Thursday, February 28, 2013

Create a Time Capsule on Paper

This is an exercise that I wrote about back in 2000, and I thought I would dust it off and republish it.

Facilitating a 
Lifewriting Group
 is Easy,e-book
 (instant download)
is currently on sale for 

Time capsules are a great way to pass history down to future generations, but there are several problems with them:
  • You probably don’t want to place anything precious or costly in them. 
  • You can’t include items that belong to another family member or that you are currently using. 
  • Over the years, you have probably misplaced or given away some excellent candidates for the capsule. 
  • Some items are just too big! 
So, how about creating a paper time capsule?

Make a list of 10–12 items from your life that evoke memories. You don’t have to currently possess each item. Take some time to think about this. Choose items from different time periods—childhood, teenage years, early adulthood, etc. Try to span your entire life. For some, this is not as easy as it sounds. When I started my list, I had a hard time coming up with objects. By the time I got to the end of my list, I couldn’t stop thinking of them! Some suggestions for items to include are: toys, mementos, certificates and diplomas, works of art, tools, kitchen gadgets, articles of clothing, crafts, journals, and pets.

It is important to limit the number of items before you begin listing them. This ensures that you think carefully about the value or importance of each thing you include. If you find yourself listing too many items, it is okay to go back and replace a previously listed item. Don’t bother to list them in any special order—just get them down.

Here are some examples from my list: and old pipe I bought in Israel, an aquamarine ring, dirndl (dress) from Salzburg, Girl Scout sash, lock of hair, pink sand from Utah.

Now for the fun part! For each item, answer the following questions:
  • When did you own it? (Include your age.) 
  • How did you come to possess it? Who gave it to you? Why did you acquire it? 
  • Where did you live when you owned it? 
  • What was it used for? 
  • Did someone else possess it with you? Who and why? 
  • Do you still have it? Is it something you hope to pass on to another family member? 
  • Why did you select it to include in this “time capsule on paper?” Why was/is it special to you? 
  • If you no longer have it, do you have a photograph or sketch of it? 
Write a notation, description, history, or story about each item. Don’t try to write all these memories in one sitting—it will be overwhelming. Describing one item a day or week is plenty. Our memoir writing group spent several weeks working on our paper time capsules. For the first week, we each made a list and wrote about one item. Just reading the lists to each other was inspiring, but when we read our stories, WOW! Sally’s story of a family footstool brought tears to our eyes.

Now start your paper time capsule. When you are finished, seal it away with instructions about when and by whom it is to be opened. The great thing about this kind of time capsule is that you can make several copies—one for each grandchild, for example!

Additional Time Capsule Ideas

  • Make a list of fifty-two items and write about one each week for the next year.
  • Ask another family member or friend to write or otherwise record their remembrances of some of the items on your list. 
  • Go further—put together a family paper time capsule. Ask each family member to “contribute” three or four items. If they do not want to write about them, get them to record their memories on audio tape, which you can later transcribe. 
  • Bind your memories: a time capsule in a book! 
Facilitating a Lifewriting Group is Easy is available for purchase in both a hardcopy (printed) form and as an instant download (e-Book) at my Capturing Memories Store. Visit the store to freely download the Introduction, Table of Contents and Chapter One.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Write the Story Behind the Photo

You will find this writing
 exercise and more than 50
 more in
Facilitating a
Lifewriting Group is Easy,
which you can order here.  

This is one of the exercises that I have used in lifewriting groups that always kindles many stories.

Note for lifewriting group facilitators: If you are using this activity for a group writing exercise, ask everyone to bring in 4–6 personal photos for this session. The photos should represent different times in their lives—childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, etc. It is preferred that they not bring professional portrait photographs. The most useful images for this activity are the ones with lots of “stuff” in the background—like their homes, automobiles, or other possessions. 
See below for link to a free downloadable .pdf version of this activity that can be used as a handout.

Choose a photo from your past that has some familiar objects in the background: a car you remember, a neighbor’s house, the fence you helped your Dad build, or the sandbox you played in. You get the idea. 

Study the picture. Look at everything in the photo. List the people and objects you see there. For example, in this photo from my childhood, I see:

  • Me!
  • A banana tree
  • Momma’s washer/dryer combination (hiding behind the banana tree)
  • Momma’s wicker basket
  • A trash can
  • The screen door to our back porch
  • Venetian blinds in the window

Write down who each person was. How were they related? What was each person doing? Did they want their photo taken? Do you know who took the photo? Why did they? If you don’t know why, speculate.

