Kitty looked around and found more than a dozen businesses similar to hers, in various media. Kitty wondered what they knew that she didn’t and they wondered, too. Kitty organized a conference.
Thus APH was born. Twenty story collectors met at the Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1995, and formed the Association of Personal Historians. They were excited to be sharing experiences and information instead of trying to invent a new process and product on their own.
This merry band was capitalizing on a growing interest in memoirs, genealogy, and family history. We were especially interested in hearing stories and reminiscence from the living. And we firmly believed that ordinary people had as much right as celebrities and bigwigs to publish their memoirs, even if to a smaller, more personal, audience.
From the journalists, therapists, and oral historians among us, we learned principles and techniques of interviewing, recording, and archiving interviews. From screenwriters and novelists we adapted the concept of the narrative arc to the structuring of life stories. From therapists, social workers, and researchers, we learned about the value of reminiscence in aging and the sensitivities needed to work with victims of trauma. From techies of many stripes we learned about the digital processes revolutionizing book, audio, and video publication. We also invited speakers on business and legal issues.
We struggled with how to reach a potentially huge but essentially niche market. Ordinary people had heard of celebrity memoirs but not of “personal history” and often had to be persuaded that someone would want to hear their life story. At APH’s third conference, video historian Audrey Galex from Atlanta agreed to head a committee on Collective Marketing: educating the public and raising awareness about the memoir movement.
In 2000, a story about APH ran in the Wall Street Journal and more stories followed – in Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and on radio and television. Personal history began catching on.
Newcomers to personal history work are often immigrants from another career. After more than 20 years in the film industry, eager to reinvent herself, Marion Johnson was taking classes in journalism and graphic design. At an APH conference she attended Rae Jean Sielen’s workshop on book production and decided to develop a business custom printing and binding for heirloom books.
Journalist Lettice Stuart, later APH’s third president, first came to an APH conference out of indignation. She thought they’d stolen her idea. “I honestly thought I had dreamed up the concept and even invented the term ‘personal history.’ But that conference changed my life. I would not be in business today were it not for the support, resources, ideas, energy, and wealth of information that I got there.” She met Marion at the conference; Marion has been designing Lettice’s books ever since.
As independent entrepreneurs, many of us one-person businesses, we attend the annual conference as an alternative to reinventing the wheel and to talk shop, problem-solve, make connections, make and see friends, share tips about new technologies and approaches, and form productive partnerships. Our first tagline captured our passion: Saving Lives, One Story at a Time.
In 1999 we incorporated as a nonprofit corporation and began developing resources to help newcomers to the field. Based in the United States, the APH “tribe” had Canadian members from the start and now has members from countries all over the world.
Most personal histories try to capture the stories, voices, images, and messages of one generation to pass on to future generations. But they are produced in many formats: