How to Use Artifacts to Fuel Your Memoir or Family History

Paper Prompts
When we prepare to write a memoir or record incidents from our family’s history, we might easily think of common paper items that many of us tend to hold onto. These can form the basis of memory aids, and would include:
— photos of people and places
— letters received from relatives and friends
— diaries we can reference for specific events and dates
— diplomas and achievement certificates
— holiday and/or restaurant menus
— tickets to the theatre, a ride on a sightseeing boat, or for that special anniversary cruise
— invitations to parties, proms, weddings
— bills for kitchen appliances, household repairs, cars
— property deeds, birth and death certificates, and medical records

Other artifacts
Not only paper reminders are helpful. What about furniture—your great-aunt’s moth eaten chair that you vaguely remember storing in your attic, meaning to get it reupholstered? It might remind you of the ritual Sunday afternoon visits to this aunt’s house with your parents when you were a child.

What about your grandfather’s old yard tools languishing in your garage? And your grandmother’s table linens you’ve intended to use each Thanksgiving, but always forget in favor of the Bed, Bath, and Beyond tablecloths and napkins you bought in recent years? Your brother’s baby shoes (bronzed or not). The deliberately tacky key chain your friends gave you for your twenty-first birthday. And my favorites, old clothes and jewelry owned and worn by ancestors long deceased.

All of these can prompt memories of the past and the people whose lives have touched and influenced your own. Through their belongings we not only remember, but recapture and relive our own and our family’s past.

For more ideas and prompts as you write your memoir or family history, see Turning Memories into Memoirs, a book many of my adult writing students find helpful.

Turning Memories Into Memoirs

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

Want more memoir writing and family history tips? Click on those words in the Categories column on the right of this page.

NEXT POST: I’m going to take a crack at addressing how people work up the courage to write the truth in their memoirs, family histories, and journals, and where they hide this writing until it’s time to release it on the public (or at least on friends and family).

This is a biggie, so I hope you’ll all weigh in with your strategies.

4 thoughts on “How to Use Artifacts to Fuel Your Memoir or Family History

  1. Holiday decorations would be another great source for memories! Most of my Christmas tree ornaments were either homemade (by me or my brother when we were kids, or by my daughter), or someone gave them to me, and I remember the story behind each one.

  2. Lynette, great tips! This is not a paper or artifact, but food invoked a lot of memory when I wrote my memoir. While I was writing, I would prepare Trinidadian dishes from my childhood–it was comfort food.

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