Frequently Asked Questions

A knowledge base of answers to commonly asked questions about life story writing, personal history, interviewing relatives, memoir writing and life story books.


How are the interviews done? Is there anyone else there?

The interviews are usually recorded at your home in a quiet, comfortable room.

To avoid distractions, often it's a good idea for other family members to occupy themselves elsewhere. Even if two people, such as a married couple, are both being interviewed, better results are usually achieved by having separate interviews.

How long are the interviews and how many are there?

Recording a person's life story can average from a few hours to 10 or 20 hours, depending on tire narrator's memories and desire to share them.

Sessions usually last for one hour, depending on your energy and comfort, and are spread over days or weeks. Each interview is recorded and passed to the client at the end of the project.

What preparatory work is required?

Before the interviews start we have a discussion and outline the topics to be covered. I do several hours of research to get myself "on the same page" as the narrator. The success of the project depends upon me eliciting the stories that underlie the basic story. Prior preparation is the secret of a person specific interview. Depending upon the narrator's wishes other family members may be involved. They may receive a questionaire to provide information from their point of view.

Personal History

What is Personal History?

These are the stories of your life as told by you, in your own words and saved for future generations. Your personal history is the preservation of your life stories, memoirs, or life values in a printed form, a digital recording or a video.

What is a Personal Historian?

A personal historian records and preserves people's memoirs and life stories.

How does personal history differ from genealogy?

A personal historian records a person's life stories and experiences, whereas genealogists research and record a person's descent from his or her ancestors.

What's the purpose? Why would anyone be interested in my life story?

Every person's life is interesting. Wouldn't you like to know what your great- grandparents' lives were really like—in their own words?

No matter how ordinary you might think your life is, it is extraordinary to your descendants and to future researchers.

Mark Twain said, "There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy".

What if there are some things I don't want to talk about?

Leave them out. No one will force you to say anything. However, it sometimes helps to review painful periods and realise how you survived them. This can be especially valuable to future readers when they are going through dark times.

Some of the reasons to tell your life story.

Some of the best reasons are:

  • to preserve the memories, stories, photographs and recordings of these who have gone before for those who will come after.
  • to explain your actions and decisions and give insight and perspective into the experiences that have influenced you.
  • for the joy of storytelling-it energises and uplifts the spirit.
  • to honour the past and pay tribute to those who have shaped your life.
  • to tell your readers or listeners about your successes, failures, lessons and observations in the hope they will heed them.
  • to tell your story, to set the record straight and achieve some peace of mind.
  • to help others see you in a different light to the one they usually see.
  • to do something valuable for your family that only you can do.
  • to communicate your values, beliefs and ethics.
A life story can be the perfect gift for the person who has almost everything.


What is the process for making a life story book?

First of all I will talk with you to develop an outline of what you want to cover.

  • This pre-interview session provides me with background information to research and helps me frame the questions for the interviews with the narrators.

  • Invitations are sent to other family members to submit questions or to be interviewed themselves.

  • The interviews commence. Each interview is around 60 minutes and there can be 7 or more for a book that will be 80-120 pages.

  • The recordings are then transcribed. This is essential because accurate transcription produces the unique character of the narrator ("I can hear Mum's voice in every word") and underpins the manuscripts to come.

  • The first manuscript, which organises the stories into book form, is written and submitted for feedback and revision to the client and the narrator.

  • Photographs are selected and scanned.

  • Final revisions are done, and the final manuscript is produced.

  • The book is then designed and laid out with photographs and uploaded for printing.

  • A preprint PDF is produced for final sign off.

  • Printing and binding is done to your specifications.

The finished book reflects the unique character of the principal subject and usually includes chapters on childhood, schooling, adolescence, falling in love, career, raising a family, hobbies, retirement...etc.

There is no rule that says this need always be so: the question is "how would you like to be remembered in 10, 20, 50 years time?".

How much does a life story book cost?

Prices vary widely, depending upon the length of the interviews, the services you need and the end result you want.

They may range from several hundred dollars to many thousands for a complex biography, a large family or company history. I always work to a budget which has been agreed in advance and reviewed at each milestone - interviews, first drafy, final manuscript, design and printing.

A personal history project can be crafted to fit your budget. Often several family members who believe in the importance of preserving their family's legacy can share the cost.

How long does it take to produce a a life story book?

This varies from project to project and for most books I allow 6-12 months. A great deal depends on the time it takes the person to tell his or her life story, which also determines the time needed to transcribe the recordings and the time needed to write, edit and revise the manuscript. Additionally the number of photos and illustrations need to be taken into account and scanned for inclusion. Then the book is laid out and proofed, reproofed and reproofed again. Finally comes the printing and binding process, the materials used and the number of books required. I have done a few as 10 and as many as 2500.


Can I write my memoir myself?

Yes, you can, and there are many books and classes to help you do it. Yet most people never get around to doing it on their own. They need the motivation, structure, prompting, and encouragement that a professional personal historian can provide. I would be happy to help you.

Where can I find information on memoir writing?

Search the internet or your local library for the key words: Family History, Writing Your Autobiography, Writing Your Memoirs etc.. There is a lot of information available and if you contact me I'll be happy to point you in the right direction.

Some examples that come to mind.

Before you start any memoir ask yourself some basic questions. Who am I writing for? Who is likely to read my life story? The way you write will depend upon your answers.

  • One lady had written over 400 pages. She had written a book or a screenplay but it was a chronolgy of her life written from her point of view. It needed editing bordering upon rewriting, something she was strongly opposed to.
  • Another had over a hundred pages of closely written (in pencil) memoirs in minute detail: "And I said to Dad, what are we going to have for dinner tonight? And he said., 'Aw, I don't know, I fancy some chops...'"
Step back and visualise your relatives reading your memoirs in 50 years time.
  • How much will they read?
  • What will be their attention span?
  • What are the five things you would like them to remember you for? Write these first.

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