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Posts tagged ‘personal historian’

Go For It!

February 18, 2016

Susan Marg

Photo by:

Photo by:

Patricia Arquette has had an interesting life. While growing up, her family lived for a time on a commune. As a child, she refused braces for her teeth, as she thought her flaws would make her a better actress. From starting in the movies in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) to winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, among other awards, for BoyHood (2014), she also has had star turns on television in Medium (2005-2011) and now on CSI: Cyber. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all performers, and her siblings are in the business. Now she’s going to write about it.

Arquette has inked a contract with Random House for her book, although a release date has not yet been set. Of her new endeavor she says, “Writing a memoir is a lot of different things. It’s illuminating, painful, interesting and strange. … It’s very personal and a big challenge.”

Are you up for the challenge?

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

A Year in the Life

December 31, 2015

Susan Marg

Stock Image: Depositphotos

Stock Image: Depositphotos


As we look forward to a new year, I thought it would be interesting to look back fifty years to 1966. There just might be something to include in a life or family history.

  1. Finished with the Fifties. 1966 was the last year for many of our favorite television shows, particularly those that started in the 1950s. These included: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952); The Donna Reed Show (1958); Perry Mason (1957); and, Rawhide (1959). The Dick Van Dyke Show, although it first aired in 1961, was finished, too.
  1. Justice is swift. Anyone who watches a lot of cop shows on television knows their Miranda rights derived from the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment: the right to remain silent and the right to consult with an attorney. The Supreme Court established the principle in June 1966 when it overturned the conviction of Ernesto Miranda, who had confessed to abducting and raping a young woman. Miranda was retried and convicted four months later.
  1. Viva Las Vegas. Just like an orgy in the glory days of ancient Rome, the opening party for Caesars Palace on August 5, 1966 cost $1 million and lasted three days. Over 1,800 invited guests consumed two tons of filet mignon, devoured 300 pounds of crabmeat, and quaffed 50,000 glasses of champagne. Attractive mini toga-attired waitresses greeted the attendees. “Welcome to Caesars,” they cooed. “I am your slave.” The public had never seen anything like Caesars, and they loved it. Caesars Palace is celebrating by throwing a year-long 50th birthday party.
  1. Short and sweet. Mary Quant, clothing designer and shop owner, made her skirts shorter and shorter through the Sixties. In 1966 when the hem reached the upper thigh, she named the trendy item” the miniskirt,” and it became the fashion of choice for young women everywhere. No doubt young men liked it, too.
  1. Mind-blowing. California was the first state to ban the manufacture and sale of LSD, and other states soon did the same. It became illegal throughout the country in 1968, and all scientific research on the drug was shut down.
  1. Float like a butterfly. Amidst growing anti-Vietnam protests throughout the country, heavyweight champion Mohammed Ali declared himself a conscientious objector. The following year he refused to be inducted into the armed forces, a federal offense, declaring, “No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger.” Found guilty of draft evasion, all fifty states denied him a boxing license and the Federal government stripped him of his passport. In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, as the Appeals Board had given no reason to deny him an exemption as a conscientious objector.
  1. Sting like a bee. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton created the Black Panthers as self-defense against police violence and the killing of blacks. Inspired by Malcolm X, who had been assassinated the year before, they adopted his slogan, “Freedom by any means necessary.” Focusing on militancy, the organization itself became associated with violence.
  1. Seems so far away. The Beatles had an interesting year. Protestors greeted them when they performed in Tokyo. When they declined a party invitation to the Presidential Palace in the Philippines, they unintentionally snubbed Imelda Marcos, the first lady, leaving them without police protection from angry crowds. In August, the group again toured the U.S., playing their last concert in San Francisco. Manager Brian Epstein had to walk back John Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, explaining that it was taken out of context, and Capitol Records pasted a more conventional cover for their album Yesterday and Today over a photograph depicting the band as butchers surrounded by decapitated baby dolls and pieces of meat. Still, their album Revolver is considered the best of the year, as calculated from its rankings in over 21,000 greatest album charts, and the band began recording its critically acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  On a personal note, each grew a moustache while on hiatus pursuing individual interests. John Lennon also began wearing granny glasses, and he met Yoko Ono at a London gallery. (It’s not known whether the two events are related.)
  1. Hey, hey. It was a year of musical firsts. Janis Joplin gave her first live concert in San Francisco. Grace Slick first performed live with the Jefferson Airplane. Bob Dylan went electric. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention recorded Freak Out!, the group’s debut album, and the Monkees’ television show premiered.
  1. ‘Tis the season. On Christmas Eve, a New York television station aired a three-hour film of burning logs in a fireplace. Receiving surprisingly good ratings, “The Yule Log” became an annual tradition until 1989, although you can now watch it streaming on Netflix.

A lot happens in a year. Here’s wishing you a 2016 filled with many memorable and happy events.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Time is Short

December 1, 2015

Susan Marg

Illustration by: © pereca

Illustration by: © pereca

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?

