Tips for Writing Your Memoir

Happy New Year! I’ve been busy in the two weeks I took off for the holidays – I wrote my memoir.

Go ahead and laugh. You, too, can easily record your memories and take this off your To-Do list. A little background info first . . .

For years, every time a funny situation or a strange happening occurred I’d say, “I’m going to put that in my book someday.” I never quantified when “someday” would be. The week of December 6th I got three notices from the universe that it was time for me to get cracking on my life story.

The first happened on St. Nicholas Day which according to my family, he was Croatian. I know he wasn’t but my family culture was such that everyone who was revered was somehow Croatian. Investigating my family stories cleared up quite a few of the tales but we always celebrated his feast day by leaving out our shoes and magically, overnight, they would be filled with treats (think an apple, candy, or cookies). We’d have a pork roast for dinner which I never figured out how that was connected to St. Nick but it was delicious.

This past St. Nick Day I gave a lecture at my local library on interviewing family members. One attendee asked me what to do if he happened to be the oldest family member. I suggested he interview himself. On Thursday of that week, I was volunteering at my city’s historical society when a visitor asked me how long I had lived in the area. I replied, “Nearly 50 years.” and he said, “You’re an old-timer then.” I guess I am but I hadn’t considered the title. The following day I was doing research at a nearby town for an upcoming journal article I’m writing and I overheard the docent give some incorrect information about the surrounding area. I had lived there for almost 10 years so I experienced firsthand what she was discounting. I put in my two cents and she replied, “I guess you should be giving the tours since you’re an old-timer.” Wow, that’s twice in 24 hours. Thanks, Universe, for the reminder.

I went home and seriously considered the need to interview myself. I do have memories that are of historical value and I’d like to recall them now while I still can. Alzheimer’s runs in my family and as we’ve all learned the past two years, life is unpredictable.

The problem has always been I wasn’t sure how to start. I decided to try by speaking to my computer. I opened Microsoft Word and on the ribbon, clicked “Dictate,” then started speaking. The program types whatever you say. If you have issues typing effectively and efficiently this is a cheap way to get your thoughts down on paper. Notice I said “cheap.” Yes, there are programs you can purchase but I wanted something instantly I didn’t have to pay for.

I talked for a few minutes and then looked at what was recorded. It wasn’t bad, considering some of the information I was saying was not in English. Was it correct? No, but it was close. The bigger issue was that Word does not add punctuation. If you say “period” after your sentence it will type out the word “period.” Same with commas. Sigh.

It took me longer to go back and edit what I had just said than it would have if I had typed it in the first place. Even so, I would not have been able to start this project had I not spoken first. Staring at a blank Word document or a piece of paper was not going to move me forward. I am extremely verbal so I had to speak about what I wanted to record to begin the project.

Once I began I had no writer’s block. The memories just flowed, however, they didn’t flow in chronological order. That’s okay, too. My goal was to just let my brain download my life while I typed.

I didn’t care about spelling or grammar. If I forgot someone’s name I’d just leave a few spaces or hit the tab key and keep writing. Funny but the name would later resurface and I could go back and insert it in the space.

I didn’t write every day but I nearly did. I spent about 8 hours writing on the weekend and only 1-3 hours during the weekdays. I also decided to skip the years my children were small because I had created scrapbooks for them that recorded the good, bad, and ugly of those times. I refer to that in my book.

I have the free version of Grammarly and that helps tremendously with the spelling and punctuation. It underlines using a faint red line to highlight what needs possible correction. You just click on the underlined word and options are given to you.

Word of caution – the recalling of all of these memories does result in some odd dreams so be aware of that occurring. Nothing sinister, mind you, just a mix of your life events. For example, I dreamed about my deceased mother and a maternal aunt, along with a living cousin who was holding a beautiful baby. My aunt told me she had something important to tell me. I then woke up. I had written about the cousin’s first child the day before. Just want to warn you that your dreams may become extremely vivid while you’re writing.

Here’s what my plan now is . . . I’m going through my old photos and inserting them where appropriate in my story. Seeing the photos evoked a few more memories that I hadn’t recalled so I added a couple of paragraphs here and there. I was amazed that for the most part, my recall was fairly in chronological order. The most out-of-order time was in my college years. I don’t know why that was the case and I’d be interested to hear if you have the same result. I had completely forgotten about one of my husband’s first jobs and which summer we had gone on our first vacation. Was it between freshman and sophomore year or sophomore/junior?

Here’s another item to put on my to-do list; I discovered my photos are not in the order I want them to be so I’m creating albums. I use Google Photos and Dropbox to store them as I’m paranoid about losing the originals to a disaster. I’ve scanned them all but they were saved by when I scanned them and not by the person so I’ve got to work on that someday (when the universe tells me to haha.)

