Why would you want to write your life story?

You may have had friends suggest that you write your biography and think to yourself, “Who would want to know my story? I just lived my life and it wasn’t that exciting.” What you may find is that, once you get started, your life is a lot more interesting in the retelling and you will enjoy revisiting your journey through life from the perspective of where you are now. 

What I have found in the stories of the people I have interviewed over the years is a congruity in their journeys. A childhood experience can have a profound impact on their adventures as an adult. Did that happen to you? 

a line labrinth

If you are familiar with labyrinths, a person walks on a path that leads toward the center of the labyrinth and then back out. There is no getting lost. It is not a maze where people get lost and not make it to the goal point. Did you feel that you were in a maze in your youth? Did you have a struggle finding your path in life? Guess what, you’ve made it to where you are now. Why not take some time and reflect on the path looking back? You might surprise yourself and see that there really was a flow in the decisions you made, and you were on a path leading you to where you are now, even if you didn’t know it. 

I have heard some wonderful stories of synchronicity, my clients meeting someone, seemingly randomly, who became their spouse with whom they had a wonderful family, or possibly a mentor at work who helped them get to a better career. After talking through their experiences, many clients can see how the sequence of events in their lives have an amazing connection and feel a sense of wonder and gratitude. 

Before starting your project, I strongly encourage you taking the time to inventory of how much energy, time and money you want to spend compiling your life story? I have divided the possibilities into four packages: 

Antique photo of two girls with dolls and a table set for tea

The Spring Package is about your best memories of a time in your life. Did your family travel or live in a special place you have fond memories of? Was there a school you attended that was particularly meaningful to you? This project can be a short one, yet special for the ones you share it with. 

The Summer Package is where you talk about five generations of your family (or more) – your grandparents, parents, yourself, children, and grandchildren. It is good to do this while you have the energy and recall ability, making a great book with lots of fun anecdotes about your whole family. This can include pictures and a genealogy. 

The Fall Package is where you give an overview of your whole life and make references to other people in your life. This will be a smaller investment of time, energy and money than the Summer Package. It will have a compilation of the stories that come easily to mind and will include your favorite pictures. This is truly a wonderful gift for the family to get to know you better and for you to better understand your past and your journey. 

The Winter Package helps you share what is in your heart in a brief page or two manuscript. You get to share the most important lessons, or pieces of important family history, you’ve learned in your lifetime and want to pass on. It is a way to share a brief overview of your life, your values, life lessons, hopes and dreams. While it is not a legal document, it can be the most precious gift you leave behind for those following to treasure. 

The point I want to make is that you will find this to be a meaningful exercise for yourself and you can share your story in a manner that feels appropriate to you. You control how large of a project you will be working on should you decide to write your personal story or have a personal historian help you through the project. Take the time to plan what you want to be sure to cover. 

Once you get started, you can still adjust the scope and make it more comprehensive or shorter. If you have been thinking of getting your life stories in a book or manuscript there is no time is like the present. You will be giving yourself and your family a gift. 

Connie Shipley Personal Historian of Capturing Your Life Stories

Connie Shipley, Capturing Your Life Stories 

Contact Connie Shipley by email

Maia Fischler and Cheryl McLean, Life Writer Personal Histories

Life Writer, Capturing the Stories That Connect the Generations

Getting to Completion

By Maia Fischler, LifeWriter Personal Histories

When I met Dianna Hanson, she had been working on her manuscript for over a year without really believing she’d ever manage to publish it. She had enjoyed the writing process, and she was excited to pass her story along to her nieces and nephews, to help them understand the times their parents lived and the experiences that shaped them. But she wasn’t really sure if she was finished, and she didn’t know what steps to take to complete her vision: a beautiful book, illustrated with family photos and professionally bound.

When I told her I could read her work, make suggestions, and get the story to final form, she was delighted. And she was even happier when I told her my partner would take her collection of family photos, clean them up, integrate them with the story in a beautiful design, and see the book through the printing process. 

Many people are writing their own life stories these days, and as personal historians, we are thrilled about that! But we realize that not everyone is comfortable taking their work from manuscript to final printing on their own. We can step in to help at any point: transcribing old diaries and letters, editing and helping complete manuscripts, interviewing loved ones, restoring documents and photos, creating the perfect design, and more. 

What a great experience to work with Maia and Cheryl on the memoir I wrote for my family. Maia went beyond editing, pointing out areas where the reader might like further information and making other constructive suggestions. Cheryl was invaluable in placing photographs, designing the book and working with the printer. It was just the help I was looking for. 

–Dianna Hanson

LifeWriter Personal Histories

Capturing the stories that connect the generations

Maia Fischler Owner and Editor Life Writer Books
Maia Fischler

Maia Fischler has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. She is a good listener and creative interviewer, dedicated to bringing out the best in family storytellers. 

Cheryl McClean Book Designer for Life Writer
Cheryl McLean

Cheryl McLean has designed hundreds of publications for clients across the country. She owns Imprint Services, an editing and design firm in Corvallis, Oregon, as well as Jackson Creek Press. 

