September 20, 2017

Remembering 9-11, And Why You May Recall It So Clearly

Sixteen years ago, nearly 3,000 people died in events so horrific that the date itself has been seared into world memory: “9-11.” Today, we remember those who suffered on September 11, 2001. And we explain why many can recall that day with startling clarity: it’s a “flashbulb memory,” the kind that produces lasting, vivid impressions in our minds.

flash bulb memories

Remembering 9-11

Me with my new little baby Jeremy, a month after the September 2001 attacks.

Sixteen years ago today, I was sitting at my desk in a research office at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio when a co-worker informed me that airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Within minutes, someone had set up a television in our common area. So several of us were watching the news when another plane hit the second tower–and we realized this wasn’t a horrible mistake. It was an attack.

I responded instinctively, calling my husband at work and then my babysitter to check on my two-month old infant, Jeremy. As the general panic and confusion rose, I couldn’t think of anything but my baby. Before long, I left the office, swooped up my son from the babysitter’s house and fled the city. I drove toward my home in the suburbs, glancing up at the Cleveland skyline constantly, not knowing whether our city would also come under attack.

Gradually I learned, along with the rest of the world, about the full scope of the attack, the losses of thousands of lives and the heroism of those who helped others in harm’s way. I felt a little foolish for having seized little Jeremy and run when there was no actual danger to us. But that protective urge I felt was so powerful that I still remember it clearly, 16 years later, as my personal response to a day the world changed forever.

Why We Recall 9-11 So Vividly

Several years later, while researching the nature of our memories for the first edition of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy, I learned about “flashbulb memories:”

“Flashbulb Memories are memories for the circumstances in which one first learned of a very surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) event. Hearing the news that President John Kennedy had been shot is the prototype case. Almost everyone can remember, with an almost perceptual clarity, where he was when he heard, what he was doing at the time, who told him, what was the immediate aftermath, how he felt about it, and also one or more totally idiosyncratic and often trivial concomitants.” -Roger Brown and James Kulk in Cognition (Vol 5, Issue 1, 1977, pages 73-99; quoted from this abstract online)

In other words, surprising and life-altering events can leave vivid and lasting impressions in our minds, like the bright flash of an old-fashioned camera flashbulb that captures a moment forever. Kennedy’s assassination and 9-11 are just two examples. What others come to mind for your own lifetime? For example, I recall with startling clarity the moment a teacher burst into my middle school classroom in 1986 to tell us that that Challenger shuttle had exploded in mid-air with school teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard. I recall other moments of personal significance with that kind of clarity, too. It doesn’t have to be a world-altering event to produce a flashbulb memory–just one that affects your world.

Write your memories down

Write Your Memories Before They Fade

Recently, I read that our flashbulb memories don’t remain as bright or crisp as the moment they were captured. Psychology Today reported a 10-year study of people’s memories of 9-11.

“All survey participants still had memories of how they found out about the event, who they were with, what they were doing, how they felt, the first person they talked to and what they were doing before finding out about the attack. That means that all of the survey participants had memories that would quality as a flashbulb memory. They were generally highly confident in the memory as well.

Despite their memory confidence, when the details of their memories were compared to the initial survey taken within 10 days of 9/11, there were significant inconsistencies. A year after the event, only about 2/3 of what people remembered was accurate.” – Art Markman, PhD (click here for full article)

Now, remembering even two-thirds of an event after a year has passed is quite good. And that accuracy remained strong for 10 years. The same report states, “By 10 years after 9/11, people were still about 60% accurate. Thus, although flashbulb memories are not like videos of the event, they are probably more accurate than memories for most events that took place 10 years before.”

What are your flashbulb memories? Write them down. Try to be as accurate as possible: return in your mind not to the last time you told that memory, but to the actual experience of it. Walk yourself through it slowly. Why? The Psychology Today article includes this warning: “If someone added an incorrect detail into their memory for the event, that misinformation was likely to be repeated in later accounts rather than corrected. This suggests that one reason why flashbulb memories remain so vivid for people is that they are recalled over time. Extra information that emerges when someone recalls a memory can get incorporated into that memory later.”

This is also an excellent reason to write down your memories as soon as possible after all important events in your life. Your recollections of even your most precious and positive events will fade. So if you want to keep hold of more than 60% of that once-in-a-lifetime trip you just took, write it down as soon as possible. Even if time has already passed, go ahead and write them down. Then use memory-jogging exercises to flesh them out, and do a little research to confirm hazy details. In my book, Story of My Life, I include these strategies along with hundreds of writing prompts to get your memories flowing. Note: Recalling particularly traumatic events may most safely and productively be done with the guidance of a professional counselor.

If you haven’t already done so, why not take some time today to write your own memories of a “flashbulb event” or another important memory in your life? You may learn something from doing so, as I did about the strength of my own maternal instincts on 9-11. Or you may simply find the walk down memory lane to be meaningful, full as it is with loved ones, lessons and life experiences.

