Presentation Notes: 2003-2004

Writing Your Memoirs

Presented by Dr. John B. Ahrens

Presentation Notes by Jeanne Carley

John (Jack) Ahrens, a former Cape Cod resident, addressed the February meeting of CCGS on how to write your life story and link it with your past ancestry.

A graduate of Yale and Columbia universities, WWII Navy veteran and father of four, Dr. Ahrens has published the first volume of his memoirs and has given workshops at the Orleans Library.

When he started writing he was not a genealogist, but soon learned the importance of getting facts about those who preceded him. Two cousins on his maternal and paternal families shared valuable information with him. Dr. Ahrens, whose main focus was to write for his future family, felt that it was necessary to link his own life to his ancestors.

Dr. Ahrens explained that family historians could use other approaches to producing a life story, such as audiotapes or videotapes. Alternatives also include using scrapbooks to incorporate items of importance, mementos, pictures, etc. He also stressed that writing your own story helps improve your memory even though your recollections may not coincide with your siblings.

A Summary of Dr. Ahrens's Suggestions

1. Write up episodes from your life experiences - events that are interesting to others or important to you. They need not be chronological, but you can decide later to arrange events as they happened. Start anywhere in your life and try to include stories from various stages - young childhood, school days, young adult years, middle years (marriage, raising a family, career, travels, hobbies, retirement, reflections, etc.).

2. Write stories that were a) happy experiences, good times, high spots, b) sad experiences and difficult times, c) learning experiences, d) life-changing experiences, e) unexpected happenings, f) funny events or g) disappointments.

3. Write not only about the events, but your thoughts and feelings. Using time-lines of world events during your life or ancestors' lives are quite meaningful for future generations.

4. Write about the people who have affected your life: family members, friends, acquaintances, teachers, bosses, co-workers, strangers, enemies, etc.

5. Include quotes if possible-what you or others have said-not necessarily exact, but what you remember. Tell the truth as you remember it; it's your recollection.

6. After writing up the episodes, you can arrange them any way you wish. If you want it chronological, you can use the episodes as the "bricks" of your life and add "mortar" between the bricks.

7. You may wish to add essays, poems, photos, art works or anything else that is pertinent to your life.

8. Family history: include genealogical information such as family trees and stories about ancestors which have been written or passed down orally.

9. Important: Don't do original writing and editing at the same time - the hardest lesson to learn. Just let the writing flow, not worrying about grammar, sentence structure, etc. Later, put on your "editing hat" and improve your writing.

10. Get feedback from others-read a section aloud or have someone read it to you. You may wish to join a writer's group to get valuable ideas and responses from others.


See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.