Maia Fischler, LifeWriter 

PO Box 1290

Albany, OR 97321

541-745-7391 ◆ maia@life-writer.com

Maia and Cheryl’s Life Writer Website

Exploring the Power of Stories

By Lisa Kagan (Director, Family Heirloom Arts)

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order… the continuous thread of revelation.”
– Eudora Welty, author and photographer

The Power of Stories

Lisa Kagan, Director, Family Heirloom Arts

Through my work as a personal historian, writer, artist, and educator I have found that when people have an opportunity to tell their stories, it transforms their lives. As Director of Family Heirloom Arts, I am driven by my passion for storytelling and my commitment to preserving and honoring personal narratives. I have recognized that the storytelling process opens up opportunities for innovation and discovery that allow people to more fully access their own potential, and in turn make significant contributions in their lives and in society at large. They are better able to understand their past, gain confidence in their ability to address their present circumstances, and begin to envision their future. Through the act of sharing our stories we can deepen self-knowledge, strengthen family ties, and build bridges across generations.

Get Started Telling Your Own Story, From Fact to Memory to Meaning

A Legacy of Twelve Generations, an illustrated family heirloom book created for a Family Heirloom Arts client

At Family Heirloom Arts when we help our clients tell their stories, we aim to help them not only record the facts of their life along with their memories, but we focus on supporting them to distill meaning from their life through a guided process of self-reflection and discovery. 

Here are a few questions to get you started telling your own story:

  • Write down a story of one of the most pivotal experiences you have gone through in the course of your life, which you feel would be important to share with future generations.
  • In what ways do you feel like this experience changed you?
  • What do you think future generations can learn from this experience?

Join us for Life Storytelling Workshops & Retreats in 2020

Half-day weekend workshop- 

RADIANCE: Returning to the Light, Exploring the Art of Resilience

Dates & Times: Saturday February 1st, 2020, 1-5pm

Location: Vibe Studio, 5633 SE Division Street, Portland

Program & Registration Information: https://familyheirloomarts.com/event/radiance-returning-to-the-light-an-exploration-of-the-art-of-resilience/

Weekend Retreat-

EMERGENCE: Coming Into Bloom, A Journey of Renewal & Regeneration

Dates & Times: Friday March 13th-Sunday March 15th, 2020

Location: Alton Collins Retreat Center, 32867 SE Hwy 211 Eagle Creek, Oregon 97022

Program & Registration Information: https://familyheirloomarts.com/event/emergence-coming-into-bloom-a-journey-of-renewal-and-regeneration/

About Lisa Kagan & Family Heirloom Arts:

Lisa Kagan is a writer, artist, educator and personal historian. Her business, Family Heirloom Arts, is dedicated to helping individuals and families celebrate their life stories and significant life milestones through the creation of illustrated heirloom books and custom art. Lisa offers art and writing workshops and retreats throughout the Pacific Northwest. Lisa is the co-founder of the Touchstone Retreats program and a facilitator through Portland Women Writers.


Lisa Kagan (Director, Family Heirloom Arts)




Personal historians remind us to gather our stories

Personal historians know holidays are the perfect time to gather family stories and honor personal legacies. Ask Trena Cleland or Gloria Nussbaum about the importance of preserving personal history.

Both Trena and Gloria are members of Personal Historians NW and contributors to the December issue(s) of Northwest50Plus magazine, highlighting the different types of work being done to help families (and businesses) preserve their stories and legacies.

Trena’s article, Ask Yourself, appears on page 14 of the South Valley/Lane edition of Northwest50Plus . In it, this Eugene-area personal historian provides memory prompts on topics such as childhood games, holiday traditions, and family heirlooms to get the gears of your memory in motion.

Trena Cleland with a memoir she produced

Trena knows how to unearth the gems, having carved her niche as a personal historian starting in 1998. She’s an expert interviewer and has assembled a top-notch team of writers, editors, and book designers whose work honors the stories and wisdom being passed along, decade by decade. She describes a personal history as “a way of keeping your experiences and hard-won wisdom alive. It is an invaluable investment whose benefits will be reaped for generations.”

Learn about the treasures Trena and her team create and get a list of prompts to engage your family in story-telling this holiday season by contacting Trena via her website.

In the Portland Metro/Vancouver edition, the article Listen to My Story features member Gloria Nussbaum. Usually the person behind the microphone interviewing and gathering stories, Gloria was right at home with her interviewer talking about her personal history business.

Gloria Nussbaum of Real to Reel

As the owner of Real to Reel, Gloria has been listening to and recording stories since 2001. She’s preserved the oral histories of hundreds of individuals and families through her work.

“Almost nobody does what I do,” Nussbaum says. “I became known as ‘the audio person,’ because it was my passion to just get the stories and the voice. Each person has a voice as unique as a fingerprint. “And it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the sound of your voice,” she says. “This is the voice that your loved ones know and love. When they hear that voice, you’re right there in the room with them. With audio, you get their laughter, the way they speak, a turn of a phrase, even the way they breathe.” Source: Northwest50Plus magazine.

Perhaps many of us can relate to Gloria’s story about her own family’s legacy and the importance of preserving those stories in a story-teller’s own voice. “A regret is that I didn’t discover this in time to record my dad’s stories.  Thanks to his siblings, I have stories about him but that is very different from having his stories…and his voice.”

Since 2006, Gloria has been a member of Personal Historians NW. Learn more about Gloria Nussbaum and her company Real to Reel by reading the entire article in the December 2019 issue, Portland Metro Edition of the Northwest50Plus magazine.

We invite you to share your stories, your history and your legacy this holiday season. Whether it is art, memoir, a visual journey, books or oral history, you are sure to find a personal historian who can help honor your wishes. Reach out to a personal historian to explore an array of legacy options for commemorating a family, business chronology or your own personal history.