Writing Personal History Workbook Assists You Step-by-Step

Writing your personal history can be simple and oh-so-fun with the step-by-step approach from our own Sunny Morton. She has just released her book “Story of My Life” and we are ecstatic to tell you about it! This fill-in-the-blank workbook will guide you as you write and organize the story of your life from birth to retirement.

Story of my life workbook cover

Beginning Your Personal History Journey

Writing a personal history is a big project and one that many of us consider overwhelming. As time rolls on, I know I feel a tugging on the old heart strings to write more of my own history for posterity. I just don’t know how or where to start.

Sunny has the answer in her recent workbook titled Story of My Life. It’s not only a fill-in-the-blank workbook, but inspiring and instructional for any novice or experienced writer. Sunny has also included many tips and hints for how to jog your memory or the memory of others. Others? Yep–others. I love the way she has incorporated ideas in which we can include the memories of others in our personal memoir.

Why This Book is Unique

When asked why her book is different, Sunny shares:

“This book helps you say more than, ‘I remember.’ It helps you say, ‘This is what I got out of my life.’ That’s the ‘so what’ factor that gives your best stories value and staying power. Story of My Life works for every life path and life style, too: its questions cover the gamut from childhood to retirement, motherhood to military life, school to hard-scrabble working, triumphs and failures, and relationships of all kinds.

Along with traditional questions like when and where you were born, Sunny includes places for you to record other special memories. Some special memory ideas include writing about an influential teacher or coach, a godparent, or a flashbulb memory. A flashbulb memory is described as “your memory of a highly public event.” Just reading that reminded me of where I was standing, in an Army base hospital, when I saw the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. It was an event that is burned in my memory and had a lasting effect on me.

More Ideas for Projects and Preservation

Like I said before, Sunny suggests collaborating with others to recall memories of your life from a different perspective. I thought it would be neat to work with my sisters on the “Me and My Mother” worksheets for childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. These help us each reflect on our relationships with her during different seasons of life. I thought it would be neat to collect these worksheets from each of my siblings and have them bound together to give to Mom on Mother’s Day.

workbook2
Other ideas include tips for preserving your precious artifacts and memorabilia.

Writing Personal History at any Time in Life

Whether you are just starting out in your adult life or if you are in the prime of retirement,  you will finally be motivated and able to complete your personal history. Everyone can use a little motivation and encouragement to write those stories. Follow along as Sunny shows you how to weave your way through the good, the bad, the triumphant, and the sometimes tragic, story of you.

Save the Whole Writing Personal History Kit and Caboodle

www.genealogygems.com

For a limited time, “Story of My Life” can be purchased as a set along with Family Tree Memory Keeper for the price of $19.99
(originally $39.98 – you save $20!). To purchase this family history book bundle, click here.

If you are really serious or ambitious about writing your personal history, you might opt for the super-savings bundle titled Write Your Family History Toolkit featuring:

1. Story of My Life (Book, $19.99)

2. Remember That? (Book, $16.99)

3. Family Tree Memory Keeper (Book, $19.99)

4. Writing Your Family Memoir Independent Study (PDF Download, $99.99)

5. Copyright Law for Genealogy (Webinar, $49.99)

6. Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects (Video Download, $39.99)

7. Outline Your Family History Writing Projects (Video Download, $8.99)

This mega bundle is normally priced at $255.93, but on sale for $59.99! And as a special treat just for Genealogy Gems readers, you can use coupon code GEMSHISTORY10 for an additional 10% off!*
Click this link to get yours today!

More Gems on Writing Personal History

Scrivener Software for Writing Family History

How to Reconstruct Your Early Childhood Memories and Stories

Using Facebook Posts to Write Your Personal History

*Coupon expires 12/31/16. Coupon only valid on the Write Your Family History Toolkit.

Turn Facebook Posts into a Book with This Service

Mysocialbook turn facebook posts into a bookWant to record your personal history but never seem to have the time? Turn Facebook posts into a book with this nifty service. It’s journaling for the twenty-first century!

As a teenager, I was an avid journal writer. Now, it’s just one more thing I feel guilty about not doing regularly. But I have recently found an easy and effective solution: My Social Book.

Many of us already use Facebook to share the kinds of events we want to record, such as a grandchild’s kindergarten graduation, a weekend getaway, or a dinner out with friends. My Social Book will turn your Facebook posts into a book–complete with pictures and comments from your friends and family.

My Social Book.com slurps your Facebook statuses, comments, and photos and prints them as a lovely keepsake journal. In this context, slurping refers to an app or website “sucking” your content onto a new site with your permission. It is a wonderful tool.

Here’s How to Turn Facebook Posts into a Book

First, go to My Social Book.com  and click “Start your book now.” Next, you will be able to edit your content by date and by posts. (If you want to leave out that silly post you made about your recent ailment, you can do that!)