I’m almost done adding the photos and will then pull out my genealogical file on myself and look at documents. I have two from the hospital where I was born and they both have a different time of my birth. Lovely, right? My mom came up with the third time so I will never know for sure what time I arrived into the world. I’ll include both documents that wouldn’t be readily available to a descendant.

I then plan to have the story saved to a hardcover book, probably through Amazon but I’ve gotten that far to make a final determination. I’ll keep you updated when I get there and please let me know what you’ve done, Dear Reader, as I’d appreciate the input.

Here’s to Your Story in 2022!

Researching at the Daughters of the American Revolution Library

Originally published on on 10 Sep 2016.

Recently I had the opportunity to research at the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (DAR) Library in Washington, DC.  I was attending an educational conference and at its conclusion, had an afternoon free so a colleague who is a DAR and I decided to join forces on a research trip.

Since we didn’t have much time we took a cab from our hotel.  There had been a wicked storm the prior evening so there were tree limbs littering the street and work crews trying to open closed roads. The taxi driver got us as close as possible due to this situation.

I had already checked out of the hotel so I had my suitcase with me when I arrived.  I know the DAR has gotten a lot of  flack over the years for some of their policies but I must say that these were the nicest people I had met in DC on this trip so far.  The guard said to put my suitcase in a corner and he’d watch it for me.  We got a visitor’s sticker and were directed to the library.

My colleague and I split up and I had two objectives; the first to find if John Duer was still open for new members and the second, what was the problem with Wilson Williams.  I always planned on joining the DAR when I retired and I didn’t want to submit paperwork on John Duer if the line was closed.  I was assured he was open.  My concern with Wilson was due to a family member who had decided to join the DAR but was told she couldn’t because of paperwork problems for Wilson.  I had helped with the research on Wilson and I wanted to know what was wrong.  Did someone find out, gasp, he had aided the Loyalists?  Was there another Wilson that we had mistakenly followed?

The Librarian checked and found no problem with Wilson.  He believed the family member misunderstood what she was told – there are too many people who joined DAR with the short form for Wilson and if she would like to become a member, she would have to complete a long form.  No worries there!

I headed for the stacks and found a few books that gave me some leads on my Thomas Duer connection.  I also checked out surnames for the Kinship Determination Paper I was submitting for certification just in case there was something somewhere I had missed.  Nope, had all of the derivatives and not surprisingly, no primary info to be found there.

After about an hour I texted my colleague who was wandering in the museum.  I joined her and loved the displays.  Reminded me of the historical museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

As we left she asked me if I had taken any photos of books with my phone.  “Yes,” I replied, “a few.”  I inquired as to why she asked.  Evidently, that was not permitted.  She had whipped out her phone to take a photo of a map and was informed by the Librarian that she owed $10.00.  She didn’t have a ten so she gave them a $20. and told them the rest was a donation.

She’s a much better person than me, for sure!  I would not have handled it like that.  I questioned her as to where there was a sign posted that photo’s weren’t permitted.  She said there hadn’t been any and that a patron overheard and also questioned the policy.  The Librarian responded that it had always been the policy.

When I came home I searched the DAR website and didn’t find anything regarding a no using your camera policy but be warned if you visit – your photo might cost you a whole lot more than a copy would!

Next time I’ll write about behind the scenes at the National Archives.

Making the Most of Your Research Trip – Part 5

Originally published on on 24 Aug 2016.

I’ve been blogging about my recent research trip to Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  My last post told about a cemetery where reinternments of the family I was researching were placed.  I had discovered that the cemetery did not have original records from the first burial site – only derivatives – and that the records that that were available most likely were not accurate as one individual was mentioned in church records but not in the cemetery records.  I was hoping to find the original cemetery records for Union Cemetery so I decided I would drive back to Chambersburg and check out the Franklin County Historical Museum and Library to see what information I could find.

I had tried to make contact via email and phone several times in the past few months with this archive but no one ever returned my query regarding whether or not they had City Directories for Waynesboro from the mid to late 1800’s.

On the way, I passed another cemetery and I recalled that the brother of the family I was researching was buried there.  Hmmm, could this be the final resting place of the parents I was looking for?  I pulled in and made a plan.  The cemetery was small.  Actually, there were two cemeteries adjacent to each other.  The first was very tiny and had a chain link fence around it.  It was close to a brick building that had no name but was too big to be an office.  It was locked.  The second cemetery started on the other side of the chain link and was being mowed by a woman on a riding lawn mower.  She had on head phones so she couldn’t hear me.  There was a second brick building that I assumed was a church.  It, too, was locked.  I could hear someone inside vacuuming.  Besides me, there were only 2 vehicles in the parking lot – a truck with a window open and a car.

