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    Tuesday
    Jan252011

    Write a Family History in 28 Days? Maybe!

    Lynn Palermo at the Armchair Genealogist recently issued a challenge on her blog. The challenge - Write Your Family History in 28 Days. Palermo asks her readers to commit to producing a family history in the month of February.

    Is it doable? Maybe. Maybe not. A lot depends on you and how ready you are to begin writing and how much of an organizational plan for a book you already have. In either case, I absolutely agree with Palermo’s statement that, “Too often genealogists put off writing their family history. They feel the research is never done and therefore they are never ready to start the writing.”

    If you want to get a family history book written set a completion date. Then work backward from that date to create a calendar of things you need to do to meet the deadline. Then do it.

    Beware of the trap that snares so many genealogists. Your research will never be finished. Research is a pursuit that will last a lifetime. A book is a presentation of what you know now. Don’t be afraid to write because your research isn’t finished.

    Click here to visit the Armchair Genealogist and see Palermo’s challenge.  

    

    Sunday
    Jan232011

    Narrative Nonfiction = More Interesting Family History

    Wow! What a weekend.

    We spent Friday and Saturday at the Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona, where we spent two days talking with enthusiastic genealogists and family historians and presenting classes about creating family history books. It was a great event. We met a lot of wonderful people.

    One of the topics often at the center of our conversations was how to use the art of the storyteller to make family history come to life. We found ourselves introducing the techniques of creative or narrative nonfiction to many people faced with a dilemma. They thought they were duty bound to stick to only documented fact, but they also wanted to make their books interesting for their readers. We tried to show them how borrowing methods from literature could help them accomplish both goals.

    So, it was a little ironic when I opened my Google Reader this morning and found a post from Richard Gilbert’s Narrative blog on exactly that subject.

    Gilbert had run across an old copy of an article, “A Brief Introduction to Narrative Nonfiction,” by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Edward Humes who has written 10 books of narrative nonfiction.

    Edward Humes

    One of the things we talked about at length this weekend was how getting away from straight chronological organization could make stories more interesting. Here was Gilbert providing two examples of how Humes explained his rationale for doing just that.

    Here they are:

    I hated the fact that Bill Leasure, the corrupt LAPD traffic cop in my second book, Murderer with a Badge, chose murder as his first crime. Only later did he segue into stealing a few million dollars worth of yachts. Chronicling events in that order would have been anticlimactic. So I abandoned any pretense of a chronological structure, and started the first chapter with Leasure aboard a stolen boat. The murders unfolded later in the book, in a section that dealt with an earlier period in Leasure’s life. Then the narrative jumped forward again to a time after the yacht thefts, when those unsolved murders were finally linked to Leasure by the police. That kept the tension in the narrative building, though structurally it was kind of messy—like my main character’s life.

    Finding the right structure for No Matter How Loud I Shout, my juvenile court book, was even more challenging, as I was weaving together an ensemble of characters with different story lines that only occasionally intersected—a kind of literary version of Hillstreet Blues or ER. Yet these varied threads had to build toward some sort of critical mass and shared climax in order to make sense. Finding those intersection points was not a matter of clever writing. It was a matter of being there, day after day, haunting the courtrooms, the juvenile hall, the offices of the prosecutors and public defenders and judges. In the end, I have found, even the most thorny sorts of questions about structure and character development end up being less about writing technique, and more about reporting technique. Narrative nonfiction requires authors to immerse themselves in their subjects, to painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) interview characters, research place (past, present and future), and reconstruct dialogue (spoken and interior).

    That final sentence is great advice to family historians seeking to create more interesting books.

    Click here to read Richard Gilbert's post on Narrative.

    

    Monday
    Jan172011

    A Great New Site For History Fans

    The History Department at the University of Texas at Austin has just launched a website “For history buffs who want reading recommendations and short, interesting, digestible stories every day, the website offers a meaningful, dynamic, and ongoing conversation about history in the form of text, audio, and video histories on subjects that span the globe. The site is designed for anyone who is interested in history, from an avid reader of history to a history film aficionado.”

