Quick Tips for Starting Your Personal History Project

For nearly seven years, I was plagued by a squeaky door in our home. Specifically, this door was our bedroom door, directly next to our younger son Bryan’s bedroom. Bryan, also known as “the lightest sleeper in America,” would stir in his bed every time we went in or out of our room. In fact, I had such anxiety about rising early to get a head start on my day, that I began wishing for a firehouse like-pole to drop me directly into my office, just to avoid that door!

One day, it occurred to me to ask my husband, a handy guy, “Hey, you know that door? Could we oil it or something? It’s driving me crazy!” (Apparently, this door did not have the same effect on him, as this was our first mention of it in seven years of home ownership.)  “Sure,” he said, “It will take just a few minutes.”

And a few minutes it did. I must have opened and closed that door twenty times in utter amazement at its squeak-freeness. (A year later, it still doesn’t squeak.)

A few minutes, and this seemingly mammoth issue that I had endured for so long was so easy to solve.

I share this story because I often get similar reactions from the people I talk to about taking on a family history project. They view it as this mammoth, daunting task. Sadly, they often end up doing nothing (as I did with my door for seven years!).

Except my project was just a door. A person’s life story is far more important.

That being said, here are some ideas to take you from mammoth to manageable:

Break It Down

If you start to think of all the different things you want to include in your project, you’ll go bonkers. So break it down into parts.

  • First, start with the person or people on whom you’d like to focus. Think about the different things you’d like to find out about them. If this seems overwhelming, take it from a chronological angle.
  • Next, look at all of the elements you’d like to include and what you have (photos, video interviews, old home movies, family mementos, etc.).

Start With One Thing

  • Maybe it’s the photos you want to tackle first, for example. Decide if you want to compile them into a scrapbook, digital book that can be duplicated, photo movie, or consolidate them into an archival photo box.
  • Next, select your materials: photo scanner, editing software, or scrapbooking supplies.
  • Set aside time throughout the month to start compiling photos. Stick to one task until it’s complete, even if it means setting aside another project for the time being.

Keep It Simple

  • A photo project can get overwhelming because there can be so many pictures. So many that you don’t want to start, which defeats the purpose.  Start with something you know you can do quickly and easily, like grabbing your video camera, turning it on, asking a few questions and seeing what happens.
  • Do what comes easily to you first, that you can have a sense of accomplishment with.

Ask For Help

  • Fixing the squeaky door was daunting to me, but luckily I knew who to ask for help. Similarly, with a personal history project, there are many people who can help you.
  • You may have a family member who is an avid genealogist, another who is a scrapbooker, and a third who loves to use his or her video camera. Ask them for help!
  • If no one in the family is able to help, look for professional help. A professional organizer can help you with photos, and a personal documentarian can help with your video interviews and putting the project together.

Let your family history project BE the squeaky wheel (or door) that gets the grease. I promise you won’t be disappointed.