The upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop I’m teaching for another Toronto Public Library branch is filling up fast. That tells me memoirs are still high on the trend list. A Google search of “Memoir Books 2006 to 2011” produced a hit list of 5,300,000. This continuing popularity gives me hope about getting my own memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons published.
What about memoir writing itself? I’ve covered some ideas on what to write in previous posts (See https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2010/05/). But writing a memoir isn’t just mining from your memories. Research is involved and sometimes where to begin can overwhelm you. Do I go through all those unsorted family photographs? Do I have to become a genealogy expert? Should I talk to family members? Do I…?
Hold it right there. Before you do your version of a chicken-with-no-head, focus. Make sure you have narrowed down what you want to write about in your memoir. Subject matter will determine research. If you’re writing about an area of your childhood and/or your parents, you might want to talk to family members to get the bigger picture. Maybe someone in your family is doing the family genealogy. On my mother’s side of the family, two family members – one close (as in relationship and in distance) and one in another country are researching family history. Neither knew about the other until another cousin met the United States-based one and connected him to the Canadian one. This connection brought out one point. The Canadian cousin was researching both the Strauss and Schefter sides of my mom’s family. The US distant cousin was researching only the Schefters. On my dad’s side of the family, a cousin once removed (I hate that expression; sounds like the person was kicked out of the family) is doing a bit of research. If I hadn’t talked to several cousins (Although I have no brothers and sisters, I am blessed with many, many cousins) I would have been blindly going where no one has to go. (Sorry, Star Trek fans. I’m one, too).
As I seem to be wearing my teacher’s hat today, let me list some of the things you can do when researching for your memoir.
a) Sort through old photos, diaries, letters, etc. for what is relevant.
b) Read the diaries and letters you keep out. Make some notes.
c) Talk to relatives (the older the better), especially the family genealogist. Bring a notebook, digital recorder or laptop to take notes. Or communicate via Skype and webcam, Facebook or e-mail.
d) Talk to people with the same last name (yours and your mother’s maiden name in particular) even if you don’t think you are related.
e) Look at the photos and see what stories they trigger about the family and friends in them. Bring photos when talking with relatives, preferably someone in the photo(s). Or post them on Facebook or on Flickr for online checking with family members.
f) Visit the cemetery or cemeteries where your dead relatives (including those ancestors) are buried.
g) Look at photos of the house where you grew up and see what stories that triggers.
h) Revisit the “scene of the crime” that old house. See if you can get an appointment with the current owners. Compare house stories.
i) Library – (Disclaimer: I am not a librarian – ask a librarian for more info on what to look for) Some things you can use here – books on areas you want to cover. Digital and micro-fiche records of old newspapers which might have stories about your family, and the time period you are writing about. Your memory isn’t 100 per cent. If you have a library card, you can access digital files of newspapers from your home computer. Micro-fiche records of the ownership history of the house you grew up in, or at least the lot number may also be available at your library.
k) If you must do some genealogical research, try: http://www.genealogy.com/index_n.html and Church of Latter Day Saints (new site) https://www.familysearch.org/ which links to (old site) http://www.familysearch.org/eng/
Those are just for starters.
And for those in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area (shameless self-promo here) I will be teaching that Memoir Writing workshop at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library, 6.30 p.m. March 31. Check out my website http://www.samcraw.com and/or the Toronto Public Library http://www.tpl.ca.
Only Child Writes