Memoirs: Researching Your History - article

When writing a memoir with a family history slant, collecting source material is of utmost importance. The most valuable source at your disposal is your network of friends and family. You should create a list of targeted questions with which to interview your friends and family. Be sure that these questions center on the focus of your memoir. If you have a rambling conversation, you are less like to get the material you need. If you are focusing on the relationships within your family, be sure that questions elicit these details.

You want to keep good records of these interviews. If done in person, you may choose to make a video recording for future reference. You can also try phone interviews. Always write copious notes or consider recording these phone calls. There are fee-based services to assist you like OneBox or you might try the fee-based Recorder, an app for the iPhone. Both of these services have accessibility and organizational features. Always include requests for journals, photos, and any other records the interviewee might be willing to share. You will want to pour over these materials looking for clues into your past. Themes may be revealed in journals. Photos may offer clues to the personality of family members. Other materials like saved magazines, brochures or even playbills may give peeks into the lives of long forgotten family members.

Next, expand your search to online resources. You may try the National Archives, a repository of government records, including census records, military records, land records and more. Another popular website databases for family history research are FamilySearch and These services are available for free at many public libraries. University libraries tend to have large special collections of papers that may interest you. Don’t overlook specialty libraries like Masonic libraries or local heritage organizations and local archives. Each state also has a site dedicated to birth and death records. Online sources like Newspapers Archive offer a fee-based repository of newspaper articles. Libraries often have databases with access to this information too. All of these sources my help you discover more of your family history.

The more research you do, the stronger your family history will be. Leave no stone unturned to write your best memoir.

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  • Hi there, I am a NEWBIE to the ALC. I am exploring all the suggestions  I can in various relevant articles. I started writing as my MEMOIRS, but after reading these definitions, I realize that what I have is actually an AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I am really excited to know that I am on the right track and will now think differently about my recorded memories. Thank you for clarifying the difference. 

  • is free to anyone. I find it more reliable than, for the contributors are more apt to cite their sources.
  • I have researched my mother and father's sides on, newspapers, scrapbooks, friends, and relatives. It would be interesting to write a fictional piece based on facts but with identities undisclosed. So many things occurred including the 1918 flu, Civil War and paternal abandonment on my mother's side. Things I discovered in my search.