The Inside Secrets,” when you subscribe to the newsletter. Scroll to bottom of page.

Kimberly Powell's Genealogy Guide

Laura Davis, Healing Words That Change Lives. Free report, “How to Write a Great First Line,” when you subscribe to the newsletter.

Lifewriter’s Digest

Love to Know Freelance Writing

Meredith Sue Willis. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

National Association of Memoir Writers. Free report, “Begin Your Memoir Today!” when you subscribe to the newsletter.

Red Room

Sydney Writers’ Centre

The Writer Magazine

White Smoke

Women on Writing

Writer’s Digest

Writing-World. Scroll to bottom of page.


Membership Organizations Provide Support, Learning, and Networking


A great way to keep up with the trends in memoir writing and stay up with new and established methods is to join a membership organization. They have all kinds of free information and you can interact with memoir writers who have been where you are or who are moving along at your pace. Membership can get your memoir-writing juices flowing.

Check with your library for the name and contact information of a writers’ group nearest you.

The following organizations have members throughout the world. Membership fees are annually and in U.S. dollars.

Association of Personal Historians (APH)
Purpose - Advance the profession of helping individuals, organizations, and communities preserve their histories, memories, and life stories.
Services - Educational, training, and networking opportunities to help professional personal historians, from beginners to advanced, build their personal history businesses, member web directory, regional events, annual conference, APH store.
Membership - $200. Open to any interested in personal history writing.

Biographers International Organization (BIO)
Purpose - Represent the everyday interests of practicing biographers: those who have published the stories of real lives, and those working on biographies – in every medium, from print to film.
Services - Member web directory, annual BIO Award for lifetime contribution to biography, annual conference, monthly newsletter.
Membership Levels:
Active - $45 to $150 based on annual writing income from biography. For those who are writing, filming, recording, or otherwise producing a biography.
Associate - $30. For anyone interested in the craft and art of biography.
Affiliate - $250. For corporations, companies, and firms wishing to provide financial support to BIO.

International Auto/Biography Association (IABA)
Purpose - Broaden the world vision of auto/biographers, scholars and readers, deepen the cross-cultural understanding of self, identity and experience, and carry on global dialogues on life writing.
Services - Biennial conference in exotic world locations, periodic newsletter.
Membership - Membership fee not required.

International Society of Family History Writers and Editors
Purpose - Encourage excellence in writing and editorial standards in genealogical publishing. This embraces all media, including newspapers, magazines, newsletters, professional journals, books (including compiled family histories), online columns, society and personal websites, web logs (blogs), and broadcast journalism of all sorts.
Services - Quarterly newsletter, annual writing competition, annual conference, links to members’ publications and websites.
Membership - $15. Open to anyone involved in genealogy columns and articles or writing about family history. This includes present and potential columnists, writers, and editors, as well as publishers, broadcasters, and webmasters for genealogical and historical societies.

National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW)
Purpose - Help memoir writers feel empowered with purpose and energy to begin and develop their life stories into a publishable memoir, whether in essay form, a book, a family legacy, or to create a blog.
Services - Workshops; tele-seminars; interviews with writers and experts in the area of memoir, writing skills, therapeutic writing, spiritual autobiography, and healing through writing personal, authentic stories. Free subscription to monthly email newsletter, no membership required.
Membership - $149. Open to anyone interested in memoir writing.
Image: Public domain

Dan Curtis: Why Can't I Do My Own Life Story?

Dan Curtis
Guest Article by Dan Curtis

You can. There are books and workshops that can offer guidance. Let me tell you the advantage of hiring a personal historian.

First of all, it’s more fun! It is easier talking to someone who is genuinely interested in your story than sitting by yourself facing a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

Another advantage is that the project will actually be completed. Many people have the best of intentions but often never get their life story finished. A personal historian is a professional who can handle your book or video from beginning to end. You don’t have to worry about learning publishing software or the complexities of video editing.

Remember that your life story is a treasured legacy. You want to leave something of beauty and quality. A personal historian can ensure that happens.

Photo courtesy Dan Curtis. Contact Dan Curtis