Study each object in the photo. Both those in the foreground and in the background. Take your time. Allow the memories to wash over you. Jot down things that occur to you. Don’t worry about complete sentences; just capture the gist of the memory on paper. Here are some examples from my photo:

  • All homes had screen doors. No air-conditioning in South Texas then!
  • Washer/dryer was in one unit. We could see fire through a hole in it.
  • Mom sprinkled her clothes before ironing.
  • Back porch was the coolest place in the summer; large ceiling fan; we played endless games of Monopoly there.
  • Venetian blinds were hard to clean.
  • We never ate bananas from that tree.

When you feel you have exhausted your memories, put the photo aside and go over your notes. Now you are ready to write about the memories that the photo inspired. Here’s just one memory that was prompted by my list:

In this case, the memories that the photo inspired seem to have nothing to do with the photograph. That really does not matter. A memory has been kindled. A story has been written.

A printer-friendly .pdf version may be freely downloaded here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Steps to a Successful Memory Book Project—Part 2

(Read Part 1 of this post below, or find it here.)

Step 5: Using your theme as a guide, make a list of potential contributors.

Start with your steering committee. Send each member a worksheet (see the example below) in advance of an early committee meeting. Ask that they make a list of potential participants, including contact information and a bit about their background in the community or organization.

Participant leads include: 

  • Your membership roster/mailing list
  • Senior center: Offer to do a presentation about your project at your local senior center or retirement community. Prepare an announcement to be published in their newsletter.
  • High school alumni: Ask if you can set up a table or display about the project at high school reunions.
  • Local churches: You may be able to include an announcement in church newsletters.
  • Participants themselves. Even after the project is underway, you will probably receive suggestions for other participants from those who have already received their workbooks.
Don’t forget to include people who have moved away but still have ties to the local community or organization.

Step 6: Create a workbook for contributors to complete.

An inspirational workbook is one of the key ingredients of a successful Memory Book project. When a potential contributor receives his workbook, you want him be excited and eager to send his stories to you. You also want the process to be as simple as possible. When a workbook is designed well with sharp images, clear, open-ended questions, and plenty of white space for writing, it is easier and more enjoyable for your participants to write their stories. Many participants will continue to add to their workbooks even after the project is completed.

In an early committee meeting, brainstorm subtopics to your theme. For each subtopic, make a list of open-ended questions which will elicit detailed memories from your contributors. Just as when interviewing for an oral history, your questions should not leave room for single-word responses. Instead of “Did you participate in school projects to help in the war effort?,” use “Describe some projects in which your school participated to help the war effort. Which projects were the most rewarding for you? Why? What did you like about the projects? What did you not like about them?”

You need only a handful of photos or other illustrations for the workbook. The best illustrations for the workbook are those which help contributors recall specific places, events, or people. In the workbook sample page at the right is a photo of a well-known lifeguard and swimming teacher in the community. We received so many stories about him that we made a separate chapter just about him in our final book.  

Other items to include in the workbook include: 
  • An introduction, including a clear explanation of the project.
  • A method for participants to share photographs and other memorabilia (In the project director's guide, Memory Book Projects, there is an entire chapter devoted to collecting and organizing images.)
  • Biographical information form about the participant
  • Release Forms: Get signed releases from participants to use their stories, photos, and other images, not only in the memory book, but also in future research, exhibits, broadcast, publication, or museum publicity. You cannot legally use any of their stories or images in publications or exhibits without these releases.

Step 7: Collect the stories and images.

When you send out the workbooks, do not give contributors too much time to complete them. You don’t want the books to be buried in a “to do” pile. Four to six weeks should be adequate. One to two weeks before the deadline, follow up with phone calls to those who have not turned in their workbooks. Remember, not all of your workbooks will be returned. Expect 20–30 percent of them to be returned, and then if you get 40–50 percent back, you will be delighted. Follow-up mailings and participant gatherings will increase the return rate. 

Step 8: Create your Memory Book publication, exhibit, or other end product.