I had a copy of the Find-A-Grave page for the family interred so I knew what I was looking for but it didn’t have coordinates.  The family was not on Billion Graves.  I walked to the woman mowing and she stopped to chat.  She told me that the Reverend was in the church and I needed to speak with him for records.  She informed me that she was responsible for mowing the larger cemetery and that the smaller, enclosed one was owned by a different church.  She was not familiar with the markers as she was just hired to cut the grass.  Looking at my Find-A-Grave picture, however, she pointed out that the stones I was looking for most likely were towards the road I had pulled off of as she could see the enclosed cemetery and the building in the background.  Good point!

I went back to the church and knocked again and again but the Reverend could not hear me.  I decided to find the stones and using the hint in the background, quickly gained perspective and found the family.  Some of the stones were unreadable.  My goodness, have stones in this area deteriorated since the memorials were placed online!  I took a lot of pictures.

What I found most interesting were 2 things.  First, the end stone had a family name of Pentz on a large marker.  I have no idea how that family is related to the people buried there.  There were no other Pentz’s in the row, either.  Very weird!  Next odd thing was the empty space that looked like it could hold 3 graves between the Pentz marker and the start of the family I was seeking.  The area looked depressed – no stones – but sunken somewhat.  Hmm.

I went back to the car and took out a notebook. I wrote a brief note to the Reverend, including my name and cell number and requested he contact me about cemetery records for the family.  I had included the couple’s name and dates.  I left the note on the seat of his car because he left the window open!).  On to Chambersburg…

Well, not exactly.  On the way I found another Church of the Brethren and decided to make a detour to ask the office staff if they knew the name of the German Baptist Church that had once been between Waynesboro and Gettysburg.  I wanted this information as the sister of my Generation 1 wife had supposedly been married at that church.  I was hoping to see if I could find a marriage certificate that may firm up where the sister had been born in Maryland as I was stuck on going backwards with that line for my own personal interest.  The office staff had no idea and couldn’t direct me to anyone that might know.  Oh, well. (I have the sister’s death certificate, cemetery record and diary – they all say she was born in Maryland but not specifically where.  No obit or will, either.)

Made it to the museum about 11 AM and got a wonderful parking space outside:

This was the former jail so the door is extremely heavy.  No one around but I saw a sign that showed the library was upstairs.  I was met by a wonderfully kind volunteer who had lived in the area her whole life.  I love finding people like this!  The library was very small – 2 rooms.  She didn’t charge me for research, either, which I greatly appreciate.  She suggested we look in a book of Franklin County Cemetery inscriptions that was written in the 1970’s.  The people I was seeking weren’t listed. I wasn’t surprised, my people are always elusive.  The volunteer was certain that the compiler had done a marvelous job and included everything she had seen.  Perhaps, but it’s the unseen I needed. Like the unreadable grave stone in Green Hill or the possible sunken stones in the second cemetery where I had stopped.

There was no voting records, city directories, educational records, or road orders.  I guess no one had ever asked about road orders – the family had been wagon makers so I thought maybe they also were in charge of the roads.  I have had that happen with another line on Long Island about the same time and thought I’d give it a shot.

We looked at the donated genealogies and although there was some information on related lines, it was nothing new. Actually, it had been lifted from the text that had given me the missing sibling name I was trying to find at the cemetery.  I was going in circles!

She suggested I contact a volunteer librarian at the Chambersburg library who had once worked at the Alexander Hamilton Library for information about the possibility of Union Cemetery records being housed there but not noted in the holdings.  She pointed out the window to the library next door.

Awesome, wouldn’t have to move the car!  Except, the library is closed for renovation and somehow the volunteer didn’t know that.  Walked around the barricades (on the wrong side, of course) and saw the new temporary location address.  Back to the car and gps!

A few minutes later I arrived at the library.  The lady I needed to see wasn’t there.  Big shock, there!  She wouldn’t be back for several days.  I left her a note with my email address.  I also asked for hers and emailed her when I returned home. She never responded.

No one else there had any knowledge of the area’s history.  Time for lunch!

I had 2 half days left in the area and wanted to make the best use of what little there was left to see.  Over lunch, I decided I would go back to Waynesboro and stop at their historical museum, visit any antique stores I might find open and go back to the library to see if the volunteer genealogist had shown up.  I could accomplish all that in the afternoon and would just leave earlier than I had anticipated the following day.  Little did I know what was about to happen!

Making the Most of Your Research Trip Part 1

Originally published on on 7 Aug 2016.