—   Dr. Seuss

A Year in Our Lives

June 21, 2015

Susan Marg

The Association of Personal Historians, to which I belong, was formed twenty years ago. Its members are dedicated to helping preserve life stories, experiences, and memories. The organization will celebrate at its annual meeting this October in Sacramento. In honor of the occasion I thought I’d take a look at what else happened in 1995. It’s what I do.

In many ways, it was like any other year. Couples got married, divorced, and remarried. After a long, tumultuous, yet profitable, relationship, both Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, who had divorced the previous year, took new spouses. People celebrated birthdays, graduated from school, and landed their first jobs. Many of us made money. In February the Dow Jones Industrial Average first climbed about 4,000. By the end of the year it was over 5,000. And eBay was a new way to shop.

Illustration by: © venimo

Illustration by: © venimo

For the first time we had easy access to the World Wide Web. Yahoo offered its search engine service. CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy provided online dial-up systems. Netscape went public. And the FBI arrested Kevin Mitnick for hacking into some of the United States’ most secure computer systems.

Still, we felt protected and in control – until the Oklahoma City bombing. The blast, carried out by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, killed 168 people, including nineteen children at a day-care center, and injured 680 others. Property damage was extensive, too. The following month President Clinton ordered the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to all vehicular traffic. It remains closed to this day.

We continued watching daytime soap operas. All My Children had its 25th anniversary, and As the World Turns broadcast its 10,000th episode. Yet many soaps were often preempted during the nine-month real-life, high-profile murder trial of OJ Simpson. More than 150 million people tuned in to watch when the verdict was announced. OJ was acquitted, and the lawyers became celebrities.

For entertainment we went to the movies and listened to music. At the 1995 Academy Awards, Forest Gump took the grand prize. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, Sheryl Crow was named Best New Artist and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” was Song of the Year. We mourned the passing of illustrious icons, including Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, yet we kept on truckin’.

What were you doing twenty years ago? What events made a difference in your life? How have you changed? It’s something to write about.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Building a Sense of Family

June 11, 2015

Susan Marg

The Association of Personal Historians is running a twenty-part series on why you should write your family history. Inspired by New York Public Library staffer Carmen Nigro, the weekly posts expand on her list of reasons, going into detail on such topics as the wisdom, humanity, and history that are derived from such endeavors.

I contributed to this effort with “Building a Sense of Family,” shown below. Read on. Read more.



When contemplating writing your family history, there is often the underlying fear of offending a favorite aunt or insulting a beloved cousin, setting off a family feud that lasts longer than the long-running game show. However, it is much more likely that other relatives hold your observations of both esteemed and wayward kin, and your record of your shared history will be appreciated. The rewards of preserving family recollections are so much greater than the risk.

You don’t have to be a writer to do your life or family history. You’re not competing with anyone else or comparing your life – or your writing — with those of others. You’re doing it for yourself, possibly to see how far you’ve come in life, or to leave a legacy for your children, their children, and nieces and nephews, as well.

Research conducted at Emory University shows that “family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” psychologists Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke wrote. They appreciate that they belong to something bigger than themselves. The more children are aware of their background, the better their emotional health, the more resilient they are coping with stress.

This research involved asking “yes” or “no” questions, such as: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your parents went to high school, their experiences growing up, and how they meet? Do you know whom you resemble in the family? Topics certainly discussed around the dinner table and covered in a family history.

But why stop there? What do you remember about growing up, the neighborhood where you lived, and the family rituals in which you participated? What do your children know of your first job, your favorite holiday, or your most embarrassing moment? Why not share your experiences to everyone’s benefit?

A current Subaru commercial, titled “Memory Lane,” which I think is charming, taps into the feeling that comes when different generations of a family relate to each other.

A grandmother, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter are on a drive in the country.   The grandmother, who has that aging hippie look about her, is intent on connecting with her granddaughter. She shows her her crystal collection. At a flower stand where they’re petting a cat, the granddaughter asks her, “Can you really talk to cats?” The grandmother nods and smiles.

When they reach their destination, a tree in the middle of a field, the grandmother says, “This is where I met your grandpa, right under this tree.”

The little girl runs over and hugs the tree.

In the next frame, they’re all hugging the tree, when the grandmother has second thoughts. “Or was it that tree?” she wonders out loud.

The commercial closes with the tagline: Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru. Love also makes a family, and knowing your family history strengthens those bonds.

I was having lunch with my mother the other day, and she, reminiscing, told me a story I had never heard before, one that hadn’t made my family history. “Do you know what a radiator is?” “Yes,” I responded. A radiator heated my first college apartment. “Well, when I was a little girl,” she continued, “I once burned myself so badly by leaning against a hot radiator I couldn’t sit down for weeks.” Thinking about the incident, she concluded, “That’s what life is, I guess, all those little moments.”

As a personal historian, I couldn’t agree more. As a daughter, I felt closer to my mother than ever before.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Listening, Learning, Loving

May 29, 2015

Susan Marg

I’d like to invite you to listen to Dave Isay, the 2015 TED Prize winner. Isay has made his life’s work preserving the stories of everyday Americans. In 2003 he founded StoryCorps in a booth at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. As part of his project, he invited anyone and everyone to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. The forty-minute sessions were recorded, and they are now archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress.