Once you begin receiving workbooks, you can begin the process of creating your Memory Book. This can be the most rewarding and fun part of the project, but it can also be the most challenging. In all the Memory Books I have worked on, there has been an overabundance of material to include—and not enough funds available to publish it all. You must make judicious choices of stories and images—include something from each contributor and choose stories that are varied and interesting. Leave plenty of room for eye-catching images, but don’t turn it into a “coffee-table” book of mostly photos and few stories. 

When considering stories, select for:

  • Uniqueness.
  • Fitting the themes and scope of the project.
  • Personal recollections of well-known community/organization/family events.
  • A mix of humorous stories, touching stories, coming-of-age stories (if appropriate to the theme), sad stories, inspirational stories.

Sample bio entries at the back
 of a Memory Book
Make an attempt to use at least one entry from each contributor. This encourages more participation in future projects.

Consider taking the time to include a bio from each contributor in the back of the book. The Fall City Historical Society (Washington) even included a small portrait of each person next to their bio—a nice touch and one that family members and researchers will appreciate.

Once you have collected all these great stories, don't limit yourself to  just printing a book. Some other ways we have used the wealth of material are: 
  • An oversized exhibit version of the book displayed in the museum.
  • A children's book version
  • A museum exhibit which included some of the artifacts that participants loaned. (See the exhibit announcement at right.) 
  • A traveling exhibit
  • Remembrance (educational) trunks 
  • Bookmarks and Postcards to sell in the museum gift shop

Last Step: Celebrate!

To celebrate and publicize the publication of your book, invite some of the contributors to read their stories at a public reading. If you do not have a meeting space, ask your local library if you can use their meeting room. Be sure to have plenty of copies of the book available to sell!
All the information in this post, and 
many  more details, can be found in the 
95-page  project director's guide,  
Memory Book Projects, which can be 
purchased  in the Capturing Memories Store.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Steps to a Successful Memory Book Project

All the information in this post, and 
many  more details, can be found in the 

95-page  project director's guide,  
Memory Book Projects, which can be 
purchased  in the Capturing Memories Store.
Today and in my next post, I am sharing  the basic steps for conducting a Memory Book Project and I will include a few ”tips for success” along the way.  In the project director’s guide Memory Book Projects each of these steps has an entire chapter devoted to it which provides lots of details for making your project a successful one.

Step 1: Determine the theme and scope of your project.

If you are collecting stories for a widespread community or organization, it will be necessary to narrow the subject. In the first Memory Book project we worked on with the Long-Timers group of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, we initially entitled the project “Memories of West Seattle.” Once stories started coming in, we realized that the scope of the project was too broad. Since we did not have the funds available to publish so much material, we narrowed the topic to only include the Alki neighborhood of West Seattle in the final publication. That was where the bulk of contributions came from. It was a difficult decision to make in the middle of the project, because we were concerned that some of the contributors who lived outside the Alki neighborhood would be offended. Fortunately, we were able to later utilize most of the omitted stories in a museum exhibit, 47 Voices Remember.

You walk a fine line between too broad a topic and one that is too narrow. If you choose a limited subject with little potential, you will be scrambling to collect enough material to make a book possible. While you are considering topics, keep in mind the number of potential contributors. The more contributors you will have, the narrower your topic should be, and vice versa.

Step 2: Form a Memory Book steering committee. 

The steering committee should be composed of people who are well acquainted with the community or organization and are highly motivated to see the project to a successful completion. Members should have knowledge of a wide range of community/organization members who can contribute valuable memoirs to the project. Tasks required of committee members include:
  • Develop funding sources/grant writing
  • Compose workbook questions
  • Handle publicity
  • Recruit volunteers to transcribe, write captions to images, assist elders in completing their workbooks, editing and proofreading, etc. 
  • Coordinate participants: Locate potential participants; coordinate the dissemination of workbooks; send reminders to participants; retrieve workbooks
  • Coordinate story selection and transcription
  • Design/layout book or other end product, or work with book designer

Step 3: Determine the project budget and locate funding sources. 

Before beginning any fundraising, it is important to have a good idea of what your project is going to cost.  Include some contingency funds as well, in case your project outgrows your initial plans. In two Memory Book Projects we worked on, the number of stories and images that were collected far exceeded our original projection. The projects were almost too successful. Even after careful selection and editing, publication costs were more than we had planned. Fortunately, in both cases, contingency funds were available so that we were able to increase the number of published pages. It would have been disappointing to have eliminated some of the remarkable stories we collected just for lack of funds.
Exerpted  from  Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia

Step 4: Set up the project schedule.

