Archive | May, 2015

Mother’s Day – Unique Gift

6 May

Sometimes I get to see my mother on Mother’s Day, and sometimes I can not. I propose a unique gift for your Mom – an hour of time as an active listener or perhaps four hours of time of asking questions about her life stories spread throughout the year.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

Mother’s Day and Memories

As a professional personal historian, this is an easy gift for me to give my Mom.  Every time I visit my parents I have my digital voice recorder in my pocket all charged up and waiting for the right moment for some quality active listening time, and there are always more of stories to ask about. Some are favorites that I have heard partially before. Some are new stories about her childhood, about her family, about her Mom and her Grandmothers. What did she make or bake for those Sunday lunches? What did it smell like?

Thanksgiving checklist: cranberry salsa, bread, and the Voice Recorder App.

Thanksgiving Weekend update

Sometimes we talk about interesting episodes.  I love her stories about her adventures with mice.  My Mom was always afraid of mice, my three brothers an I always knew this, but it was not until a few years ago that I sat down with Mom and asked why. Then I got the real stories.

There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…

Even if you don’t have a digital voice recorder, though they are usually reasonably priced for about $100, you likely have a voice recording app on your Smart phone.  This also works great for recording a few Mom stories during your next visit.

If you need help with questions, of if you need help from a professional Personal Historian, then check out the Association of Personal Historians website.  We are the Life Story people with thousands of years of experience helping families record and share stories about Moms (and Dads) and other loved ones.

Have a great Mother’s Day. I would love to hear about your experiences – listening to Mom stories:) Just add a comment or send me an email.


Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales and a global board member and Regions Director of the Association of Personal Histories,

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

1 May

I have been enjoying the Association of Personal Historians blog series 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: Association of Personal Historians Experts Weigh In.  Below are nine great reasons with more to come as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians.

For each individual though the reasons will vary.  One of my clients had aging parents – he was 102 and she was 94 when I interviewed them.  Clearly it was time to capture their life stories and personal histories. For him – what was it like growing up on a frontier farm at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century? For her – what happened to your family when the Japanese captured Singapore during World War II?


Many clients have great stories but they have never written any of them down. What was it like on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War?

20141003_153503 - Tom Summers with three other Lieutenants in Korea about 1952

Sometimes you need to clarify the story. Your mother was playing basketball when the lights dimmed? “That was not my mother. That was me. Whenever the lights at our college dimmed, we were pretty sure it meant a prisoner had been electrocuted at the nearby prison.”

Many friends share, I wish I had recorded… my mother’s, my father’s, my grandmother’s, my aunt’s, my brother’s stories. To these I often remark, today is a good day to start recording your own memories or stories.  I take a digital voice recorder or use a voice recording app on my phone every time I visit with my parents.  We always have something to talk about. I am continually amazing how many stories my brothers and I have never heard. My best advice Ask the questions now, if you need help ask a professional personal historian to help.

Part of our value add is that we are skilled listeners.  We want to hear the story from the beginning. People often tell a more complete story to a fresh audience.  We know how to put stories in historical context and how to frame follow-up questions.

Most of us are also skilled writers and editors so we can help to enhance and weave together the stories, caption that box of photos, tie in those old letters and bits of written materials.  For one client I found in his file drawer, of bits and pieces of family history, his high school journal.  It was fascinating to weave this content into his personal history. It included entries about the weather (during the winter in Minnesota in the 1920’s), choring (what you do on a farm every day before and after school and on the weekends), school activities (finalized the essay on…), family activities (our family harvested all of the potatoes ourselves) and extracurricular interests (between studying, walking through blizzards, choring, school…).

20150501_142724 box of old photos

I focus on helping my clients record their stories first.  Sometimes they just want the audio files or the transcripts. The voice recordings can be later used to create books or videos. They can also be added to online family story archives that other family members can view or interact with.

It is crucial though to record the stories now since we never know when someone will have a life event that will prevent a friend or loved one from sharing their stories.  I have had several family members and friends who have struggled with loss of short-term or even long-term memory making it harder to remember or share key details of their stories.

How many reasons do you need – to write or record your family history?  Below are great blogs from amazing Personal Historian colleagues. We are ready to help.

#1. You’ll feel wiser (by Susan T. Hessel)

#2. First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents (by Joan Tornow)

#3. You are an important person. You have things to pass on, to your children, to your local history society, to unknown future generations (by Jill Sarkozi)

#4. You and your family are important to somebody, probably many somebodies (by Jane Shafron)

#5. Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth (by D. Fran Morley)

#6. Memories over time become fragmented and distorted. People may not remember the things you told them but did not write down (by Deborah Perham) Bonus post! (by Rhonda Kalkwarf)

#7. Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit (by Susan Terrill-Flint)

#8. There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts (by Elisabeth Pozzi-Thanner)

#9. There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines (by Shannon Stallone)

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

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