I’ve been blogging about my recent genealogical hunt in Pennsylvania.  After packing essential research tools and visiting the County Courthouse I was off to the Franklin County Historical Museum.  Problem was, due to my rental car delay, I arrived later than I anticipated and with only a half hour until closing, I didn’t want to spend the $5.00 research fee and have to return the following day and pay again.  I opted instead to drive about 20 minutes to nearby Waynesboro where the Alexander Hamilton Free Library was open until 7 p.m.

Lucky for me, there was a parking space right in front of the library and I had coins for the meter in my research bag.  Whenever I enter a new library I always ask where the genealogy section is housed if there was no map online.  The sweet librarian pointed to stairs and told me there were “a few rooms.”  More than one, seriously?!  I like that!  The room at the foot of the stairs was awesome, too:

After climbing the stairs I discovered the Civil War room was to the left and the church/cemetery/county histories and genealogies were to the right.  A third, smaller room held file cabinets of clippings and donated genealogy records.

What I found strange was that there was NO staff member or computer to access the holdings upstairs.  It was also extremely HOT.  If there was air conditioning it wasn’t working. (And I’m from Florida so when I say it was hot, it was really hot!)

I quickly walked through the Civil War room.  Although the family I was researching lived in the town during that time and had been affected by the War, the materials were not specific to the area. Several series of volumes were placed on the shelf in mixed up order and my OCD tendencies kicked in – I just wanted to put them in sequence.  Time was a wasting so I moved on to the next room.

I would love to tell you that this room was in better shape but it wasn’t:

Messy libraries make me nuts!  I decided I would just start at the northwest corner of the room and read the shelves.  By reading, I mean I don’t just read the books that have their names on the spine.  I pull out books that don’t and sure enough, within minutes I found the following:

It’s hard to see in the pic due to the small size but the book was once owned and signed by Clarence Harbaugh.  I was researching the Harbaugh family.  Although I wasn’t focused on Clarence I did have him in my tree so I took the book to a nearby table and took a picture with my phone.  Now I had Clarence’s signature so I could add it to media in my tree.  If I ever extend the project I’m working on then I have a good start for another generation!

I had a list of areas I wanted to check – city directories, town records, historical maps and the cemetery and church records I was told were housed there.  I was disappointed to find the oldest City Directory was only from 1905, much too late for my family.  The church records were missing the index.  It was a derivative and I already had the original from the church emailed to me earlier so no loss for me but sad for anyone else who needed that. Since I couldn’t find a burial location for the father of my Generation 1 individual, I really was hoping to locate a cemetery record from a cemetery that no longer exists.  I had been told on the phone twice that the library had the Union Cemetery records but I couldn’t find them.  I did find an 1843 tax list and the folks I was researching were listed so that was a happy dance.

I moved on to the file cabinet room but there was nothing on the family I was researching.  I still had an hour before closing so I went downstairs and asked the librarian where I could find the Union Cemetery records.  She looked on the library holding database but couldn’t find it.  There is a volunteer genealogist but he wasn’t available and staff didn’t know his schedule.  I decided I’d try again the following day as I had emailed twice and left two voice messages but had never gotten in contact with him.  The librarian signed me on to a public computer as a guest since I didn’t have a library card and I happily spent the next hour checking out the remaining newspapers that had been digitized.  Due to the fragile nature of the originals I was only able to view the digitized copies.  Better than nothing!  They aren’t available at, Chronicling America or Genealogy Bank so it was very important for me to see.  I did find two references to the family I was interested in – jury duty and an advertisement for a sale.  Very nice finds!

The library was supposed to close at 7 but the computers shut down at 6:45.  I was almost done with the newspapers but would have to finish the next day.

Soon after I had eaten dinner and checked into my hotel I checked my laptop to see if my phone’s pictures had synched.  I don’t carry the clunky laptop when I research anymore but I do take it with me on extended trips as it’s easier to manipulate the photos on the laptop then my Kindle, especially when my old eyes are tired after a long day researching.

I save the photos of places to a Word document and place a caption under each so I don’t forget why I took the picture.  I also save pictures of book pages and place the individual pictures in a created folder.  For example, I usually take a picture of 1) the index which I then flag with a stickee, 2) the pages that the index pointed me to and 3) the title page.  Using the stickee helps me flip back and forth from index to the page I’m directed to quickly.  To create the folder to save the pic, I use last name, first name of the individual found and what was the find.  In this case, Weaver.Christin.1843TaxList.  In the folder I place the picture of the index, the title and 2 pages where I found info.  All of the finds are then slipped into another folder labeled with the repository name and date of visit (This would be HamiltonPublicLibrary.WaynesboroPA.14Jul16..  That way, when I get home and merge the pages together to pdf, I can add to media on my tree and note where and when I found the source.  I’m old school and like to cite the location of the find in my notes.

Stay tuned for more hints in Part 2.