The time required to complete your project depends on a number of factors. The first is funding. If you are applying for a grant, you may have to begin planning a year or more before completion of the project, depending on the grantmakers schedule.

If it is important for the project be completed by a certain date (to coincide with an annual community celebration or reunion, for example), you should add at least an extra month to the schedule.

Don’t box yourself in. The last month of the project is the most intense. If any part of the schedule slips, you will need to move the publication date back—or plan to spend some very stressful late nights during the last two weeks of the project. Believe me, I speak from experience when I say that this is not the most fun way to celebrate the end of a wonderful Memory Book Project.

A truncated suggested schedule from
Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia

In my next post, I will cover:
Step 5: Using your theme as a guide, make a list of potential contributors.
Step 6: Create a workbook for contributors to complete.
Step 7: Collect the stories and images.
Step 8: Create your Memory Book publication, exhibit, or other end product.

In the meantime, you can freely download the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Chapter 1 of Memory Book Projects, Collecting Stories and Memorabilia in the Capturing Memories Store.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Starting a Lifewriting Group is Easy! Part 2

(Read Part 1 of this article below, or find it here.)

Once I was convinced that there was a need in the community for a second writing group in the evenings, I put together a list of topics that I would feel comfortable presenting to the group. I chose ideas that I had used to stimulate my own writing.  Remember, I only had to lead a discussion for 10-15 minutes on each one. Other people join the discussion so I rarely talk for 10 minutes. It is not so much of a lesson as a discussion of technique. I got my ideas from reading books on memoir writing. Joyce Delbridge very generously made suggestions and allowed me to use her ideas and handouts.

Since I did not want to charge for the “workshops” as I have come to call them, I needed to find a meeting place that would not charge for its use. I though this would be the hardest part, but it wasn’t. I happened to mention that I needed a meeting place to a friend of mine who was also one of the assistants at the Family History Center where I do my genealogical research. (These centers are located in Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) churches throughout the world.) She suggested that we meet at their church. She even arranged the room for me through the church organization As it turned out, one of the criteria for using their facility was that I couldn’t charge for the meetings! (I can, however, be reimbursed for copying costs of handouts.) It was just what I needed. Besides, it was a perfect location since genealogical research and family history writing go hand in hand. Other excellent locations for lifewriting groups are senior centers and libraries.
I created a simple poster to put up around town and wrote some short newspaper announcements. Before I knew it, I was printing out handouts for my first meeting.
Since I did not require registration, I had no idea of how many people would be at the first meeting. The group turned out to have 11 members. A great beginning! If I had had more than 20 people show up, I would have seriously considered breaking it into two groups so everyone who would want to read would have an opportunity.
Here are the guidelines I set up. They worked well for the Senior Center group, so I just duplicated them. Meetings last two hours—exactly. We always end on time. We spend: 

  • about 10 minutes getting settled.
  • about 30 minutes sharing stories and commenting on them.
  • 10 minute break (sometimes).
  • 10 to 15 minutes discussing the evening's topic. 
  • the remainder of the time sharing more readings. 

Anyone who wants to read draws a number from a bowl. This determines the order in which we read.
After only three meetings I felt that our group was a great success! People shared delightful stories about themselves and their ancestors. Some were humorous, some serious, some heart-rending, but all the stories were listened to with rapt attention. Comments from group members were helpful and encouraging. It was obvious that everyone was enjoying the workshops. I sure was.
The amount of effort I expended in starting the workshops was really negligible when I consider how much inspiration I am getting from the group. My family history writing had been waning during the year I had not been a part of a writing group. Now I was inspired to write again. It is a great joy to listen to the stories others have to share and I continued to get ideas from my fellow writers. 

Cathy Fulton is the author of Facilitating a Lifewritng Group is Easy,which is packed with memory-kindlingideas and worksheets for any memoir writing\group. Find it in the Capturing Memories store, where you can download a free copy of the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Chapter 1.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Starting a Lifewriting Group is Easy! Part 1

One of the purposes of my lifewriting workshops is to inspire people to write. The place where I have found the most inspiration was in a memoir writing group. Our local Senior Center has had a writing group going for over 10 years. Periodically they present public readings of their best work. I attended one of those readings and immediately wanted to join them. I called the Senior Center and asked if I had to be a senior citizen to take part (I was only 40 at the time!). I was assured that I could join.

