Sudbury company helps preserve family history

By Carole LaMond / Daily News correspondent
The MetroWest Daily News
Jan 03, 2011


SUDBURY — Chris Wisniewski and Stephanie Nichols are weavers of stories.

Together the two personal historians work with clients to gather the threads of memory and create a tapestry of a life.

Saving Stories, the name of their Sudbury business, describes their goal: to preserve memories, milestones and personal history for future generations.

"There is really a feeling that we are saving these stories, and that is a powerful feeling and a privilege," said Wisniewski.

Wisniewski and Nichols work with individuals, businesses or organizations to help them preserve their unique stories.

Nichols, a former Unitarian minister, and Wisniewski, a Web designer, have complementary skills that allow them to meld writing and design. Both women have done extensive work on personal family history projects.

They met over a year ago when Nichols, a Winchester resident, hired Wisniewski of Sudbury to design a website for a business doing personal history projects.

"As she explained what her business does, I decided this was something I had to do with her," said Wisniewski.

Wisniewski showed Nichols a family history she did 10 years ago in which she interviewed all 10 siblings in her father’s family, and put together their stories in a book which she gave them all as a gift.

"It made them understand the family so much more," said Wisniewski. "They were so grateful to have the stories."

Nichols, too, had learned the power of preserving family stories. Years ago she received as a gift a book of stories told by a great-great grandfather, which is one of her most treasured possessions. Later she helped her mother write a memoir, an experience which prompted questions she never would have thought to ask about her mother’s life.

"It helps me understand where I came from, and put my life in some context," said Nichols. "I love the idea of making these gifts possible for other people."

Wisniewski and Nichols conduct interviews, which they transcribe and help edit, or they assist with organizing and editing content that the client has written. The written stories along with any personal photos or documents are combined in a professionally designed and bound hardcover or paperback book.

The result is a legacy in the form of a memoir told in the subject’s own words.

"So many people Stephanie and I speak to about this business say they have started a history, or have photos and documents, and never knew what to do with them," said Wisniewski.

Some clients have done extensive work on a memoir, but need an editor, some have written a portion of their story and are stuck, while others have a story to tell, but have no idea how to start.

One client, whose husband died before her grandchildren were born, wanted to create a children’s story about their grandfather. The result was "Getting to Know Your Grandpa Lew," a poignant, and often humorous, story about his early life, how he met their grandmother, his work and even why he disliked onions.

Other clients have commissioned milestone books to commemorate an anniversary, birthday or life experience.

In many cases, time is of the essence, with adult children wanting to know more about their aged parents’ lives and lessons before it is too late.

One woman hired Saving Stories to help her sister, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, capture memories of her youth before they disappear.

Some clients want to collect family stories and reminiscences about a loved one who has died.

"Many times, the family would reminisce to celebrate a life during a memorial service, and say, ‘I wish we had done this while he was still alive and we could talk to him,’ " said Nichols of her experience as a minister preparing a eulogy.

Love letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings - all the personal mementos saved over a lifetime - can be assembled and organized, and their significance narrated, so that they are accessible for all family members.

"Another important aspect of this is the photographs. This is a way to organize them and make them accessible, and to attach them to stories about the people to make sure they don’t get lost," said Nichols.

Wisniewski also does photo restoration.

Part of the partners’ role is to help a client focus his or her thinking, or delve more deeply into a life experience.

"Sometimes a sympathetic outsider can elicit reflection that family dynamics can make it hard to talk about," said Nichols. "It’s important that this feels real, and that’s what readers like. So we ask people to talk about difficult times."

The client has final control of the content.

"It’s important to us that our narrators own the project. They have complete control of the final text which allows for a more relaxed interview," said Nichols.

Some projects focus on a particular experience.

Wisniewski just finished a history of her father’s service in the Navy during World War II, and one project in progress is with a man who is recording his experiences during the Korean War.

"A lot of this is about listening deeply to people and drawing out the best they have to say," said Nichols. "They are reflecting on their lives and their legacy."

The cost of a personal history varies depending on the scope of the project.

A booklet usually involves two interview sessions while a longer, hardcover book may require multiple sessions.

"I love the fact that these are books. These are permanent things that you can pass down through generations," said Wisniewski. "Everyone has a story."

The finished projects often bring understanding and closeness among family members who gain insight into the motivations and influences that affected a loved one.

"It’s a legacy," said Nichols. "The look on people’s faces when they receive these books is priceless."

For more information on Saving Stories, or to schedule a free consultation, visit www.saving-stories.com.



View this article with photos on the Merto West Daily web site:
http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/business/x564373106/Sudbury-company-helps-preserve-family-history





Saving Stories
is a member of the Association of Personal Historians

Saving Stories is a member of the  Association Personal Historians
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"This is probably the best present I could have given my father for his 80th birthday. He is truly enjoying his time with you and working on this project! You are doing a wonderful job — it will be a great legacy for the family."

— Amy M.