    The site offers six sections. Here’s a preview of the initial offering in each section

    • Main Feature – This section will focus on a recent book by a member of the University’s History Faculty. This month’s book is Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War by MacArthur Fellowship and Bancroft Prize winning Professor Jacqueline Jones. The site offers a summary of the book, a video interview of the author and a video of the author reading from her book.

    • Read - This section presents brief reviews of books: in the initial post Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975); Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England 1780-1860 (1998) and Frederick Douglass, Narrative of his experience as a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  It also includes a book talk by Professor George Forgie (from whom I took a seminar during my summer as a William Robertson Coe Fellow in American history at Stanford many years ago)  on seven Civil War related titles.
    • Watch – This section features reviews of films dealing with Chinatown, San Francisco in the 1970s and The Old Man and the New Man in Revolutionary Cuba. All films can be purchased and downloaded from the site.
    • Discover – Presents images of Navajo rugs from the University’s Art and Art History Collection and illustrated texts created in a 12th Century German monastery.
    • Listen – Presents an oral history interview “Voices of India’s Partition” with Zehra Haider whose Muslim family left India for Pakistan when the countries were partitioned in 1947. A second audio, “LBJ and Vietnam: A Conversation” between the President and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy is also available.
    • Texas – This section includes articles on Texas’ current budget crisis, Texas Jewish cemeteries and “Mexicans in Texas During World War II.”

    It looks like an interesting site doing everything it can to use multimedia tools to bring history to life. Not Even Past will be a welcome companion to the University of Houston’s Digital History site.  

    Click here to visit Not Even History.

    

    Thursday
    Jan132011

    Lessons for Family Historians from Paul Theroux’s "The Trouble With Autobiography"

    In 2500 rather turgid words on Smithsonian.com, American travel writer (The Great Railway Bazaar) and novelist (Mosquito Coast) Paul Theroux tells us The Trouble With Autobiography.


    He begins with a short account of his own family history, a terse, factual summary of several generations. He then states, “And these 500-odd words are all I will ever write of my autobiography.”

    I am sure Theroux didn’t mean for his brief sketch of his family history to be interesting. He was making a point about why he wouldn’t write one of any greater length.

    Theroux’s foray through the genre isn’t all that interesting on its own terms, but it does offer a couple of unintended lessons for family historians. Unfortunately, many drafts produced by novice family history writers resemble Theroux’s abbreviated account. They reduce people’s lives to lists of facts, rather than capturing the stories behind the facts.

    Let’s examine a paragraph from Theroux’s summary:

    My maternal grandparents, Alessandro and Angelina Dittami, were relative newcomers to America, having emigrated separately from Italy around 1900. An Italian might recognize Dittami (“Tell me”) as an orphan’s name. Though he abominated any mention of it, my grandfather was a foundling in Ferrara. As a young man, he got to know who his parents were—a well-known senator and his housemaid. After a turbulent upbringing in foster homes, and an operatic incident (he threatened to kill the senator), Alessandro fled to America and met and married my grandmother in New York City. They moved to Medford with the immigrant urgency and competitiveness to make a life at any cost. They succeeded, becoming prosperous, and piety mingled with smugness made the whole family insufferably sententious.

    Just look at the untold stories! His grandfather’s “turbulent upbringing in foster homes’; the “operatic incident’; his grandparents’ meeting in New York City; and, the story of how they made a life. To bring these people to life, a family historian would have to tell these stories. It is the stories that will draw readers into a family history.

    Interviews with living relatives and close examinations of family documents provide windows into the family lore that provide the researcher with the stuff of stories. Yet there’s another lesson to be learned from those stories in Theroux’s piece. It’s good to conduct your interviews and research with a degree of skepticism.

