The Utah Chapter of the Association of Personal Historians is on a mission: "Saving your life, one story at a time."
There are so many stories out there that need to be told, says Paulette Stevens, a member of the association who helps people put together those life histories.
"We still have many of the Greatest Generation with us, those who lived through the Depression, went to war and came home to make solid contributions to society. We have been standing on their shoulders for decades, but now they are going away. We need their stories before they go," she says.
But those who have come after them — and those who came before them — also have stories to tell.
Just sitting down to write your life story can get a bit overwhelming, Stevens says.
To provide assistance, the Utah Chapter of APH will launch an outreach program to inform people of the options and procedures in writing personal histories. Some 11 members of the group will participate in a series of free workshops that will take place in Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Utah and Wasatch counties over the next several months, at various libraries and other community centers.
In addition, the group has set up a speakers' bureau that will
provide presentations for local groups upon request.
"Whether it's a Rotary group, a Kiwanis group, a Daughters of Utah Pioneers group, or other group, we are very willing to go to them," Stevens says.
Often, she says, people in such groups think about the lives of others but don't stop to consider their own stories. "We can help them find motivation, guidance and resources to help them actually produce a meaningful and lasting legacy," she says.
There are many methods and techniques, ranging from something simple like an ethical will to digital products to published books. Some people prefer to write their stories. Others prefer to work with a professional, who will compile the story based on interviews and artifacts. Everyone does it in a different way, Stevens says, and there are few rights or wrongs.
"The whole idea," she says, "is to let people know there are other people here who can help them if they get stuck." Even if you are working with a professional, she says, "you can do as much as you want yourself."
But sometimes, she adds, working with someone else can provide a different perspective or lead the story in different directions. "So often, people think that if they get down what happened, that's the end. But what is most important is what it means to them." Sometimes, just asking, "how did you feel about that?" can make a huge difference, she says.
Stevens has just finished her 35th book for clients. "I like to think that it means there are 35 more stories in the mosaic of our history. I really think it is important to record these stories. They help people discover things about their parentage, about why they are what they are."
And sometimes stories come along that have an even broader appeal. Herschel "Bones" Pedersen was a popular basketball player at BYU in the 1950s. He went on to a long career at the Geneva Steel Plant and to extensive service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was when he was working in the Mount Timpanogos Temple that George Durrant, one of his fellow workers, "observed firsthand the depth of this man's soul."
Durrant asked Pedersen if he could come to his house and record some of the stories of his life and faith.
The interviews resulted in some 20 hourlong tapes. "I would go home after each session and tell my family about what he had told me that day. I longed for them and everyone else to know what an ordinary man could do who was willing to put his hand in the hand of God and give his life to strengthening others."
But it was when a couple of other friends, Joanne and Wade Fillmore, heard about the tapes and asked to borrow them and transcribe them that the idea of a book was born and eventually a publisher was found. The result is "Stories From My Life," by Herschel "Bones" Pedersen, edited by Don Norton and Joanne B. Fillmore ($19.95, Digital Legend). The book is available at www.latterdaylegends.com, at some LDS bookstores, or by calling 877-222-1960.
But whether your life story results in a commercially published book or not, Stevens says, it will be a treasure. "So many people tell me, 'You just can't know how important this is to our family.' What it gives people is a sense that 'it made a difference that I was here.' That's something we all want to feel."
e-mail: [email protected]