I am a Personal Historian and I am passionate about my work helping others to gather, organise and preserve their life stories to leave as a precious legacy for future family generations.
My passion for life stories began as a wee girl, snuggled on Nan's generous lap, when I constantly requested stories from her childhood, her life as a young mother and how she came to have 11 children. "Please, Nan, tell me about being a little girl in Gympie," was my frequent refrain and, as her first granddaughter, Nan gave in and repeated the stories of her girlhood. For a small girl who had been neglected by her mother, Nan's lap was the most secure place in my tiny world; the place where Nan was boss and much loved and respected within her family, circle of friends and local community. All I wanted out of life was to be as like her as I could possibly manage.
As a natural narrator, Nan recounted the various tales of her young escapades and also the stories of the Wallace clan into which she'd married. As a story keeper, she knew who had married whom (plus where, when and other details), why other family members hadn't married and various family secrets. She often lapsed into a scottish 'burr' as she quietly told me 'family secrets' which I was sworn never mention such as the fact that Dad (her eldest son, Ken) was a pal of Santa's, who let him hold the reindeer leads while he hopped down our chimney to deliver our Christmas presents. This was the reason there was always a pile of what looked to my like cow pats on our roof each Christmas morning!
In 1988, Australia's Bi-centenary year, I commenced a project of interviewing 100 seniors about 10 set life topics, the edited version of which was printed and presented to all 1500 residents of the retirement organisation for which I worked. I guess that many of the skills I'd learned earlier as both a nurse and in training to be a Social Worker helped me to elicit the unique stories from these interviewees. My participation in a creative writing group helped me to edit the raw stories and create such an interesting book that relatives of the interviewees asked me to re-interiview their parent or grandparent to learn more about their fascinating stories. So began my life as a personal historian, leading, in 2006, to creating and starting my own personal history business, History from the Heart - the first of its kind in Australia.
From that early start all those years ago, I have gone on with my chosen work and have interviewed numerous people about their lives. Somehow, in every case, when I read aloud the first transcript of the interview, invariably the interviewee has been astounded. "I had now idea that anyone would be interested in my story," they say. "Those are my words but somehow they sound so different when you read them back to me."
These are the types of statements I hear as I put together the amazing stories that I feel priveledged unlock from the deep vaults of their sub-conscious mind - stories of undying love, of mateship under fire during wartime, of the unforgetable pain of losing a child, of the pioneering spirit that drives young people on to the land to make a living, of survival during the Great Depression.
When I teach classes orworkshops or introduce myself to someone new, I always tell them that, as a personal historian, I have be best job in Australia; and, I believe that it is true!
Annie, I didn't know you were into this from early childhood. I can now see why there are so few who really GET the full breadth of life stories. You are a master and I am proud to be associated with you.
Thanks, Tom, for your positive feedback. Everything I have done during my working career has just enhanced the skills I need for my work as a personal historian - from the laboratory rat I trained at uni studying psychology, gaining my psychiatric nursing degree, being the geriatric assessment sister at the Acute Geriatrci Unit at Adelaide's largest psychiatic hospital etc, each job has trained and embellished the expertise I now use everyday as a personal historian.
You and I seem to have a great deal in common, Annie - my love of family history / story keeping also began on my grandmother's lap, and I, too, regarded that lap as the safest place on the planet. I also wound up as a nurse! I couldn't agree with you more that being a personal historian is the best of all possible jobs. Good work!
I spent a lot of time in my grandparents' laps, too, and wanted to be a nurse! But after working as a candystriper (volunteer teenager), I realized I didn't like the sight of blood and changed my mind about nursing! As always, I love Annie's stories!