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Make writing memoirs enjoyable


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001

If the mere thought of actually writing your memoirs produces a "deer in the headlights" reaction, you're not alone. But don't use that excuse to put off the task indefinitely. You need to overcome your analysis paralysis and, as the slogan says, "just do it."

If the mere thought of actually writing your memoirs produces a "deer in the headlights" reaction, you're not alone. But don't use that excuse to put off the task indefinitely. You need to overcome your analysis paralysis and, as the slogan says, "just do it."

"Start now. Don't put it off," says Paula Stahel, a professional personal-history writer living in Tampa. "Take it one memory at a time. It's not so overwhelming that way. And write for 10-15 minutes day."

What to write? You could jot down the way you felt when walking through piles of fall leaves on the way to school. You could write about your wedding. Once you've compiled a supply of these anecdotes, start arranging them in a logical order.

Stahel is currently writing the life story of Neva Ennis, who lives in Tampa's Hyde Park area in the house her parents, Brick and Sara Fay Pomeroy, bought in 1924. Her marriage to John Ennis in 1930 made headlines on the society pages of local newspapers.

"One of the interesting things I've learned while working on this book is that Hillsborough High School was on double sessions in 1923-24, the year Mrs. Ennis graduated," Stahel said in a telephone interview. "The overcrowding wasn't relieved until Plant High School opened. We're sometimes led to believe that double sessions and overcrowding are recent developments."

Stahel gives workshops on "How to Write a Life Story" and "Cooking Up Good Memories." The latter focuses on techniques for producing a family legacy cookbook. She also sits on the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians and is chairing the organization's annual conference, which takes place Nov. 8-11 at the DoubleTree Hotel on Cypress Street in Tampa.

That event is geared to professionals who make a living by writing or videotaping personal histories for others, but it's open to everyone with an interest in preserving the past and recording their own memories.

Keynote speakers are Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, a former St. Petersburg Times reporter whose family memoir All Over but the Shoutin' became a best-seller, and Richard Stone, author of The Healing Art of Storytelling and Stories: The Family Legacy.

Among two dozen workshops to be offered are "Creating Successful Life-Writing Workshops," "Creating Community Projects," "Effective Interviewing Techniques" and "Publishing in the Big Pond." Other workshops range from tactful ways to handle family tragedies such as suicide to writing corporate histories to the fundamentals of setting up shop as a personal historian.

The registration fee, if paid before Oct. 31, is $300 for members and $400 for non-members. The cost to join the association now is only $50, or half the annual fee. Memberships must be renewed in February.

Beside producing a quarterly newsletter, the association hosts an e-mail list that enables members to exchange ideas and information and enjoy a sense of camaraderie. "About 90 percent of the members participate," Stahel said. "It's very active. And that's important. Writing is such a solitary activity that it's hard to stay in contact with others who do this."

The Association of Personal Historians, founded in 1994, grew from a handful of people into an international organization with more than 200 members largely because of increased interest in genealogy and the desire to capture life stories as a legacy for one's family.

"I feel like we're spearheading a new profession," Stahel said.

You can learn more about the association by logging onto Click on "Coaching Corner" for tips on writing your own memoirs. Or check out the membership directory if you're interested in hiring a professional.

Call Paula Stahel at (813) 251-8171 or e-mail for more information about the conference.

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Ellis Island note: If you missed the articles on how to better search the Ellis Island Web site (, visit or

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- Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Home & Garden, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at

Workshop in Tampa

TAMPA -- A four-part workshop for intermediate genealogists will be offered on Saturdays in October at the Tampa Bay History Center.

The classes will be conducted by Diane Covert Broderick, a local genealogist with over 20 years' experience in researching, organizing and preserving family history.

The classes are 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 6, 13, 20 and 27 at the Tampa Bay History Center, 225 S Franklin St. Attendance at all four is encouraged but not mandatory.Cost of the four sessions is $20 for members of the center, $25 for non-members. Register by calling Barbara Ware at (813) 228-0097 or sending an e-mail to

The classes will cover "Unusual Resources to Look For," "Immigration and Naturalization," "Migration within the U.S.," and "Researching Those Hard-to-Find Women."

Participants are urged to bring problems, family group sheets and charts. Handouts will be provided.

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