    Why? Theroux quotes Rebecca West, the English journalist and literary critic, who said, “Everyone realizes that one can believe little of what people say about each other. But it is not so widely realized that even less can one trust what people say about themselves.”

    A family historian seeking the truth about her ancestors may need to look carefully into the margins of what they wrote and said about each other and about themselves.

    Click here to read Paul Theroux’s The Trouble With Autobiography

     

    

    Tuesday
    Jan112011

    Every Document You Ever Needed On Your PC? Maybe!

    Here in the age of the Google search it sometimes seems as if any information anywhere is available instantly after entering a few search terms and a mouse click or two. And for the most part it is. That is unless what you want is a document in an archive or a special collection somewhere. There is no database for those documents. If you’ve ever done archival research you know that first you have to locate the library, historical society or archive where the information you are looking for might be located.  Then you have to travel to the archive. When you get there you will be presented with boxes or folders of documents which are sometimes handwritten and illegible. Organization is of the most general sort only, often all documents for a particular period of time, some important most irrelevant to what you are seeking. It often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    The reason the process is so difficult is that scholars and archivists have been unable to transcribe and publish the huge volume of documents history has left us. That may be about to change.

    Scholars tasked with transcribing troves of historical documents have decided to seek help through crowd sourcing.

    University College London has been transcribing the papers of Enlightenment Philosopher Jeremy Bentham for 50 years and have completed less than have of the documents in its possession. The New York Times reports that, “Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged, if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online.”

    The work of volunteers will be corrected by editors and eventually published.

    Sharon Leon of George Mason University is working on a project to publish 55,000 War Department documents destroyed when the British burned the capitol during the War of 1812. To further the project she has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create a digital tool that any library or archive could make available to enlist public assistance in transcribing documents.

    Max J. Evans, the former executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission applauds the effort. “This way, at least, the papers of the founding fathers and others, despite being tough to read and unsearchable, would not be ‘held up in these scholarly editing offices for years and years, and not only available to a select group of scholars,’” he told the Times.

    The road to crowd sourced document transcription will not be without bumps. Daniel Stowell, the director and editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln tried hiring non-academic transcribers and discontinued the practice because “we were spending more time and money correcting them as creating them from scratch.”

    “We’re not looking for perfect,” Ms. Leon of George Mason said of crowd-sourced transcription. “We’re looking for progressive improvement, which is a completely different goal from someone who is creating a letter-press edition.”

    While I won’t hold my breath waiting for every document I may ever need to examine to be available on my office computer, there may come a day when it does take only a Google search to locate virtually anything a researcher might need.

    As a researcher who has spent many hours digging through boxes of miscellaneous paper I can only say I hope it’s soon.

    Click here to read the New York Times article “Scholars Recruit Public for Project.”

    

    Saturday
    Jan082011

    Triggering Stories - Tools for Collecting Family History

    January is the most popular month for family history research reported Shelly Talalay Dardashti on the My Heritage Genealogy Blog.

    I’ll bet that one of the big reasons is the holiday family gatherings that so many people attend. They sit around the living room or the dinner table and sooner or later begin to tell family stories. They recall the one about Grandma Bertha’s adventures in the 1893 land rush to homestead the former Indian Territory. Someone else remembers the story of how Grandma Cecil and Grandpa Merritt moved to San Francisco after they came west from South Dakota to start a hog ranch in Roseville up near Sacramento only to get wiped out by hog cholera. Someone from another branch of the family tells the one about always eating venison because Uncle Tommy got hired by the State of New Jersey as a hunter to kill deer to thin the herds.

    Those conversations stimulate everyone’s desire to make sure their family stories are preserved. So January is a big month for research.

    The problem is that when your new enthusiasm for recording the family history leads you to call or visit Great Aunt Tillie the convivial stimulus of a holiday glass of hot mulled wine or a slice of pumpkin pie has also become a memory. You ask Tillie to tell you what she remembers and she’s like Ronald Reagan after the Iran-Contra scandal. All she says is, “I just don’t recall.”

