What is "Memory Relays"?
With Memory Relays, I help people make a set of audiotapes that chronicle the stuff of their lives- the decisions, surprises, turning-points, and truths that have led them to where they stand today.

How does the process work?
To record your values and experiences we meet together twice for an hour and a half each time. I bring a digital audio recorder and an outline of questions to work from, much as I did for the life stories that were published in my book, The Girl Within. You bring a photo or two and, of course, your memories.

What is the interview like?
During our two-part interview, I help you spell out who you are, what matters to you, and what lies at the heart of your life. With these recordings, you make an important record only you can make, as only you can say in your own voice,
     This is who I am.
     This is where I come from.
     This is what matters about my life.
     This is what I hope people understand about me.

What is the end-product of the recorded interviews?
At the end of our two meetings, you have a recording that identifies the people, places, experiences, and values that have shaped who and what you are today.

What do the recorded interviews cost?
The cost of a set of two recorded interviews is $400, ($250 for the first recorded meeting, $150 for the second). If you want to continue the process, additional hour-and-a-half recording sessions can be added for $150 each. Pictures or other images can be added to your CD or DVD for a minimal fee.

What if my children don't seem to be interested?
Russell Baker wrote in his memoir, Growing Up, "Children rarely want to know who their parents were before they were parents, and when age finally stirs their curiosity there is no parent left to tell them...." It's a joy to leave a personal legacy to children and grandchildren. They may well be too young to appreciate it now, but they will treasure it later. Those who never thought to ask will ache to know what your life was like before they came along.

Why would I record my life story if I don't have children?
You don't have to be a parent or grandparent to record your life story. You can record it for a spouse, a niece or nephew, a dear friend, or simply for yourself. Cousins, colleagues, friends, and relatives who hear it will feel closer to you as they trace the landscape of your life. Even if no one, including you, listens to it again, you will have done something deeply satisfying.

What if my life is quite ordinary?
Ordinary people have extraordinary stories to tell. Think about all the things you'd like to know about your parents and grandparents when they were school children, or teenagers, or young adults. Did your mother have a crush on somebody older when she was at school? Did she like music, or sports? Did your father play rambunctious games in the house when he was a little boy? What did your grandmother want to be when she grew up? Did your grandfather wear pin stripes when he played baseball? What adventures did they have? How did they decide when and where (and with whom!) to settle down? How did they feel about their choices? What was important to them? What did they forgo? It's the everyday details that bring a person alive.

Shouldn't I wait until I'm "older" to record my experiences?
Many people in their 60's feel as if they're too young to record their thoughts. (Some kiddingly say that they should wait until they've decided what they're going to do when they grow up!) But self-reflective people of any age will find something profoundly meaningful and even healing about the process of sitting down and collecting their thoughts and giving those recollections concrete form.

What about a written memoir?
Some people find that they want to have the recordings transcribed or add written materials to them. Some want to make their stories into books. If you decide to embark on a memoir-a book that includes your family history, stories, photos, and memorabilia-a separate arrangement can easily be made.

What does it cost to put a book together?
The cost of a book depends on its scope. It's something like building a house-you can't estimate how much it will cost until you know how big it will be, how much labor will be involved, how elaborate the materials will be, what the time table is, and so on. And as with a house, if the scope changes while work is in progress, we'll refigure the cost.

Why not record my story or put a book together by myself, without a personal historian?
Two or three people out of a hundred can! If you're one of them, get going! The rest us need someone to sit down with us, ask us questions, jog our memories, and encourage our thoughts. Without that sort of help, people are not sure where to begin and they end up with scattered bits and pieces. Some fill scrapbooks or albums with pictures that matter little to those who flip through them later because pictures alone just can't capture the feelings and experiences that give them meaning.

What can a personal historian do that a friend or relative can't?
Members of the Association of Personal Historians are skilled interviewers who are trained to help you focus on your experiences and draw your life story out from the folds of memory. Whether you ask a Personal Historian to consult with you on a memoir-in-progress or bring one of us on to take your project from start to finish, personal historians help you delve into your memories, sort out what you want to get across, choose pictures, organize dates, and pull memorabilia together to shape your story into a coherent whole.

What qualifications do personal historians have?
Many personal historians have backgrounds in counseling, teaching, or writing. For the past 30 years, I have worked as a clinical social worker with a specialty in life-span psychology. Oral histories I collected for my doctorate at Harvard are published in my book, The Girl Within, which traces women's identity back to the clear-eyed girl of ages eight, nine, and ten. Life-study interviews lie at the core of my professional work with women and men.

Instead of doing this myself, could I arrange to give this service to a parent or spouse?
The first personal history I recorded was of a man in his mid-80's. His wife wanted to capture his stories, so she lined it up. His story began during the Depression when finances forced him out of college and he hopped trains with a bunch of hobos who rode the rails, ricocheting through cities and villages across America in cold boxcars. Then came WWII. He joined the Seventh Regiment in Manhattan and became a bomber pilot, ultimately flying a hundred missions over Europe. After the war was over, he married a New York girl and took her Upstate to begin a new life as a turkey farmer. Reluctant at first, he loved recording his story for his grandchildren, his wife loved listening to it, and I loved helping him get it down.

If not now, when?
It's natural to think that you'll get around to a project like this later. Time and again, however, "later" comes too late. I just got word from a friend who intended to record her mother's stories but didn't get around to it before dementia set in. "How I wish I had done this when Rose was here and functioning," she wrote. "I'd pay $1,000 dollars now to have that tape in my possession." None of us knows the hand we'll be dealt tomorrow. Either on your own or with professional help, make time now to get your project underway.

How do we get started?
Whether you decide to record your own experiences or give Memory Relays to someone you love in connection with a wedding, birth, anniversary, retirement, special birthday, or family reunion, I look forward to hearing your story. To give yourself or someone you love a gift that's bound to become a keepsake, call 510.540.8595 or email me at Emily@MemoryRelays.com.

Until then,
Emily Hancock, LCSW, Ed.D.
Member, Association of Personal Historians