How to Collect
and Record Memories
Writing family biographies in just 7 easy steps!
Let’s start with all your concerns about writing biographies:
- “I don’t have time to do this.”
- “I’m not a writer.”
- “I’m not creative. My brain doesn’t work this way.”
- “I don’t know where to begin.”
- “No one wants to read my memories.”
- “Nobody cares about our family stories.”
- “This is going to be sooo hard.”
Sorry to be blunt, but these are pretty weak excuses … Collecting and recording your family stories and biographies does not require one bit of professional writing skills, creativity, publishing know-how, or any other special skills.
Anyone, and everyone, can and should do this!
The only requirement to record and preserve family stories and biographies
is that you passionately care about your family.
Do you love them? Do you want to show them that love? Do you want future generations of your family to understand who they came from and what was important to the family?
That’s what we thought.
You’re doing this. Let’s get started!
7 Easy Steps to Collect, Record, and Preserve Your Stories
Here are the seven easy steps you’ll follow to collect, record, and preserve your family stories and biographies. Each step has free resources and tools to help keep you moving.
Step 1: Collect stories and memories
This can be one of the most time-consuming, but enjoyable steps of your family memories or biography project – collecting the stories! There are many ways to do this:
- Write down your own life memories
- Write down your favorite family stories
- Write down your memories about a specific family member
- Interview a family member about his/her life and memories
- Interview several family members about a loved one who has passed away
- Interview many family members about a beloved (and still living) family member
Collect as many memories and stories as you can. You’ll edit and prioritize later. Right now you just want to get them typed into your computer! When you’re writing your own memories, start with our 200+ interview questions to get you started. If you don’t have a computer or aren’t fond of typing, you can write your memories on paper and sweet talk a friend or family member into typing them.
Another option is speaking your memories into a recording device, like your smartphone or a small voice recorder. You can transcribe your notes or pay for a transcription service. It’s well worth the $1/minute fee many of them charge. Go to the Resources page for recommendations on voice recording apps and transcription services.
Step 2: Collect photographs
Nothing complements your heartfelt memories and beloved family stories like good photographs of the people and places in them. Unlike collecting memories and stories, too many photographs can quickly send you down a rabbit hole and stall your project.
Don’t go for quantity, go for quality photos. List the most prominent people mentioned in your memories and stories and look for a few relevant, high-quality photographs for each. It’s nice to have a mix of old and current photos. Now list some of the major events and places in your stories and memories. If you have sharp, high-quality photographs of these exact places or events, add them to your photo pile.
Once you have your photos, you’ll need to scan printed photos so you have digital versions of them. It’s likely any current photos will already be digital files. Head over to the Resources page for tips on how to scan photos.
Step 3: Collect other artifacts
There’s no need to dig deeper and search for related artifacts, but some people like to include them. What are artifacts? An artifact is a printed item that relates to the people, places, or events in your stories.
Common artifacts include:
- Newspaper articles
- Pictures, paintings, or other artwork
- Handwritten or typed letters, cards, notes, stories, inscriptions, etc.
- Event programs, ticket stubs, autographs
- Official documents, like licenses, diplomas, etc.
- Maps, brochures, travel guides, itineraries
- Anything else interesting you find!
Like photographs, hunting for artifacts can quickly eat up time and delay your project. If you find them and they’re relevant to your story, awesome! But don’t worry if you can’t find them, or don’t want to. These artifacts can always be collected in an envelope and kept with your memory book.
If you find artifacts that you want to use in your memory book, you will need to scan them and create digital files. Look at the Resources page for recommendations on how to scan artifacts.
Step 4: Write an outline
You’ve now collected everything for your memory or biography book. Good job! The hardest part is now finished. The rest of your project will go more quickly. Read some inspirational biographies to get started. There’s one key tip to remember at this stage: don’t overthink it.