    It’s frustrating. It’s an experience that every family history researcher has had.

    So what can you do to help Aunt Tillie remember?

    The key to a successful interview is preparation. Begin by creating a Memory List. Brainstorm your own family memories and list anything you can remember about people, places, actions, or ancestors. Anything you recall is important to include, even if it is only a fragment of a memory. Once you have your list go back through the items and add a memory prompt or cue for each item on the list. The prompt should be short – three to six words. Here are some examples:

    • Aunt Ceil – had five husbands
    • Grandpa – lost print shop in Great Depression
    • Great Uncle Louie – a boxer as a young man
    • Grandma – a beautiful rose garden
    • Cousin Eddie – died in Flu Epidemic in 1918

    Each prompt is designed to trigger some memory or recollection about the ancestor.

    When you get together with Aunt Tillie, whether in person or by telephone, use the memory triggers on your list to help her get started talking. Not every prompt will necessarily lead to a story, but many will. Once she starts talking, interrupt as little as you can. She may take off in a completely different direction than you expected and you’ll hear stories you didn’t anticipate and knew nothing about. Let her talk. When the conversation runs down you can ask for clarification or additional details.

    A second thing to remember is to keep the conversations relatively short. Older people get tired. You’ll learn more while Aunt Tillie is energetic. Two short conversations will often net more good family stories than one long one. You may also find that when you return for the second conversation she has recalled stories triggered by reflections on your earlier interview.

    

    Tuesday
    Jan042011

    Memoir and Family History as Stories Well Told

    A reader of the Ask the Book Doctor Blog recently asked, “What's the difference between narrative nonfiction and memoir?”

     

    It's an important question for family historians as well as memoirists.

     

    Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications responded, “All memoirs [family histories] and biographies are considered narrative nonfiction...”

     

    For authors seeking contracts terminology is important. Slotting the book – the industry term for how to market the book and shelf it in the bookstore – is essential in pitching a book to an agent or publisher.

     

    For authors who are planning to self publish the term is not so critical, but what is important about what it says about what makes a good memoir or family history.

     

    The key word is narrative. Merriam – Webster online say it's “the representation in art of an event or story.” Too often memoirists and family historians see themselves as writing a historical record, or as just reporting the facts. As a historian myself, I would suggest that the narrative style of a writer like David McCulloch or Barbara Tuchman a generation earlier, who present history as a story is far more pleasing to readers than authors who employ a purely factual, academically reportorial style.

     

    Christmas advises, “Well-written memoirs [and family histories] include vignettes or scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends and include action, dialogue, narrative, settings, and other elements of fiction to make readers feel as though they are watching the story unfold.”

     

    The family historian who tells the stories that lie behind the facts of pedigree charts and GEDCOM files can draw readers into her account. That's why genealogy research should always be accompanied by the search for family stories to bring ancestors to life. It's also why we often advocate employing the techniques of creative non-fiction to make tell those stories more vividly.

    

    Saturday
    Jan012011

    Get Your Book into Print in 2011

    Happy New Year!

     

    I have a suggestion for a New Year's Resolution for anyone thinking about getting a family history book or memoir published this year. Set a date to get it finished.

    We've just finished the holidays. In the couple of months leading up to Christmas and Hanukah we've talked to too many people who have said, “I'd like to get my book done to give as holiday gifts.” Unfortunately, we've had to tell some of them that they didn't have enough time to get it finished.

     

    So if you want to have a book in print for next holiday season, plan now for what you'll need to do to get it finished. Work backwards from the finished product creating a timeline for all of the various steps: completing the draft of your manuscript, choosing photos and illustrations and getting them scanned, getting the draft edited and revised, designing the cover, laying out the pages, choosing a publisher, getting the manuscript shipped off to the printer and printing it. Will you need help with any of these steps? If so, decide who you want to help you and get them scheduled.

