One of the most popular segments on NPR’s Morning Edition are recordings from StoryCorps, a non-profit organization with the mission to collect, share, and preserve the stories of individuals from all walks of life.
StoryCorps typically has individuals interviewed by a friend or family member while a trained StoryCorps facilitator assists. After the interview, the individuals receive a CD of their conversation. With their permission, another copy is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Listen to StoryCorps Founder Dave Isay explain the program’s origins to his nephew:
Life Journals capture a legacy.
At Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, volunteers interview patients about their life story and gather the words and photos in a hardbound book called a Life Journal. The journals contain the history of the patient’s life, including their heritage, life experiences, treasured moments, and advice. The Life Journal is a lasting legacy to reinforce how important parts of the patient's’ life has been to them and their family. It also provides the family with a book to cherish after their loved ones have passed.
You can create a similar book with your loved one’s stories, recipes, photos, artwork, or words of wisdom.
How to Create a Life Journal
Start by finding a good time to interview your loved one. Holidays may be convenient if you don’t often see them otherwise. However, holidays can also be chaotic. You may find it easier to schedule several days when you and your loved one will be able to give the project your undivided attention.
Interviewing for a Life Journal
For someone you are close to, you probably already know a lot of the big family stories. You can ask your loved one to retell these stories or fill in some additional details to get the conversation started. Then start to work through different areas of their lives – their family and heritage, school days, time in the military, courtship of a spouse, and raising a family are all good starting points. Use our list of questions to ask an older relative to get ideas on what to ask.
Once you have the basics covered, schedule a follow-up visit to fill in details. At this second visit, you should have a good idea of what the outline of your loved one’s Life Journal is going to look like. This is a good time to confirm details and look through old photos together to go along with the stories you are including in the book.
Compiling the Life Journal
Having gathered all your notes and photos together, you have a few different options for how you would like to present them.
For those comfortable with a computer, the easiest way to create a Life Journal is to use an online service like Shutterfly to combine the stories and photos together. The user-friendly application will walk you through choosing a design and color scheme that best fits your loved one’s style and interests.
For those less technologically inclined, a scrapbook is a wonderful alternative. Craft stores have many options for books and added embellishments like stickers and decorations. You or a friend or family member can print out the stories you wish to include or can write them out by hand.
Layout each page of your scrapbook on blank pieces of paper before you begin affixing anything in the final book. This will give you the opportunity to make adjustments to the layout and the order of pages. Once you are sure you know how you want the book to be laid out, begin gluing down the key elements like stories and photos, then add things like quotes and stickers.
Presenting the Life Journal
Once your project is complete, share it with your loved one. They will enjoy reading the stories as much as you do. If your loved one is willing, you can also schedule a family book release where the family can come together to enjoy the book and share additional stories. If you do a book release party, consider recording some of the new stories you hear for posterity. You never know where these stories will lead you.
To learn more about the Crossroads Life Journal program or to become a Life Journal volunteer, please call us at 1-888-564-3405.
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