Personal Historian Services

Writing, researching, and helping others tell a compelling story is one of the things I love most.  Whether you are an individual, a family, a community, or an organization I would love to help you explore and tell your story.

My Family History Writing Story . . . in brief

I began my serious genealogical research in 2015 following my daughter’s engagement.  I had grown up with a lot of family stories.  Consequently, she had, too.  And I collected here and there genealogical information.  This was an opportunity to take it to a new level and give her a much larger gift of her family history.  It was really just a labor of love for my daughter. Then genealogy and personal history writing became a love and a vocation.

Since then,  I have found family lines I previously knew nothing of, and discovered roots in Europe and Africa that were completely new to me.

It turned into much more than a hobby, but different than a profession as well.  For me, genealogy is a journey of personal exploration & self discovery. While learning about our ancestors we learn about ourselves. While learning about our history we connect with and deepen our cultural identities.  Our history is the story of our own family through the ages and the story of the times they lived it.  Our families’ stories are our story. They shaped who we are today in ways that we only get a glimpse of. ​ Genealogy and family history writing is a gift we give to the generations that follow us.

I became  inspired to offer the expertise I had developed in American & European Jewish genealogy to those  interested in connecting with their roots. 

Take a look at some of the essays I have written for my own family history on The Kitchen Table.

Why Bother With This?

My own mother was one of those who hesitated to record her experiences.  She just didn’t think her average life was all that important. “We’re as common as dirt. Who would care about all these little stories?”  Yet, growing up in rural North Carolina in the 1920s and 1930s she lived in a world that few today can even imagine. Your life story captured in print, recording, or video is your memoir, and your memoir is your legacy to the many generations that will follow you.

I have encountered so many people across my life who have amazing stories to share.  At one point, I helped run a series of Poetry Slams in west Baltimore.  The people who came to read were from every background and had incredible stories that came in their poetry.  I never knew that a guy who worked at the recreation center and who I saw several times a week was a poet.  I understood more deeply after that and realized what a reservoir of talent exists in everyone.

These are stories that shouldn’t be lost to one’s families.  They are even stories that others outside your families would want to read for inspiration or the simple pleasure of getting to know the experiences of your life, getting to know you.

You’ve lived a rich and fulfilling life, a life filled with ups and downs, loves, and experiences unique to your times and how you lived in those times. You’ve made a difference in the lives of those you love and who love you, and have probably touched dozens of not hundreds of people.

You shouldn’t let that life go without being chronicled and assessed. But if you did, someone at some point would want to piece it together – but they will not know it as intimately as you. I wish with all my heart that my grandmother had written down the stories in her life.

Own your story. Tell it yourself and preserve it. It is your life and your story, after all.

If you need help, together — from your memories and collections, and the narrative that we evoke in our discussions — we will research your family history, craft a engaging memoir that will preserve an unforgettable life, and deliver it to many generations to come.

Writing the story of your life can become a path that once wandered down reveals things about your own self, questions you’ve had, issues with which you’ve struggled.  Telling the stories and themes of your life will change you, too, and in the end leave not only a legacy of experiences, but of lessons learned, ideas, and beliefs.

My Research Services:

I conduct private genealogical research for those who are interested in learning about their family history.

My Family History Writing services include:

If you are like my family, you may have inherited a lot of family stories; boxes of letters, pictures, documents, and other materials; and, perhaps some actual genealogical information.  Maybe you have delved into online genealogical resources enough to realize how much information is out there, and how time consuming it is to sift through it.

I can help you craft those family stories and boxes of information into essays, websites, videos, poster board displays for weddings and other events, and other projects, even books, that help you tell your story.  The format in which your story is presented can be tailored to your interest. For instance, it could be a:

  • Family website
  • Hardbound or softbound book
  • Art book, scrapbook or handmade book
  • Photo book
  • Audio file
  • Cookbook
  • Video or slideshow

. . . or anything you can dream up.

My work on a project can include:

  • Creating order for your existing materials
  • Designing the project or method of presentation (as per the client)
  • Online research and thorough fact-checking
  • Creating shareable content
  • Interviewing (if needed)
  • Editing and integrating client revisions
  • Creating a family history website
  • Uploading articles to your website (if needed)

The Process

We start with a couple of preliminary conversations and a review of any material you have. You tell me your goals for the project and and any ideas you have for the final product.  In this way we decide on the scope of the project and what the final product should be.

I come back to you with one or more suggestions for creative approaches for telling your story.

If the final product is simply something I can assemble without any interviewing of individuals or research on my own I simply begin work on the project, sending you draft material as needed.

If more research is necessary, we start a two-three month schedule of phone and in-person interviews with as many individuals as necessary, and time for me to perform any necessary research. I then transcribe any recorded interviews and create computerized versions of handwritten notes.

How much time this takes depends on the final product you wish to have completed. Full length memoirs could take ten to twenty hours of interviews and research, more depending upon the goals of the project. Books aimed at illuminating a particular episode of your life could be three – five hours of interviews and research. Websites and other family collection or memory projects could take only one – three hours of interviews and research.

Once that is done, we speak to identify the most important aspects of the interviews and research, and explore the story’s deeper meaning and messages.

After that, the ball’s in my court to organize, write, and edit the material to fit the final product you have chosen.

Whatever the product is meant to be, you get drafts periodically to review.

How long the whole process takes depends on the product you want.

If you want a full length memoir, that could be up to 300 pages and 30 images, it could take six to twelve months to produce the final product. Books aimed at illuminating a particular episode of your life resulting in up to 50 pages and ten images typically take only three months. Websites, cook books, and other family memory projects can take even less time.

If I can help with your project, I look forward to hearing from you.

Richard Gwynallen