Peta Roberts, a life story professional who does it all.
In this episode, Peta tells us about how documenting her own family’s history led her to a career in personal history, and how a newspaper advertisement jump-started her business.
A climb in the Andes with an Argentinian ski guide led Peta to an enormous oral history project. Pure serendipity, mixed with a healthy dose curiosity, led to the creation and publication of a genealogical index.
Peta worked with The old Welsch families living in the Chubut province of Argentina (which answers the question, why do they speak Welsh in South America?)
From this project came collaboration with historian Michele Langfield to document all of the Welsh Patagonians who had come to Australia. None of them were related to Peta’s family, but the work fueled her interest in helping others preserve their life stories.
Peta describes family history as a three-legged stool
One leg is the genealogy: names, dates, places.
Another is genetic DNA testing, which can link us to people we never knew we were related to (for more on this topic, listen to our talk with scientist Mike Tones).
And the third leg of the stool? Family stories.
For the Welsh Patagonian Australian oral history project, Peta created a relationship map to show how the families knew each other, married into each other’s families, and came to Australia together on the same ship.
Can you use a relationship map to illustrate connections in your client’s story?
Funding sources: in this case, it came from academia. The book is available on Amazon.
Personal historian means different things to different people
Peta placed an ad in a local newspaper and clients called with various needs. She adapted to meet the needs of the people who wanted her help.
- recording interviews and creating a book from the transcripts
- working with a client’s letters
- digitizing, organizing and preserving photographs
How do you build the skills you need for different projects?
- by doing
- by consulting experts (e.g. in Peta’s case, she reached out to a paper conservationist about preserving old, frail photos)
Why it’s a mistake to use the “hunter gatherer” technique for orgainizing photos. Pet describes her systematic yet flexible approach.
[Listen to Martie McNabb of Memories Out of the Box talk about finding the stories behind the photos, documents and mementos]
Sometimes it comes down to being brave, establishing a clear understanding of what the client wants, and then deliver. What is the client’s pain point?
Search Amazon for models of what you want to create–in Peta’s case, it was publishing a book of letters in the native handwriting (not transcriptions).
How Peta structured her winning newspaper advertisement:
“Want to give the perfect gift? Get personal. Tell them your life history. Record your audio, video, or write your life story in a book.”
We talk about what makes a good ad, and what doesn’t.
What is an ethical will?
Usually in letter form, it’s a way for a client to pass on their experiences, values, and the stories of how they overcame struggles. Smaller than life story projects.
Trust documents are bare bones, but an ethical will says who I am. It’s what you want your loved ones to know and understand.” —Susan Turnbull of Personal Legacy Advisors, as quoted in a New York Times article
Peta wrote to attorneys to explain how she could help their clients; one of the attorneys brought Peta in to give a talk to his clients. (In an earlier episode, Dhyan Atkinson talked about using referral partners to compound your marketing efforts.)
Storyical, Peta Robert’s podcast
Peta’s podcast introduces the public to personal historians and life story professionals.
She interviews a variety of people, including personal history writers and their clients. Two recent linked episodes feature Songfinch, a company that produces customized songs with lyrics based on the stories of a person’s life.
Find Storyical on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Spotify.
Find Peta Roberts at lifestoryprofessionals.com.
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Now go out and save someone’s story.