Every day you live your legacy. Most people have a list of projects they would like to create in their lifetime. Among the most talked about projects is recording stories from the past with older relatives and friends. Personal stories bring life to our history.
These stories are often of a life or from a life. They can be a memoir; tribute; a series of life stories; autobiography; biography; tribute; oral history; anniversary gifts; military history; legacy letter; ethical will; personal letters that supplement a last will and testament or financial document; intentions of charitable giving; or an archive of information. That’s where we can help.
Documented Legacy is a mobile personal historian company based in southern New Jersey that helps families and organizations preserve their history through recorded storytelling and the archival preservation of photos, documents, and heirlooms. We help you capture the stories from the past that are important to pass along to future generations. These recorded legacies bring clarity to your experiences, values, beliefs, and charitable decisions. Together we look at the stages and transitions in life, not just the end of life. The preservation is done through: Audio interviews, Memoir writing, Life Stories, Family Love Letters, Legacy Letters (aka Ethical Wills), Photo Organization, Archiving & Digitization, Private Projects, and Workshops.
Founded in 2011, the company is led by Mary V. Danielsen, a professional writer with more than 25 years in the communications industry. She has a background in memoir writing, genealogy research, photography, personal archiving, photo organization, speech writing, and public relations. Her team includes book designers, graphic artists, and publishers.
What does a personal historian do?
Many people think personal historians are simply genealogists. Some are.
A personal historian, however, steps into other people’s lives and businesses for brief, but intensive periods of time, asking questions about your ancestors, events, experiences and the lessons that helped shape your lives. Those stories sometimes are filled with challenges, humor, accomplishments, love, laughter, regret, and advice you’d like to share. At Documented Legacy, we will focus on the memories and reflections you want to talk about and preserve.
For businesses and organizations, a personal historian service can help you organize your corporate history, so it routinely becomes a more active part of your communication and marketing strategy. Engage your audience with a deeper understanding about the whole history of your company, it’s mission, and involvement in the greater community than what is currently on the website. It is much easier to get organized for business approvals, celebrations, milestones and disaster preparedness when you create a program than is routinely updated.
At Documented Legacy, we take our personal historian services a step further, by including photo organization, archiving and digitization. These services can be as simple as digitizing a few photos for a family tree, or organizing a 50-year corporate history when files and photos have been boxed into various storage areas.
When your storytelling is transformed into a full manuscript, we combine it with the right amount of digitized photos, records and memorabilia to enhance your story.
Thoughts on writing a book.
Before you say no, read this.
At Documented Legacy, we produce professionally written life story books and memoirs, but not all of them are intended for the marketplace. Many people are eager to preserve family stories that get passed on to future generations, especially as they enjoy the process. Not everyone, however, wants to publish a book that is available to the public.
Before you say no to the idea of writing a book, know this: It’s perfectly fine to produce something that’s always meant for family only. You decide when and if your life stories are seen by others.
It’s completely acceptable to write a book that is finished on archival grade paper and presented to family in beautiful presentation boxes or binders. It’s also fantastic to have your manuscript and photos illustrated by a book designer and professionally printed with a publisher. You can also compile these stories and archives for use in other multimedia formats, such as blogs, videos, presentations, and websites.
Today you have lots of options. We’ll show you examples.
We work in phases throughout the publishing process so that you are comfortable with how and when your story is told to others.
HOW WE WORK
We believe in working in phases. This works best for most families. Our proposals are based on the work to be done in each phase.
Phase 1 is the interviewing and transcription phase
Phase 2 is the writing and research phase.
Phase 3 is the development of the manuscript for publishing or professional printing. This includes private printing.
Phase 4 is the archiving and digitization of your photos and family history documents. This step can be done anytime during the process or even as a prelude to a life story project.
After an initial phone consultation, we will schedule a two-hour planning and photo review session to organize the project; determine the scope or work; discuss the timeline; review any needed photos and documents that need to be duplicated; and develop life story questions for the storyteller to review. This can be done either in person or by phone or internet. Deposit required.
Life Story Interviews
Once the storyteller has reviewed the questions and reminisced over memories, we’ll conduct life story interviews in two to three hour increments. These sessions will be audio recorded. Our goal is to have fun while telling stories.
In our business, this step has options. When a family is certain they want their stories written we will transcribe to the interviews to write a manuscript. Sometimes, however, a family simply wants the interviews completed and transcribed. This allows them to use the transcriptions for storyboarding other projects, such as videos, or blogs. Other times, they want to review the transcriptions, and develop additional questions before they move forward with a written project. Many people need to plan out a book project for financial reasons. That’s perfectly acceptable and why we work in phases. We always say: If you do nothing else then get the stories recorded and transcribed. You can always do more later.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes families need to reminisce further with the transcriptions. Anticipate that there will be further questions and fact checking needed, if we move forward with composing a manuscript. For example, on average, we do about five hours of follow-up interviews and fact checking for every hour of recorded interviews.
With transcriptions in hand we’ll create an outline, and consult with you on the front pieces (title, forward, prelude, dedication, copyright information, table of contents); acknowledgements; legacy letters, if included, index, and other sections. A manuscript will be drafted for your review. We will do two full revisions. Sometimes more is needed as new information or additional stories are added.
Keep in mind that sometimes in the manuscript and editing process, additional fact checking and research are needed. This is also a time when we may conduct additional genealogy research or consult with extended family, if needed.
We will schedule a Photo Review session to decide what family photos need to be scanned to accompany the manuscript. By way of example, a family memoir about 45,000 words in length may have 50 to 75 photos. Together we’ll pick the best available to illustrate your story. Additional photo restoration services may be needed if the images are scratched, faded or torn. We may need to photograph family memorabilia, such as military medals and heirlooms, or scan family records, such as old passports and journals.
In this phase, we work together to decide how you want your stories finished. Manuscripts are finalized to be print ready. Keep in mind, it is standard practice when a manuscript is completed to consult with an outside content editor and proof reader. If you decide to publish your book – whether for family only or for the public – we’ll work with a book designer to develop the layout and design and publishing houses for printing. Keep in mind, it is standard practice when a manuscript is completed to consult with an outside content editor and proof reader.
If every big project, you should find reasons to celebrate at each phase. Plan a party. They’re fun.