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At a loss for words?

Our most treasured family heirloom are our sweet family memories. The past is never dead, it is not even past.

-- William Faulkner

Anyone who has talked with me or read my blog for a while knows that I love to tell a story. As a student I never particularly liked to write, and I struggled with being creative. But I think I've always liked "telling" a story, so that's the way I write. It's also the way I interview for jobs and probably how I have a live conversation (I talk way too much!). Understanding what is comfortable for me has really helped me feel better about blogging and journaling.

Some of my clients struggle with the idea of journaling to capture the memories of their cherished objects. They are comfortable with the idea of taking pictures of the items, or hiring me to do so. But the idea of writing down the memories becomes a little intimidating. This post will walk you through some ways to make that journaling less intimidating. And keep in mind that there's no "right way" to do this. Capturing the absolute minimum in a bulleted list is so much better than capturing nothing.

So how do you get started? Let me walk you through my method and some prompts I use.

Jot down what you know. I like to make a list with the following categories. And you may not have all the info. That's OK.

  • Who: To whom does this currently belong? Who else in the family has owned it or been involved with it? Did anyone else in the family restore or modify it? Who originally bought it or earned it?

  • What: What is this object? Do you know the manufacturer? What restorations or modifications have been completed?

  • Where: Where was this object purchased or obtained? (This one is especially fun for souvenirs or sports awards)

  • When: When was the object obtained? When did the current owner get it? Was there a special occasion involved?

  • Why: Why is this item important to you? Why has it become a family heirloom? Are there special emotions associated with it?

Next I like to attempt to "fill in the blanks." Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not. Let's look at some general categories.

  • Heirlooms: Are there other family members you can ask? One tip I've learned for interviewing people is to repeat their words back to them to confirm - often they'll remember something additional. If there's a makers mark on the piece, you can do some research. (This can sometimes take a while. If you're passing on the piece after the photos are taken, snap a pic of the mark and use that for researching.) .

  • Souvenirs: Was anyone else on the trip with you? If you've forgotten exact dates, see if you have any family photos that might help prompt your memory.

  • Sports and Activity Awards: Most of the time I am working with the parent to capture the images of their child's awards. Ask your child. Based on my experience, they remember every detail of every event!

  • Art projects: If your child created the art, you may not remember the exact grade, teacher, etc. That's OK. Just capture the big info... Which child made it? Did they give it to you for a holiday? Why is it important to you? For example, for most of my daughter's art, I saved them because I wanted to remember the joy she had in bringing the pieces home. I don't journal that because it gets repetitive. But there's one clay piece that has her fingerprints in it. Seeing that means the world to me.

  • Jewelry: I find capturing the memories of jewelry is a lot like Heirlooms or Souvenirs. We've saved family jewelry or have a specific occasion for which it was obtained. We're usually not capturing the info on the carat weight or gold content; we're capturing the emotions of the memories associated with it.

Now you have information... what to do with it? First I like to think about my ultimate audience? If this is an album of awards, I'm likely making it for the young person who earned them. In that case it usually remains relatively "factual". Memory books of heirlooms and souvenirs are usually made for one of two audiences. If it's for the owner who is attempting to retain memories in order to downsize their home or declutter, they are usually the ultimate audience. In this case we like to focus on the memories and connections to people they love. Seniors who are entering memory care or other assisted living arrangements often take great comfort from still being able to see images of their favorite objects - it's almost like bringing memories of their home with them. In this case we are writing both for the senior AND for the caretakers who may read to them and interact with them as they are viewing the book. Focus on the names of the people associated with the memories as well as the events. For art projects, it's usually mom and dad so that they can preserve the memories, but declutter. In that case we can be pretty light with details - which child, when (at least approximate) and if there are any special memories.

Decide how you are comfortable recording the info. I recommend people do this journaling on the computer so that they can easily send the info to me for inclusion in a book I'm creating, or upload and use themselves.

Do you just want to make a bulleted list? That's fine - you don't even need complete sentences. This is how I typically record info for awards. I use the exact same format for every award and just update the info.

For heirlooms and souvenirs, you may want to tell a story in a paragraph or two. In that case, just write, don't worry about spelling, grammar or wording, You can correct and edit later.

Once we have all this info, we can start a layout for the scrapbook or memory book. Much of that will depend on the format that is being used. I typically like to use an easily read script or elegant handwritten style font. Those seem to work well with the connections we are capturing. The exception is when we're recording information about awards. I often go with a strong serif or san serif font (like this one!) for those since we're recording information associate with accomplishments and pride.

I hope this information gives you a starting point for capturing memories associated with your cherished objects. If you'd like help with the photos and the journaling, complete this short form. We'll chat and develop a plan to get started.


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