Night and day. Black and white. Up and down. Rush Limbaugh and Janeane Garofalo.
Get the picture? To this list of opposites, you might add memoir and family history, for writing a memoir is much, much different that writing a family history.
A memoir is your telling of your story in your words. It’s OK to consult others to refresh your memory, but the memories should be yours. Memoirs are written in the first person.
A family history, on the other hand, is a collection of stories and facts about and from an assortment of family members. A family history may be written completely in third person or may be structured with an effective blend of first-person recollections weaved into a third-person narrative. The family history you create may also include stories common to your memoir, but it is a difficult challenge when you are a part of the story.
The most effective interviewer is a dispassionate interviewer, one who doesn’t let personal experiences guide or shape the interview. It’s important to let the person being interviewed tell his or her story free of your biases and suggestions. Open-ended general questions that elicit thoughtful responses are preferable to those that can be answered simply or from a particular perspective.
For instance, it’s far better to ask “Tell me about the pool incident with Uncle John” than to ask “Tell me about the time you pushed Uncle John in the pool.”
It’s important, too, to give the stories of others equal weight to yours. There’s often a tendency to follow the familiar path in family history, even though the path may be wrong. Don’t assume that the stories you grew up with are the correct ones when confronted with evidence to the contrary. Evaluate the conflicting data the best you can before arriving at a conclusion.
Flickr photo courtesy of scragz.