Photo by: © U.P. Images

Photo by: © U.P. Images

StoryCorps expanded across the country. Earlier this year it developed an app to bring the project out of the booth into your hands, wherever you are, whenever you are so moved. To make the most of your interview, Isay offers the following five tips:

Ask the big life questions.

Pour your attention into the interview.

Be an active participant in the conversation.

Remember it’s not the story that matters.

Say thank you.

These tips will work for you, whether you’re a personal historian working with others or a grandchild seeking your roots. As Isay says, “Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear.”

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Personal History Awareness Month – It’s Now!

May 14, 2015

Susan Marg

Within the past decade, Personal History Awareness Month – it’s May – was added to Chase’s Calendar of Events. Although this publication, first created in 1957, is now 752 pages and contains more than 12,000 entries worldwide, I think it says something that one of those entries highlights personal history.

illustration of head with colorful gears

illustration of head with colorful gears

As Sarah White, President of the Association of Personal Historians, says, “If you ever received something in writing from an ancestor ― a diary, a letter or better yet, a memoir ― you’ve already felt how important it is to preserve our stories for future generations.”

More and more folks are putting pen to paper, organizing their photos in a scrapbook, or recording their memories in a video. The popularity of memoirs as a type of literary non-fiction underscores how much we enjoy learning about other people. Their lives resonate with our lives. Alicia Florrick, the television character on which The Good Wife revolves, recently hired a ghostwriter to help with the task. While I have the feeling she’s deep shelving the project to return to the practice of law, that’s no reason for others to give up after an episode or two.

There’s help out there. The Association of Personal Historians, founded in 1995, has 600 members strong, who are devoted to helping those with an interest in preserving their past. If you want to do-it-yourself there are plenty of courses on-line or workshops at local community colleges.

So, clear your desk. Open your mind. And get ready to fill your thoughts with days gone by.

What? Nothing’s happening?!? That’s not possible.

What do you know about your parents and grandparents? What do you remember about growing up – your room, your school. your neighborhood? Are you on the path you want to be on? What mistakes do you keep making? What stories do you keep telling yourself? Do they share a common theme?

Examining your own life can make a difference, not only for future generations, but for yourself, as well. It’s all part of Personal History Awareness Month.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Why Haven’t Your Written Your Life Story?

May 1, 2015

Susan Marg

Photo by: © massonforstock

Photo by: © massonforstock

So many excuses: Too busy. Too boring. Can’t read. Can’t write. Too young. Too old. Too soon. Too late. Too many photographs. Too many questions   –  Where to start? When to stop?

Too few answers.

So little time.

So, make the time.

Get help. Ask a personal historian.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Say “Bye-Bye”

April 24, 2015

Susan Marg

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

I worked for AT&T for almost fifteen years. When it was the telephone company. When it was called Ma Bell. Before there were cell phones and other mobile devices, smart or not, and everyone had a land line.

And that’s why A.A. Gill’s commentary in the April issue of Vanity Fair titled “Good-Bye to ‘Hello’” was like someone dumping a bucket of ice water on me. I didn’t need the wake up call, although I still subscribe to magazines and check out books from the library. As Gill observes in his article, “We are coming to the end of the age of the telephone call and that may be a good or a bad thing, but it is a thing.”

I remember the age of the telephone call very well. I remember my grandmother being concerned about the cost of a long distance call. I remember my mother chatting on the phone while she did the family’s ironing. I remember my father working the phones at his place of business. I remember calling my folks weekly to check in when I was in college and for years afterwards.

Now, it’s all about texts and tweets. But even words are being replaced. Who needs them, if you can cut and paste emoticons and emoji? And, they’re so cute. And international, too.

There’s a saying that when you let go, something better will come along. You might even learn about it in a phone call, if you still have one. Me? I’m not hanging up. Not yet, anyway.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

When Batteries Go Dead

April 13, 2015

Susan Marg

Did an older relative, maybe a parent or grandparent, ever describe how tough they had it as a kid? Maybe they told you how they had to walk to school… uphill… both ways… in the snow. Times were tough, but no tougher than now, as demonstrated in a Pickles comic strip by Brian Crane on March 8 of this year.

Photo by: © Nik_Merkulov

Photo by: © Nik_Merkulov

Mrs. Pickles asks Nelson, her grandson, “Did you brush your teeth?”

Nelson replies, “I can’t. The battery in my toothbrush is dead.”

Mrs. Pickles refuses to accept that excuse, telling him, “I’ve been brushing my teeth since before you were born, and I’ve never needed a battery to do it… Just put some toothpaste on it and brush the good old-fashioned way.”

Nelson refuses to go along with the program, and he complains, “Aww! This is like living in the olden days!”

As a kicker she responds, “And when you’re through with that you can churn some butter.”

Thank you, Brian Crane, for once again pointing out that no matter how much the world changes, we don’t lose our sense of humor, as we get older.