How to start creating your relatives’ memoir

How many times have you thought a birthday, special family event, or some other holiday would be a great time to gather family memories—like Grandma’s history as a Rosie the Riveter patriot working in factories during WWII or Grandad’s motorcycle trip across the country?

And how many times have you pushed it aside saying, “But I don’t know when they’ll really be available”?

Or maybe you just figured, “It’ll work better when we gather for the next event ‘cause we’ll have more people.”

If there’s one rule we’ve all learned from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic disaster it’s that—unlike for Scarlet O’Hara—tomorrow is not another day. At least it’s no guarantee.

As a Certified Ghostwriter, why wait to gather family memories? Instead, start implementing a few simple steps. Who knows how many of your family will jump in and start adding even more ideas?

Start communications

  1. Connect with emails or phone calls—It’s that simple. Start by reaching out to just a few key loved ones—e.g., your sister, oldest child, one of the grandkids—and tell them what you want to do. Then ask: “What’s the first step you can help me with?” Consider setting up a specific email address just for family messages.
  2. Be honest—Speaking of emails, acknowledge that some of your family might be afraid to admit they’re not techno gurus. Encourage them to ask you or closer loved ones for help. It’s second nature to those wiz kids from generations that grew up with computers and the ‘net, ever-more sophisticated cell phones, email and text messages, and beyond.
  3. Explore other technology—Successful memory-gathering is not just about recording audio. Have you been part of selfies, but really can’t do them yourself?  Will you need help making videos? What about uploading photos? Do you need a more sophisticated four-color device for printouts? Look to techno-hip family members for their expertise not only in making recordings in different mediums, but for safely preserving them.
  4. Do your homework—No, this homework isn’t not about helping your grandkids with their algebra or sentence syntax—it’s knowing what and who you’ll need before getting started. A good memoirist researches and organizes questions ahead of time. That way, when the person you talk to not only answers your first question but wants to keep chatting, you’ll be ready to ask even more. Remember, the best memoirs don’t just recite chronological facts. They’re a unique combo of facts with emotions and reflections for each event.

“Wow, Grandma, how did you feel when you first walked into the factory?” or “Hey Gramps, what did you discover in that defunct mining town in the desert?”

Get more personal

  1. Seek depth—Don’t just accept, “Our greatest family event was being in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s” or “Well, we were on the winning side of the Civil War.” That’s just the first sentence; you need more details. Your extra questions from #4 will help the family reminisce. If simply asking, “How did you feel?” doesn’t inspire many self-reflective details, try putting yourself in their place: “I would have been so scared” or “That would have exhausted me.” Many times, people need this juxtaposition to launch into their story, “Scared? No way, but…”
  2. Look for special family photos or a journal or other objects—Pictures speak a thousand words. Use them to help evoke even more memories—not only in others, but yourself.

Glean insights at events

  1. Decide on individuals or groups—Now that travel has opened again, are you seeing one or more loved ones at a special event? If more than one, can you handle it if, after each question, folks chime in together, talking over each other and interrupting so you only get snippets of real information?

Or are one-on-one interviews more likely to gain truly personal insights? Try breaking the group up by finding a quiet spot for individual interviews.

  1. Keep memory gathering beyond that first day—It’s unlikely you’ll gather enough memories from any one event. It could be even harder in 2021 when everyone’s delighted to finally be together again. There could be the kind of excitement—even frenzy—at reunions that can make calm memory-gathering challenging.

To learn more, keep gleaning remembrances at other holidays and events, like Thanksgiving and noteworthy birthdays—but don’t wait for such gatherings.

Use the email connections you already established and ask them to keep sending you memories; encourage them to exchange insights with other. Set up regular phone calls and/or Zoom meetings to keep the project going. Hearing and seeing each other helps family members feel connected and builds trust—a crucial bond for talking about sensitive subjects.

For more ideas on how to interview, check out websites like and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Then add in the skills you learned taking Claudia Suzanne’s Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program (GPDP) to create a memoir your own family will truly love. ###

Help us grow by telling others about a new option for taking Wambtac’s “Intro to Ghostwriting” course. Instead of waiting until January 2022 to begin this prerequisite to the full Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program, take the Intro class asynchronously via LearnDesk.