MySocialBook purchase turn Facebook posts into a book

Choose from 16 different book cover colors and choose a soft or hard cover. When you are done, click “See inside” for a look at several of the personalized pages in your book. The final cost depends on the number of pages you included and your cover choice. My soft cover book with 108 pages cost $51.90. There is a small shipping and handling fee. (Tip: Google MySocialBook Coupon for free shipping and discounted prices on your first purchase.)

mysocialbook sample turn facebook posts into a bookI was delighted with the book I ordered. I plan on ordering one each year. It was fun to read back over the year, see the pictures, and read the comments of my friends and loved ones. I think it will make a wonderful reading addition to the coffee table!

As a little side note, a friend of my mine passed away last year. I had forgotten how often she posted comments on my Facebook posts. It was a nice little reminder of her and I thought how neat it is to have the comments of our loved ones recorded in this way.

Don’t let another year go by without capturing your own personal history back from Facebook! My Social Book is a great answer to making time to keep a journal again.

cousin bait turn Facebook posts into a bookMore Gems on Writing Family History

WHY and HOW to Start a Family History Blog

Easy Project to Write Your Family History

Famicity: A New Way to Gather and Share Family Stories

How to Reconstruct Your Early Childhood Memories and Stories

Most of us don’t recall our early years well. How can we tell our life’s story if we don’t remember the first chapter?

I’ve learned to use whatever scraps the past gives me. That’s what I did in a scrapbook I put together a few years ago that reconstructs my early childhood. I realized when looking through this album that I actually cobbled together the past from four different sources, only one of which was my own memory:

my childhood my parents memories1. The family slide collection. I grew up in the 1970s, when slide photography was all the rage (at least with my dad). Several years ago, I scanned all the slides. My digital copies of the slides became the main narrative for the album.

2. My parents’ memories, captured in an oral history interview. One day, I got both my parents on the phone at the same time. I asked them to look through their CD of the family slides as I looked through my copy. As we looked at each picture–even the not-so-great ones–I asked what memories surfaced. Different things came to mind for each of them, which was fantastic. They captioned the photos for me, filling in the stories behind the pictures.

my childhood my baby book3. My baby book. My parents already had my 11-month old brother by the time I came along. So Mom didn’t have a lot of time to write much down. But there are a few gems in my baby book: my mom’s memories and memorabilia from when I was born. These filled in more gaps in my childhood story.

my childhood my memories4. My own vague childhood memories. All these pictures and memories jogged loose fragments of my own memories. They are still fragmented; some don’t make much sense or tell a whole story. But taken together with everything else, they help reconstruct my childhood enough that I have a much better sense of it now.

The family historian in me made sure I identified the source of each story in the album. My parents’ memories are tagged as such, as are excerpts from my baby book. I typed up my own memories and put them in my own voice.

Who is living who knows something about your childhood? Parents? Step-parents? Grandparents? Aunts or uncles? Friends of the family? What family artifacts or albums may be in the attic, basement or on a shelf? Ask them to help give you back your own past!

Resources:

Family History for Kids Starts WITH the Kids

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastOur free Family History Made Easy podcast offers great episodes on topics related to this post: Lisa covers finding family history at homeinterviewing skills, and how to contact long-lost relatives (episodes 13 and 14).

Genealogy Gems Premium members can listen to Premium podcast episode 116, which has an interview with Laura Hedgecock, author of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life(Click here to learn more about Premium membership.)

 

 

Record a Life Story: Free StoryCorps App

StoryCorps boothRecently a friend sent me a link to a TED talk by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. As a radio broadcast journalist, Dave has spent his life capturing other people’s stories. The profound impact this had on him led him to found StoryCorps, which collects and archives interviews with everyday people.

“Every life matters equally and infinitely,” Dave learned, something we discover as family historians, too. He talks about how inviting someone to talk about his or her life “may just turn out to be one of the most important moments in that person’s life, and in yours.” This is something I try to explain to people about family history interviews: asking respectful questions and listening just as respectfully is a gift we can give our relatives when we interview them.

StoryCorps started with a little recording booth in Grand Central Terminal, one of the busiest places in the world to hold these intimate conversations. Two people share a conversation, one interviewing and the other being interviewed, and a facilitator helps them record the conversation and leave with a copy of it. Another copy goes to the Library of Congress.

In our own ways, we do this when we record loved ones’ life stories. We honor their feelings, experiences and opinions by asking about them and preserving them. Sometimes we share personal moments of understanding, forgiveness or revelation. In my experience, it’s similar to what unfolds in the StoryCorps booths: “Amazing conversations happen.”

In Dave’s TED talk, he shares snippets of some of those amazing conversations, like A 12-year old boy with Asperger’s syndrome interviewing his mother, and a husband sharing his love for his wife: “Being married is like having a color television set. You never want to go back to black and white.”

Storycorp appStoryCorps now has an app that helps people capture conversations like these. A digital facilitator walks you through the interview process, the app records the conversation, and then you can save and share the resulting audio file. Why not record an interview in honor of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day this spring with the StoryCorp app? Or have a meaningful conversation with an aunt or uncle, sibling, cousin or your child or grandchild.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and PodcastGenealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about preserving the stories of your own life in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 116, in which I interview Laura Hedgecock, author of Memories of Me.