Keep your memory or biography project outline simple and straightforward. There are a couple of ways to write your memory or biography book outline:
- Chronologically – This can be an easy, no-nonsense way to organize your stories: put them in the order they occurred.
- Life stages – Instead of trying to determine what years each story occurred, just group them together by major life stages: childhood, adolescence, young adult, career, retirement, etc.
- Major events – Similar to life stages, this approach will group your memories and stories by significant life events, like birthdays, school years, weddings/anniversaries, births, deaths, vacations, career/jobs, military service, etc.
- Family members – Thinking about your readers (your family members) one of the nicest ways to organize your memories are by them! You could have a chapter for each family member, or group them by generation, like parents, siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth.
- Random – For all you free spirits out there, this style is for you! This approach is less about organizing by topic, and more about creating many chapters of random, unrelated but interesting stories.
Step 5: Arrange your stories and images
Now it’s time to arrange your stories into one document. Your outline will be a good starting place, but you might decide there’s a better way to organize them. Don’t be afraid to change it and try different approaches. Your goal is simply to make it easy and enjoyable to read. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
When you’re finished, you’ll have a big document with a lot of text. Nobody, not even your loving family who is interested in these stories, wants to read page after page of text. It’s time to make your stories more reader-friendly.
Depending on how you organize your biography or memory book, there are different writer’s tricks you can add to really make your stories shine. Consider adding:
- Headlines and subheads: Write a headline and subhead for each section or story. This lets the reader quickly scan and understand what they’ll learn.
- Pull quotes: These are super interesting quotations you want to emphasize and draw attention to. For now, just highlight, underline or bold the quotes or sentences you might want to emphasize.
- Sidebars/information in a box: Sometimes you have an interesting tidbit about a place or event that doesn’t quite fit into your story. Turn these facts or historical research into a sidebar. Again, don’t worry about the design, just find and label paragraphs that would make good sidebars.
- More paragraphs: If you’re looking at your document and there is a wall of text with no paragraph breaks, you need to add some. Don’t worry about grammar rules – this is about making your text easier to read.
- Space between stories: Add more white space between stories or sections in your book.
- Lists: A great way to quickly educate and entertain a reader is by turning big blocks of text into a list. Look for paragraphs that could become a list of bullet points.
Now it’s time to match up photos and artifacts to your stories. No need to insert your digital images into your document. Instead, list the photo or artifact file names you want to use at the start of the corresponding story. This makes the design process much easier and faster.
Check out our story template in the Resources section for an example of how to set up your document.
Step 6: Pick a format for your project
It’s time to decide how you want to finish this biography or memory book project. You’ve put a lot of work and effort into these memories and family stories, and they deserve a high-quality finish! There are so many do-it-yourself publishing companies that make it easy and affordable to design and print hardcover copies of your biography or memory book. See our top recommendations for book printers in the Resources section.
Here are a few options and the general cost of each:
- Basically free: Design the book yourself, print it at home, and preserve your hard work in a nice binder or folder.
- Inexpensive: Design the book yourself, print it at a local copy shop, and have them add a clear or vinyl front cover, coil bind, or other finishing options.
- Moderately expensive: Use an online printing service to design and print a soft- or hard-cover book.
- More expensive: Hire a company like Circa Legacy to edit, design, and print your biography or memory book for you.
Step 7: Print your project
Hip hip hooray!!!! You did it! You’ve created an amazing gift for yourself, you family, and future generations. You should be so proud of yourself! All that’s left is to print multiple copies of your beautiful biography or memory book and present it to your family members.
This is no regular gift. You poured your heart and soul into this. Don’t just shyly slide it over to them at the end of a family dinner. Put it in a box or nice envelope. Wrap it. Include a little note about why this was an important project for you and what you hope they will get out of it. And then, you can give it to them.
Have a friend or family member who wants to write an autobiography or memory book but doesn’t know where to start? Take a look at our Products page for fun and easy do-it-yourself story kits to help them get started.