     

    A caution to family historians – when you begin working on a book recognize that you are dealing with a product not a process. Doing family history is a process. Research is ongoing. You'll probably be doing research for the rest of your life. But a book is an end in itself. Recognize that your research won't be finished. Your book will be based on what you know now. If you are going to get your book into print, you've got to be willing to say, “I am ready to publish what I know at this point.” If later research gives you new information or insights, great. Publish a second edition of your book. If you think about your research and realize that you have things you won't have ready in time to publish, limit what you will include in your book to what you know. When you finish the research you still haven't done, write a second book.

     

    It will all be worth it. We had a number of clients who did complete their books for this holiday season. Seeing their happiness, excitement and pride was really wonderful.

     

    So if you want to create a book, make your New Year's Resolution to get it done for the 2011 holiday season.

     

    Best wishes. Have a great 2011!

    

    Tuesday
    Dec282010

    Finding an Editor For Your Memoir or Family History

    For the first time writer, working with an editor can be a daunting task. The Northwest Independent Editors Guild offers a good list of Tips on Working with an Editor.  

     

    When you begin seeking an editor, contact potential candidates well in advance. Editors can be booked for several weeks out. (Having just helped a number of clients who were rushing to get books completed for Christmas, I can sympathize.) Recognize that many editors have projects they will need to wrap up before they get to yours.

     

     

    When you contact potential editors you should be prepared to discuss the following topics:

    • The subject matter and length of your book. (Some editors talk about the number of double spaced pages. We prefer to use the word count which eliminates variables like font size, margins, etc.)

    • The date by which you would like to have your project completed.

    • The level of editing you are seeking: developmental or content editing, substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, or proofreading. The Guild recommends reviewing A Guide to Common Rates for Editorial Services created by the Editorial Freelancers Association as you are considering the type of editing to seek.

    • Do you want the editor to mark up a hard copy or provide the feedback in digital form, as with MS Word "track changes"?

    • What are your style preferences? Chicago Style manual, AP Stylebook, MLA Style or the editor's in-house style

    When discussing the amount of editing you seek, you will want to consider:

    • Are you seeking light, moderate or heavy editing?

    • Do you want true editing or are you querying the editor about substantive problems with inconsistency of tone or character?

    • Do you want the editor to fact check questionable items or simply flag them for you to check?

    • Will you need help preparing the manuscript for publication?

    • Are there any specific problems you want the editor to watch for?

      The editor may ask to see a segment of your manuscript o help make decisions about some of the questions above. You in turn may want to see a sample of how the editor edits a segment of your manuscript. (This is one of the reasons we offer a low cost manuscript evaluation service.) You may also want to ask the editors you talk to for references, clients who can provide feedback on their experiences with the editor.

     

    When you have decided upon an editor you want to work with, he should provide you with a specific quote for the services you seek. If the quote is satisfactory, the editor should ask you to sign a specific agreement or contact covering the entire project.

     

    Click here to read the full post by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild

     

    Click here to read the Editorial Freelancers Association Guide to Common Rates for Editorial Services

     

     

    Sunday
    Dec262010

    Paid Obituaries Will Be a Loss to Family Historians

    David Phillips, publisher of the Bluff County Newspaper Group, in Southern Minnesota, decried the nearly universal trend among newspapers to charge family members to place obituaries in the paper. It's an issue that should be of concern to genealogists and family historians as well.

     


    Phillips' concern is that payment for obituaries, or for placement of stories of any kind for that matter, blur the line between news and advertising. “It makes news a commodity to be sold, not information that a newspaper publishes because it is important to readers,” he says. “The content is dictated by the institution and the timing is dictated by finding the sponsors willing to pay for its publication.”

     

    That' certainly a valid concern for a publisher. When Phillips opened up the topic for discussion among members of the International Society of Weekly Newspapers a second issue emerged. Obituaries are an important part of the historical record of a community. Anyone who has attempted to research a person fro an earlier era whether a historical figure or a family member has undoubtedly found useful information in obituaries. When obits become a paid service of the newspaper they are less likely to appear, or at least less likely to be more than cursory death notices.

