Back in 1860s-era Sweden, a teenage boy named Sven made and sold over 420 pairs of wooden shoes for seven cents a pair so that he could buy a steamboat ticket to America.
That boy was Linda Schmidt’s great-great-grandfather, and Schmidt can recount his story today because her great-grandmother preserved it in a family history book.
Grateful to have that written record of her ancestor’s journey to the New World, Schmidt formed Memory Echoes LLC in July 2013 to help others preserve their own family histories.
“Family stories can be lost in one or two generations if no one takes the time to record them,” Schmidt said. “With a personal history book, you can pass on your family legacy to future generations.”
Through Memory Echoes, Schmidt helps clients create heirloom books from guided interviews of family members and letters, photos and other memorabilia maintained by the family. She said her work is a natural extension of the current interest in genealogy.
“A personal history book puts flesh on the skeleton of a family tree,” she said. “It goes beyond just the names and dates on a genealogy chart and brings the stories to life.”
Schmidt previously worked as a medical transcriptionist and pursued writing as a hobby. After finding Sven’s story in her great-grandmother’s history book, she started writing personal essays based on interviews with various family members.
In April, she joined the Association for Personal Historians and learned how to transform her passion for storytelling into a viable business.
“I’ve always liked to write and hear people’s stories so this is a perfect fit for what I enjoy doing,” she said.
Schmidt begins each client’s personal history project with a free initial consultation to determine the scope. The client may choose to focus on a single story, such as how a couple met, or a complete life history.
Schmidt then conducts a series of two-hour recorded interviews to gather information.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said of the interviews. “They are very conversational.
"I find the family hasn’t heard some of these stories before. People tend to tell things a little bit differently to a relative stranger.”
Schmidt transcribes and lightly edits the interviews to transform them into an engaging narrative while maintaining the voice of her subject. Depending on the scope of the project, she may add details to put the story into a broader historical context or scan in old family photos and records to enhance the story.
After the client approves the final draft, Schmidt handles book production. Clients have a choice of bindings and covers, ranging from paperback and spiral-bound books to cloth-covered hardbacks printed on archival paper.
For people who would like to record their own life stories, Schmidt offers memoir writing classes. Each eight-week class includes creative tips and exercises, focusing on a different theme each week.
Schmidt also facilitates memoir-writing workshops on a volunteer basis at independent and assisted living communities like Cottage Grove Place in Cedar Rapids.
“I volunteer to raise awareness of the value of preserving life stories and to get my name associated with life story writing,” Schmidt said. “Having someone write your life story should be as spontaneous as hiring a photographer to document your wedding or a lawyer to draft your will.”
At a glance