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May is Personal History Awareness Month

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<strong>Photos, such as this one of the writer's great-great aunt and uncle, can help trigger memories.</stong>

Photos, such as this one of the writer's great-great aunt and uncle, can help trigger memories.

By Rachael Rifkin
Columnist/Personal Historian

“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.”
—Mark Twain

How would you feel if you found the diary or memoir of one of your relatives? Just imagine it. Pages and pages of their thoughts and experiences and they’re yours to savor. You find answers to questions and discover that you aren’t actually the only one with certain peculiar quirks. Pretty neat, right?
It doesn’t have to just be a pleasant “what if” fantasy. You can create that very scenario for future relatives— and yourself when you return to it years later— just by recording one of your relatives talking or starting your own collection of life stories. May is Personal History Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to start.
Here are a few ways to get going:
• Start small. Think of one specific memory and start writing. Then write another and another. Memoirs don’t have to follow any particular structure. They can just be a compilation of your most vivid memories.
• Use old photographs as memory joggers. Write the story behind the pictures.
• Listen to music from your childhood, look at old letters. They’re bound to stir up some recollections.
• Try picking a theme. You can focus on family history, travel adventures, a war story, personal achievements, the places you’ve lived, family recipes, holiday memories, etc.
• When in doubt, use writing prompts. Prompts like “Describe a favorite summertime memory” or “Name some of the most significant milestones in your career and personal life” can be really helpful. For more prompts, go to
Locally, you will find a variety of writing classes and groups. Writers share their memories every Tuesday at the Cerritos Senior Center, 12340 South St. in Cerritos. Call (562) 916-8555 to learn more about the class.
Fracaswell “Cas” Hyman, a certified guided autobiography instructor, is offering a six-week online course starting on June 12. To register, visit, email [email protected] or call (310) 779-1766.
I teach a life stories creative writing class every Friday at 1pm at the Willow Wellness Center, 2799 Temple Ave., in Signal Hill. If you can’t make that class, Saturday classes are also available at a local Long Beach residence. Email [email protected] or call (562) 424-2362 for more information.
When in doubt, go to There’s a ton of valuable information at the Personal Historians Association’s website, including tips for interviewing relatives, insights into writing life stories, and what formats are available to preserve your story. Fellow personal historian Dan Curtis is also a great source of knowledge. Follow his blog at
Feel like mulling over your options until at least the third Sunday in June? When the family gathers for Father’s Day, get a tape recorder out and ask everyone to share memories of their fathers. This method works well for any holiday.
There is so much to gain from recording our memories. When we preserve our life stories, we not only pass down our knowledge and provide our families with a legacy, we also gain a better understanding of our own lives. So put your procrastinating instincts on pause, and go create that legacy. Your family, friends, and future descendants will be glad you did.

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May is Personal History Awareness Month