9. Life Stories Part 2 - Gathering Information

Author: Nola Published: about 3 years ago.
Tags: information, autobiography, memoir, research, resources, libraries, documents, true stories, life stories Category: Writing tips

You’d think that writing about your own life would be easy. After all, you were there. However, memories can be tricky, especially if a lot of time has passed. How are you going to gather the information you need? It will depend on the type of life story you want to write and the framework you’ll use (see Part 1). Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  1. Interviews. Most of the things that happen to you involve other people, so why not interview family and friends for their reflections? If they agree, it’s a good idea to use a digital voice recorder so you can save files direct to your computer. Just be aware that people’s memories will differ and you’ll have to decide what to include. Some facts can be externally verified (e.g. the date and venue for your sister’s engagement party), but other information will depend on the viewpoint of those involved (e.g. age, context, relationships, what each person directly heard and observed). It’s your life story, so choose what’s most important from your perspective.
  2. Personal Resources. These could include diaries, letters, notebooks, photographs, artwork, appointment calendars, home movies, Facebook timelines and all manner of things from the labyrinth of social media. I keep a diary when I go on overseas trips (oops, that makes me sound like a jetsetter). It’s amazing how many times I’ve later discovered something I’d forgotten; not just names and places, but how I felt on certain days and what I was thinking. Also remember to look on the flipsides of photos or postcards for interesting snippets that have been scribbled down. Don’t worry if you’ve never been one to keep a lot of personal records. Friends or relatives may be able to help with photos, letters, concert programs, and paraphernalia from family celebrations. There’s always a mum or an aunty who keeps everything.
  3. Public Records. You don’t have to be famous to appear in a variety of public records. Google your name and you’ll be amazed what comes up. You may also feature in company reports, school yearbooks, minutes of meetings, and club newsletters. If you’ve ever done anything newsworthy, you should be able to find relevant newspaper articles. You may even be able to locate film clips through news websites or YouTube. If you want to write your story within the broader social context (e.g. the Vietnam War), there will be a plethora of general material available online and through libraries. Did you know that if you belong to a Council library anywhere in Queensland, you can become a member of the State Library and have access to their online databases? I imagine other Australian States would have similar arrangements.

Can you think of other ways to gather information for your life story? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

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