Cathy Fulton is the author of
Facilitating a Lifewritng Group is Easy,
which is packed with memory-kindling
ideas and worksheets for any
 memoir writing\group.
Find it in the Capturing Memories store.
I was a part of that group for two years. It met every week on Monday mornings. I wrote lots of stories and even published a book of stories about my Father. I wanted to keep attending, but I had two young children and found it difficult to find child care for them on Monday mornings. So, I had to stop attending the group. Shortly afterward, my writing decreased. I wasn’t getting my weekly inspirational fix. I missed the group terribly. Joyce Delbridge, our group leader, encouraged me to start my own group. Who me? I could never “lead” a writing group. After all, I had only been an average writer in school. Yes, after 20 years, the stigma of all those compositions returned to me “bleeding” with red ink, was still there. My friends and family told me I was a good writer, but I didn’t really believe them. My composition grades 20 years ago were a strong reminder that I wasn’t.

However, I wanted to be a part of a writing group. If it could be held in the evenings, I could attend. Over the course of a year, I occasionally talked to other people who would be interested. I started working on my family history at the local LDS genealogy center. I met more people who were potential family history writers. Finally I decided to take the plunge. I would start a group to meet in the evenings so working people could attend. By now, I had done enough reading on the subject to realize that this would not be a class in writing compositions. Our objective would be to get our family stories down on paper—nothing more.

Because the group at the Senior Center was so successful, I was determined to follow the format that Joyce had used. Here’s what worked for them for over 10 years:
  • No cost—except the nominal membership at the Senior Center ($8.00/year) and cost of copying handouts.
  • No guilt. Don’t worry if you can’t attend every meeting or write something every week.
  • No writing “assignments.” Write what you are inspired to write. Share your stories with the group only if you wish to.
  • Meet once a week, except during holidays and the summer.
  • Most of the meeting time is spent listening to readings and commenting on them—not critiquing. (Keep the meetings positive.) We didn’t worry about grammar or sentence structure. Our comments were mostly along the lines of “I liked the part about…” or “Could you tell us more about…” The closest we came to negative comments was “I didn’t understand who was talking when…” or “Can you explain what happened there at the beginning…?” or something along those lines.
  • Spend 15 to 20 minutes discussing a specific topic, like where to get inspiration, how to organize stories, how to write dialogue, etc.
Stay tuned for Part 2...

“Research has shown that the act of telling your life story increases self-esteem, reduces depression, alleviates loneliness and helps people deal with grief and loss,” says John Kunz, manager of the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.   
~TIME Magazine, Nov. 11, 2002

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Memory Book Projects

Capturing Memories has had the pleasure to be involved in many successful local history projects in which we helped collect and publish the shared memories of local elders. In each project, a customized memory sparking workbook was created and distributed to community elders. An overwhelming number of the workbooks were completed and returned to the historical societies. Community members also shared personal photos and mementos. The stories were transcribed, illustrated with the images, and published.

A few of the Memory Book Projects
published by Capturing Memories
 Capturing Memories would like to encourage other communities to conduct their own “Memory Book Project” and  have now published Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia, a director’s guide to the collection of community memoirs. This handbook provides detailed instructions for conducting a Memory Book Project—whether you are working for a historical organization, preparing a church or organizational history, or putting together a book of family stories.

For lots more information about Memory Book Projects and how we developed this blueprint for gathering community stories, click on the “Memory Book Projects” tab above.
Download the
(.pdf format)

Memory Book Projects is available for purchase in both a hardcopy (printed) and a downloadable e-Book at my Capturing Memories Store.

Lifewriting in the New Year

Every January, at the beginning of the new year, interest in memoirs and family histories gains a resurgence. The “baby boomers,” those people born between 1946 and 1964, are now reaching their late middle-age years. They are becoming grandparents and beginning to review their own lives. The urge is strong to record our stories and pass them down to our decendents.

Whether you are recording your personal memoirs or gathering stories from your family or community, Capturing Memories can help. In this blog, I will share techniques for personal lifewriting as well as ways to collect stories from others in your family and community. I have also authored two books which you may find useful:

I will post details about these two books the next few posts.