Recording People’s Life Stories

We spoke to Kate McCarthy, who works fulltime interviewing and recording people’s life stories as a Personal Historian, and has become an advocate for recording what some call, ‘storytelling’. Read more about Kate’s company ‘Forget Me Not Life Stories’ in our directory…

Personal Historian: Kate McCarthy

Since working fulltime interviewing and recording people’s life stories as a Personal Historian in 2015, