Turning the meaningless into the meaningful
Collecting memories and mementoes is something most of us do, often unconsciously, on a daily basis. The advantage is that we know the stories behind the photos and trinkets we keep, but to anyone else, this collection is pretty much meaningless.
For example, you may pick up a photo of yourself with friends, sitting around a table and you might look fondly at the picture and chuckle to yourself, remembering all the events that occurred that night. But, let’s say your great-granddaughter picks up this same photo 40 years from now.What would she see? Now imagine this same photo, but with the caption: ‘The gang, aged 25, the night Dan proposed to Jen.’ Not only can your great-granddaughter laugh at what you’re all wearing but now she can see how similar you both were at that age. This is not to say, however, that every trinket you keep needs its own accompanying novel, but having a record of who people are and your relationship with them can turn something meaningless into something meaningful.
Why record memories?
There are lots of reasons why people want to record memories, mostly centred around passing them on to friends and family, and there are lots of different methods to collect these stories. Interviews and asking questions, for example, are a great way to inspire memories. For more interview ideas read our post on: ‘Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories’. In this article however, we will focus on how to inspire memories using visual cues through mementoes and artifacts.
Not only is collating all your photos and mementoes a nice way to stay organised but when it comes to getting a biography written it’s also really convenient too. Professional biographer, Andrew Crofts, explains that in his experience: “The more material (clients) have the better, unless there is so much that you feel overwhelmed, in which case put it aside for later.”
So what exactly should you be collecting? Well we’ve comprised a short list of mementoes that could be really useful in inspiring memories and stories, and that you may have otherwise overlooked if asked to recount a life story outright.
Photographs and Films
Photographs and films are probably the most obvious visual cues for recalling memories, as they literally capture the image of the person or event. However, although a photograph may serve as the most direct method of showing what someone or something looked like, this is not to say that the picture alone can convey the story as it actually happened, or rather how you experienced it. Much like every other memento the significance of a photograph is completely subjective to you, as is the story that the image inspires. Photos can also be preserved by including them in a biography book. Andrew Crofts explains the role of the photograph when preparing for a biography:
“Photos can enliven the text but they need to be interesting, not just views. They need to feature the people who will be appearing in the story, maybe their houses if that will help to paint a picture.”
Rachel LaCour Niesen, keen photograph preservationist gives us an insight into why she is so passionate about photographs, as well as ideas on how to display them:
“In the age of social media and instant gratification, I think families are hungry for tangible experiences. There’s magic in holding printed photos in your hands, in passing them around the table. That’s because analogue photos trigger powerful emotional responses. Most families have hundreds of analogue photos in their homes. These photos hold valuable family memories; they are passports to a place called memory. We must make an effort to rescue them from deterioration and loss. When analogue photos are in danger, family history is also in danger.”
“National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William Adams says: “We know that America’s cultural heritage isn’t found only in libraries and museums, but in our homes, in our family histories, and the stories and objects we pass down to our children.”
“Indeed, photographs are a living, breathing archive. They are meant to be displayed and shared. Whether they’re displayed in frames, in an old-school slideshow, or in albums, I hope all families recognise the value of their personal photographic histories. Can you imagine never having the magical experience of discovering a box of family photos? It’s like finding buried treasure! I would love to guarantee that experiences like that aren’t lost in the future. Somehow, I can’t imagine sorting through old hard drives to be quite as magical as opening up a shoebox of printed photos.”
For even more ideas and advice on how to preserve old photographs visit Rachel’s site: SaveFamilyPhotos.com for more tips.
Diaries and Letters
Diaries and letters serve as really powerful written cues for recalling memories. Letters can reveal a great many things, from sharing big news to revealing secret love affairs. Meanwhile diaries are a really personal way of recording your thoughts and feelings whilst they’re still fresh, which can often be harder to remember in hindsight.
In an interview conducted by the National Diary Archives with diary collector Sally Macnamara, the significance of the written word is truly realised. Sally, who specialises in collecting and selling these personal hand-written records, gives us an insight into why this became her passion:
“The most important thing I would say is that real life is so much more exciting and rewarding to read about then any story anyone could make up. And that, no matter who you are, every life, every true story, has fascinating aspects to it, and that we all have a story to tell. So many people think they have nothing to share, nothing to teach, nothing that’s worthwhile in their life, but that is so untrue.”
For more inspiration on collecting diaries and to follow some truly amazing diary stories visit Sally’s Diaries.
Saving newspaper and magazine clippings of significant stories is another great way to preserve memories. Many of us rely on cues to jog our memories, so keeping a record of important news stories can remind of us what we were doing at the time of the event or at the point of reading the story.
Additionally, if you or somebody you know has been featured in the paper or magazine, keeping the clipping and either displaying it in a frame or in a book is a really nice way to keep a record. Preserving clippings in this way can also be a great way of presenting an album of events that occurred throughout your life, quickly and with little effort.
The beauty of collecting mementoes is that they can be a variety of things. Keeping a little box of objects you’ve collected over the years can be just like opening a little treasure trove to your grandchildren and to your future self.
The objects do not need to be valuable or even attractive, it’s all about keeping items that will remind you of a special time. Keeping a ticket stub or a shell from the beach may be all you need to remember one of the best weekends of your life.
The box itself could also be something significant. Just as all the objects inside are specific and special to you, so the container could be too. Some people may keep their trinkets in their favourite biscuit box, and others may appropriate an old shoe box and collage it with stamps they’ve collected. Whatever it may look like, having a box that inspires a memory full of memories is a possession that everyone should have.
There is no specific time to start collecting and making a record of your memories, however, the sooner you start, the more precious memories will be preserved and the more you’ll have to share with your friends and families later on. It’ll also make the process of writing your own memoir or having a biography written much simpler when you come to it.
Written by Amber Hicks