     

    An editor from Maryland wrote: 'Think about the community history that's lost because obits have become ads. Many people's lives have been boiled down to a name, age, hometown and date of funeral - two or three sentences tops. Why? Probably because these families don't have the money to capture their loved one's life. That's a sad delineation and a loss for history. If your paper insists on money for every obit, you'll actually be preventing the community from knowing anything about certain deaths. It will be creating, in effect, a separate system for people with money and those without.'"

     

    While newspapers attempt to cope with the myriad of problems threatening their very survival, it's nice to see publishers thinking about what might be lost as they try to generate enough revenue to try to keep their ships afloat.

     

    Researchers certainly know that if obituaries do disappear their task will become difficult in future years.

     

    Click here to read David Phillips full post

     

    Friday
    Dec242010

    Family Christmas Stories

    What better way could a family historian spend Christmas Eve than sharing family stories from holidays past?

    A website called My Merry Christmas.com offered its readers to participate in a forum titled My Best Christmas Stories by submitting their own holiday memories. From those submitted a collection of the 25 best was published on the site. There are stories of romance, humor, tragedy, faith and insight. The stories are wonderful and would be great to share with your family. Who knows, they might trigger some sharing of holiday memories among your around the Christmas tree.

    The Tucson Citizen online edition tells the story of a family that had that experience recapturing Grandma’s memories of Christmas 1920 in The Cole Family Christmas.

    Personally, I can’t think about stories of memories without recalling the poet Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It’s a great read, but it’s even better if you can get a recorded version of Thomas reading his story. What a voice!

    Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas for you and your family!

    Click here to visit MyBestChristmas.com

    Click here to visit the Tucson Citizen

     

    

    Wednesday
    Dec222010

    Judging Books By Their Covers

    If you love books, you might want to take a closer look at their covers.

    “Sometimes the cover of a book is as memorable as the book itself,” says Erin Moriarty of CBS News as she launches a segment of CBS Sunday Morning which explores the art of book covers.

    Jamie Rabb of Grand Central Publishing, told Moriarty, “Book covers are important. You go into a bookstore and what do you see? You see the covers. The book experience is about the design, the color, the shape, the feel. When you walk into a bookstore sure sometimes your overwhelmed, but aren’t you stimulated by the art?”

    The cover has a critical function. “It’s a billboard,” said Peter Mendelsund, of Alfred Knopf who designed the cover for the Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. “You hope yours shouts the loudest or entices the most intriguing way."

    Originally intended simply to protect book, in the mid - 19th century covers became ornamental. Today, covers have become an important part of the books value. Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books for the New York Public Library offered first editions of The Great Gatsby as an example. A copy purchased without a dust jacket might go for $10,000, but with its dust jacket the price jumps to $80,000.

    Says Chip Kidd, who designed the cover for Jurassic Park, “Covers are iconic because the books are iconic.”

     

    Click here to view the CBS video Judging Books by Their Covers

    

    Monday
    Dec202010

    A Conference For the Family Biographer

    I just ran across a conference I'd love to attend. The Compleat Biographer, a daylong event sponsored by the Biographers International Organization, is scheduled for May 21, 2011 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. It sounds like a session that family historians might enjoy. The conference schedule offers sessions under four broad headings – Research, Writing, PR / Marketing, and Topics. I've already got my choices picked out. I'd attend “Dealing With Black Holes in Your Subject's Life,” the “Role of Fiction in Biography,” “Dealing With Copyright, Fair Use, and Estate: Tips and Trapdoors,” and “What You Need to Know About E-Books.” The organizers have set up opportunities to participate in research workshops preceding the conference at the Library of Congress and the National Archives.


    The National Press Club, Washington D.C.

     

    If you're looking for a last minute holiday gift for the biographer in your family, how about a ticket to D.C.?

