Do We Really Need Personal History Awareness Month?

May 7, 2014 Deborah Wilbrink

In May, at least 47 “awareness months,” ranging from A to almost Z (Allergy/Asthma Awareness to Young Achievers), appear in Chase’s Calendar of Events, the long-acknowledged Bible of special observances. Does the world really need one more “awareness” month?

So asks Guest blogger Sarah White, the Association of Personal Historian’s president in this reprint, posted on May 2, 2014 at

YES! Sharing family stories is “the single most important thing you can do for your family,” Bruce Feiler wrote in The New York Times in March 2013. Feiler reported on research led by Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, which consistently showed that children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges. Duke and his colleagues went on to demonstrate that the more children knew about their family’s history, the better their emotional health, happiness, and resilience. This finding was consistent among both young children and adolescents.

We definitely need greater awareness that personal history can contribute to family wellbeing.

But what if you are an “end of the line” individual? Does personal history have no value if you have no descendants’ wellbeing to worry about? As I wrote for an earlier post for this blog, we who are child-free have just as much need of awareness of the benefits of preserving and sharing life stories as the prolific progenitors among us.

Respected gerontologist Dr. Gene Cohen wrote in The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain that reminiscing is “like chocolate for the brain.” He finds that the unique combination of age, experience, and creativity that come together in later life can produce exciting inner growth, when we take up an activities like writing our memoirs, or working with a personal historian to record and share our life stories.

Dr. James Birren, founding dean of the school of Gerontology at the University of Southern California, developed the Guided Autobiography process to bring the power of reminiscence and life review to individuals participating in small group workshops. Over a ten-week curriculum, participants are guided to write and share personal stories on a range of themes. The process stimulates recall of associated memories for other group members. Insights often come to light that might not have been discovered if the individuals were writing alone.

We definitely need greater awareness that preserving our own stories can bring us greater satisfaction with the life we have led, and lead to reconciliation and healing of old wounds.

More and more people, old and younger, are telling their life stories—and more and more personal historians are helping them do so. Personal history is a growing profession, often undertaken as an “encore career” by experienced, seasoned professionals from related fields like psychology, social work, journalism, and oral history.

The world definitely need greater awareness that professionals are ready to help us get started, stay motivated, and complete our legacy projects, whether our goal is family oriented or personal. And for some of us, awareness of personal history leads to a fulfilling, independent, new career.

Saving life stories can have a profound impact on people’s lives and the lives of their loved ones. That’s why it’s high time for a Personal History Awareness Month. That’s why APH members are commemorating it in 2014 with public events in our communities around the world.

Until “I’m working on my personal history” is heard as frequently as “I’m working on my waistline,” we need greater awareness of the many benefits of this pursuit. Bring on Personal History Awareness Month.

What do you think? What aspects of personal history do YOU want to help make more known to the world?

~APH: The Life Story People~

About today’s contributor: Sarah White is President of the Association of Personal Historians. A longtime freelance writer and past-owner of a marketing communications firm, Sarah provides memoir coaching services with her business, First Person Productions in Madison, Wisconsin. She has been a member of APH since 2002.

Best Book Ever
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“The Best Book is Your Own Story.”
Deborah Wilbrink

Comment (1)

  1. Dwan

    What a wonderful article! And yes, we should have a personal history month. Thanks for sharing. This touched me and gave me another boost in my writing.

    Hoping all is well.


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