Please welcome Deborah Perham from A Lifetime Legacy. Deborah is a family and personal historian based in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY. Her specialty is preserving personal legacies in the form of memoir writing classes, narrated slide shows, video biographies, treasured family recipe books, and online pet tributes for your favorite pet.
Personal History writing has been around for some time now but not many are familiar with it.
Personal Historians are professionals who help people record their life stories in some permanent form such as Deborah’s products. These stories can be as brief as a birth record or as elaborate as stories covering multiple generations, with everything in between such as a religious celebration, wedding or graduation.
PurelySimpleWords (PSW): Thank you Deborah for allowing me to tell my audience about your interesting work.
Deborah Perham (DP): You are welcome. I am honored to be here.
PSW: I was reading your website and you have a talent for putting a legacy together that puts validation to people’s lives. Tell me about your work.
DP: Well, in the early 80’s I started a court reporting agency because I was very attracted to law. I am also attracted to storytelling. It was a way to combine two of my passions. My maternal grandmother always told me stories of her life. I didn’t know why she told me these stories that happened long before I was born. As a young adult, I learned why. In the 50’s my maternal grandmother lost all her photographs in a basement flood, so throughout her life she mourned the loss of those photographs and told stories of her life to compensate for that loss. As I got older I began recording both my grandmothers’ stories because they were both very dear to me, and their stories intrigued me.
The court reporting business is about listening to peoples’ stories of an event in their life, whether it’s a slip and fall or motor vehicle accident, construction accident, medical malpractice event. I did this for 32 years until an opportunity presented itself, by surprise, to sell my business, which I did. At that time I found myself with lots of time on my hands. My husband’s job requires him to travel many weeks a year, and my three children were away at college.
I decided it was a perfect time to reinvent myself. I certainly did not have another thirty years to work the same way I did in my last profession, so instead of a complete reinvention, I examined what skills I have and what I enjoy doing. What am I completely passionate about. I am very sentimental and thought often of my grandmother mourning the loss of her photographs. I had been my family’s self-appointed family genealogist. Sometimes I would work on our family tree search and find a lot of information, at other times I would hit a brick wall.
I found people from the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s, and as I was searching, this quote would always resonate with me, “We are the result of the love of thousands.” Which led me to wonder: Who are these people? Who am I result of? Why do I do what I do? Why do I say what I say? Who am I and how did I get here today? My descendants and their lives were a complete mystery, yet all these people played a part in me becoming the person I am today.. I would wonder about “Uncle Earl” from the 1600s and know his story was gone forever.
These questions led me to discover the Association of Personal Historians and also the International Association of Story Keepers. These two organizations provide wonderful opportunities to learn about the field of personal history preservation.
Through my reinvention journey, I read about studies that illustrate the effect reminiscing has on individuals. We become more understanding people; we become kinder to strangers. I also came to realize that sharing family stories with children, stories about where they came from, and them being able to attach themselves to events in history, make them more grounded as young adults. It helps them make better decisions in life. For example: my children are now in their 20’s, and I find that by my sharing family stories with them, they have a sense of where and who they came from, and with that knowledge, they naturally became proud of their heritage and the ancestors who came before them.
It became clear to me that I wanted to work with families, individuals, companies, organization and communities to understand where they began, and to teach them the importance of knowing and preserving that information.
Basically this is how and why I decided to become a personal historian. I always enjoyed helping people, and I have taken that passion and the skills I have learned through my years of memorializing stories in my prior court reporting profession and reinvented myself as a personal historian. I do this through memoir writing, oral history slideshows, and most recently video biographies, all privately or in workshop settings.
I am also thankful to the wonderful mentors I had when I first started. They helped me on my way to my early professional career. So as a thank you to them, I mentor and teach others how to preserve their story.
PSW: I can see you put a lot of time and effort into your passion. It comes out in your website and in the way you speak so passionately about your work. Can you tell me about the difference between starting a business in the 80’s and starting one now?
DP: Starting a business in the early 80’s was so different than it is now. We used to cold call, and really had no need to get to know clients in a personal way, nor did clients need to know us. To get a job was easy, solely based on your resume and a brief interview. Jobs were plentiful then. Now it’s different. With technology available today, you can find anything out about anyone. Countless resources are available. Competition is fierce. But now it’s all about networking. People want to work with others who are not only skilled but who are people they enjoy working with. The personal historian profession lends itself to a diverse population, some historians are very old souls and that has nothing to do with age. I always meet interesting and fascinating people who keep amazing me with their stories.
PSW: Your life and work have their own unique story and it has led you to be a creative personal historian. You will do very well. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and the audience and it is my hope that you find many more clients to help. Good luck.
DP: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
To learn more about Deborah’s work visit her website: alifetimelegacy.com”