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Archive for May, 2008

5 tips to collecting memories

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

lunch at the farm beach 

Have you ever tried to ask a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle about their memories of the past and come up empty? I definitely have. It usually goes something like this:

ME: “Can you tell me about So-And-So?”
THEM: “Well, what do you want to know?”
ME: “Um, anything…everything…whatever you can remember.” (figuring I don’t know what I don’t know, right?)
THEM: “So-And-So was a really great person.” (or something general like that)
ME: Disappointed, because I was hoping for more and I clearly did have an idea what I wanted to know.

If you can relate to this interaction – or simply want to avoid one like it! – read on. These are some tips I’ve learned while helping people collect memories for their family stories.

5 Tips to Collecting Memories:

1. It’s hard to get someone started talking. Be sensitive. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s a bit overwhelming at first to be asked something so sweeping like, “What do you remember about your mom?” You remember lots of things, but where do you start? What’s most important? What does this person really want to hear about? And very likely there are emotions wrapped up in the questions, too.

2. Start with specific questions geared toward fact-finding. Narrow the questions a bit, keep them aimed at fact-finding (not memories just yet) and get ready to ask a few in a row to get them talking. “Where did your mom grow up?” “Did your mom have siblings?” “Did your mom go to school?” “How did your mom meet your dad?” “Did your mom ever have a job outside the home?” “Did your mom have hobbies?” “Who were your mom’s closest friends?” You get the idea.

3. Gradually work in questions aimed at collecting memories, referencing any facts you just learned. “Do you remember your mom getting you ready for school?” “Do you remember any advice your mom gave you?” “What was it like to have a mom with a job outside the home?” “What was your favorite thing your mom cooked for you?” “Did your mom ever teach you any of her hobbies?” “Was your mom strict with you and your siblings?” “Do you remember any of her favorite outfits?”

4. Ask probing follow-up questions. You’ll find that each memory triggers another. Probe a bit further if you think there’s more to an answer. “Oh really, tell me why?” “What made you feel that way?” “Tell me more about that.” “Did you like that or not? And why?”

5. Use props. Sometimes it is very helpful to have a photograph, a book, a quilt, a piece of artwork – anything to trigger a memory or a story. Sometimes this could be a person too, like a sibling who may have shared memories. If someone is in their own home, this can be even easier – just look around and ask questions about their surroundings.

If you reach the point where sentences are starting with “I remember one time when….”, then congratulations! You have reached memory-collecting nirvana. At this point it might be harder to stop the conversation than it was to get it started!! (A good problem!)

Do you have any additional thoughts and tips from your own experiences collecting memories? I’d love to hear things that have worked well for you, things that haven’t worked at all, and any questions, of course!

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my papa’s early business lesson

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

My grandmother just re-read me part of my grandfather’s memoir, and there’s a great little story I had completely forgotten about.

It’s a lesson he received on the inner workings of a business when he was 9 or 10 years old. It reminds me that not all things are as they appear!

“Grove and Catherine owned the City Electric and Fixture Company, located at 216 James Street. They did some contracting as well as sale of lighting fixtures. They would sell a fixture from a catalog. I then went out the back door and ran down second avenue about three blocks to get the fixture they had sold as if the sold fixture were in their inventory.”


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my guest interview at coveiter

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008


Julie and Lindsey over at Coveiter invited me to participate in their ‘Inspiring Interview’ series … and of course I said yes!

You can read my (sometimes rambling, I’ll warn you) interview here and their full interview series with other designers and bloggers here.

Thank you for including me, Julie and Lindsey – I feel honored!

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anniversary book idea!

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

this is us: wedding photo 

I’m sitting here working on a 40th birthday book that is really a book celebrating a marriage and family. I love how it’s coming together, mainly because the inspiration for the book title and theme is Better Together – a Jack Johnson song this couple loves, and so do I.

So, being a music lover I will share another song I think would make the perfect anniversary book theme: This is Us, by Emmy Lou Harris and Mark Knopfler. I think you could title the book This is Us, and then show the different “chapters” of a couple’s life together. It would be especially meaningful for a couple that has been together a while.

Also, for those of you approaching your first anniversary (like me) who still haven’t put a wedding book together (yes, like me!) the first anniversary gift is supposed to be paper…a perfect book opportunity!

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3 generations of mothers, 3 gifts from each

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I’ve been fortunate in my lifetime to know my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother – or grammy, as we called her.

So, this Mother’s Day I honor all 3 of them with this little photo tribute. These are a few of the many gifts they’ve given me. I am so grateful.




Thank you, thank you.

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Friday, May 2nd, 2008

This morning I feel gratitude. I can’t believe I get to do what I do. And as always I feel it is a gift from my family.

Last summer my 90 year old grandmother moved in with my mom, right next door to us. So I have the unique blessing of being able to see her daily, in the little moments…doing her crosswords, walking her laps, reading and re-reading her favorite books, balancing her checkbook (online banking is so out of the question for her), and quite often, going through her boxes of old photos.

Recently she found this letter in one of her boxes and showed it to me. It was sent to my great grandmother from my 3 x great grandfather.

letter to my great grandmother 

There is much I love about this letter – the formal yet loving language, the inspired request to read old classics, the excellent grammar, the beautiful signature.

But there is something even more amazing about it for me: my ancestor was in the book and publishing business! Andrew Jackson Aikens was editor of the Evening Wisconsin newspaper, which, according to their beautiful letterhead, also handled book printing and binding work!

evening wisconsin company letterhead 

Now, I won’t take this too far and say it’s in my blood and I was destined for this all along. But I will say it feels comforting and purposeful, somehow, to discover there is family history in my chosen line of work.

And I am grateful.

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pocket books!

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

black & chamberlain - pocket 

Here, at long last are the pocket books! These are Janda’s latest volumes of her family ancestry – The Chamberlains and The Blacks. I love the way they turned out!

In the photo above, we used a collage of census records and documents to make a full page diagonal pocket for storing family information.

For the book cover below, we matched the look and feel of her Janda book but selected new fabric colors – rust and light grey.

black & chamberlain - book spines 

chamberlain - cover stamping 

We used pockets of varying sizes throughout the book, depending how much storage was needed for that section. Here’s one for Artifacts & Letters.

black & chamberlain - pocket 

And another pocket for Famous Family Connections. I already know the first thing that will go in this one, too. Right after going to press Janda discovered she is related to Anne Boleyn! Exactly why we made pockets.

chamberlain - famous family connections 

And here are some of the page layouts.

blacks - table of contents 

black & chamberlain - map 

chamberlain - photo layout 

black & chamberlain - timeline 

black & chamberlain - newspaper 

As always, it was such a fun, rewarding collaboration creating these books! Thank you thank you, Janda…enjoy them!

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