Education Week Program Notes

by Memoir Mentor on August 27, 2014

If you attended my BYU Education Week classes on August 19, you’ll recognize your smiling teacher below. You should give yourself a pat on the back for making it to my blog, for it means that your interest in writing a family history has stayed with you beyond the week of classes, and beyond the interim time since. What’s more, you remembered to stop by to take another look at the slides I showed you in class. You should be able to access them by clicking on the links below.

Dawn, Education Week 2014Unfortunately, I’ve had to strip down the slides I showed during the second hour, removing a lot of their prettiness, because the file was too large for the blog to manage. I’ve left the core information, however, which is what you’re after anyway. As I said in class, I’m making these slides available for your personal study. They are copyrighted and shouldn’t be used in classes you might teach or posted on your websites. I will keep them on my blog until October 1.

I so enjoyed my time with you at Education Week, and I hope I was able to give you a few new ideas and motivate you to persevere in writing your stories. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment on this post. I will get back to you.

Thurston, hour 1.pdf


Thurston, hour 2.pdf


Thurston, hour 3.pdf


Life Writing Yields Weight Loss & Other Benefits

by Memoir Mentor on July 30, 2014

My friend Lori Parker sent me an article published in Psychological Science claiming that certain kinds of personal, reflective writing can actually help you lose weight! How about that?


Simply put, a study found that a group of female undergraduates assigned to write an essay about a value that was important to them lost a few pounds over the next few months. Those in a control group assigned to write about something else did not. Why? Analysts concluded that when people write about subjects that reinforce their self-integrity, they develop more ballast to sustain them during life’s normal crises and are less likely to engage in emotional eating to feel good about themselves. Interesting, huh?

I’ve long known that writing life stories can yield an array of personal benefits. I observe it in my students time and again. Recently I taught a memoir writing class to a new group of middle-aged adults. I gave them a homework assignment to write a story about their childhood home and asked them to bring their stories with them the following week. I love my second classes with new students. They stride into the classroom wearing a renewed sense of themselves like a new suit of clothes. They fairly glow with pride. They learned something about themselves during the week through their writing, and they can hardly wait to tell me about it.

Even students who write about unpleasant things from their past derive benefits from the experience, though it may be hard going for a while. Writing about difficult issues can sometimes be a gut-wrenching experience, but in the end, and nearly always, writing about difficult topics from the distance of time and with increased maturity turns out to be a deeply healing endeavor that leads to self-understanding and renewal, and even forgiveness and charity to nearly everyone involved.

We all have a deep human need to be known and understood, even the most shy and introverted among us. We need confirmation that our lives have mattered, that we will be remembered when we’re gone. A few years ago, a close friend faced a serious surgery that she feared she might not survive. The night before her surgery, she confided in me that she had been raped as a teenager. She had never told anyone before, she explained, and it occurred to me with a painful insight that she had born this burden all her life and couldn’t bear to take it with her to her grave without someone else knowing. Zora Neale Hurston once said, “”There is no agony like bearing an until story inside you.”


Sometimes people feel that writing one’s memoirs is a selfish, vain endeavor, a complete waste of time. I’m of a different opinion. It’s a gift as nurturing to our overall mental, physical, and spiritual health as exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. And, hey, if we lose a few pounds in the process, well, that’s a good thing, too.


Me and Robert the Bruce

by Memoir Mentor on July 7, 2014


I’m embarrassed to admit I never heard of Robert the Bruce until I saw the 1995 Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, the Academy Award-winning biopic of thirteenth-century war hero William Wallace.

Raibeart Bruis, as he was known in Norman French, was more of a peripheral character in Gibson’s story, though Wikipedia says Robert the Bruce was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England. He’s a national hero. The First King of Scotland. Who knew? As I said, I didn’t. I guess my attention was diverted by Gibson’s magnificent calves in his Braveheart kilt.

Flash forward a few years to about 2010. I was hunting through “Ancestry” one day and began looking more seriously at my Willoughby line. (Aside: Mary Jane Willoughby married John Ornduff. Their daughter Mary married Joseph Parrett, the Civil War ancestor I profiled in The Parrett Migration.) Anyway, the Willoughbys had always intrigued me because they were more illustrious by a long shot than the crop of farmers and coal miners that mostly people my family tree. Andrew Willoughby I (there are three Andrews, father, son, and grandson, and my line runs through all three), is sometimes called one of the founding fathers of Abingdon, Virginia, an early, thriving community in southwest Virginia. The three Andrews owned scads of land in Washington County and in Eastern Tennessee, particularly the Knoxville area, and are mentioned in a slew of documents, land records, town minutes, etc. After my experience piecing together the Parrett story from the few records that mention them, the Willoughby record coffers look like the mother lode. [click to continue…]