     

    Click here to read more about The Compleat Biographer.

    

    Friday
    Dec172010

    Advice to the Family Historian: Listen Well This Holiday Season

    As many of us prepare for holiday get-togethers with relatives we don’t see frequently we have a great opportunity to gather family stories. But, in the hustle and bustle of the family gathering we have to make sure we’re really listening.  Here are a few thoughts that might help.

    Writer and editor Brenda Ueland, in a wonderful book, Tell Me More: On the Fine Art of Listening, called “… listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.” She explained, “This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weazens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.”

    What makes for good listening? Nancy Kline author of Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind offers some simple suggestions:

    Adopt this attitude and general behavior as you listen:

    • Settle back
    • Keep your eyes on the eyes of the person as they speak
    • Cultivate fascination with what they will say next
    • Achieve a composure that is wildly dynamic
    • Do not interrupt
    • Trust that not uttering a word is one of the most effective things you can do
    • Know that your job is to help the person think for themself, not to think for them
    • Remember that the expression of feelings is often part of the thinking process
    • Be aware that much of what they say will be a result of your effect on them

    When we listen attentively, says Kline, “In the quiet presence of your attention, respect and ease, important things can happen for the person thinking. Fresh ideas can emerge; confusion can dissipate; painful feelings can subside; creativity can explode.”

    So, when you sit down with relatives this holiday season, listen well. I’ll bet you are rewarded with some great stories.

     

    Wednesday
    Dec152010

    Preserving Family Values With an Ethical Will

    Family historians and memoirists seeking to pass on stories of their life experiences have rediscovered an old tool. The ethical will, is designed to provide a statement of the author’s accumulated values, beliefs and life lessons.

    Originally described in the Talmud and the Bible, ethical wills have recently recommended by a diverse group of advocates. We agree with Scott Friedman and Alan Weinstein, writing for the American Bar Association who said, “A parent’s insight, knowledge and wisdom are the most important assets they can transfer to a child.”

    Contemporary ethical wills differ in one important way from their traditional counterpart. The historical prototype was meant to be delivered to a person’s family after his death. But now ethical wills are written and presented to family members while the author is still alive.

    Contemporary ethical wills, “...can be viewed as writing a love letter to your family,” said Barry Baines, the medical director of a Minneapolis hospice program and author of Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on paper.

    With extended families scattered across the country and even the globe, children don’t have the opportunity to hear the family stories that once were routinely repeated at grandma and grandpa’s dinner table. “Kids don’t grow up near their grandparents anymore,” said Karen Russell, founder of the non-profit National Grief Support Services. “Ethical wills are a way to have continuity when we don’t live with each other.”

    There are no rules for writing an ethical will. “Just make sure it comes from the heart,” says Baines. Some of the things which are often part of an ethical will include:

    • A statement of personal, religious or cultural values. This statement is often accompanied by examples of times when you did things to act on your values.
    • Words of praise for those who deserve it
    • An apology (if necessary)
    • A request for forgiveness (if necessary)
    • An offering of forgiveness (if necessary)
    • An honest attempt to settle and resolve unresolved issues and disputes
    • Words of wisdom. You might consider including things you have learned from both members of your family and from experience.
    • Something(s) you are grateful for
    • Your hopes for the future

    Be careful to avoid lecturing people. “There’s a temptation to try to criticize, cause guilt, or tell people how to behave,” says Rabbi Jack Reimer co-author of So That Your Values Live On: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them.

    Recently many people have expanded the idea of ethical wills to include family stories, history and formative or important personal experiences. The goal is to help future generations know the person who wrote the will and the world in which they lived. It is possible to make the elements of an ethical will a part of a Stories To Tell project.

    Whatever form your ethical will might take, the financial advisors known as The Motley Fool captured its potential value when they said, “Photos can fade and inheritances are eventually spent. But an ethical will can provide inspiration to generations to come.”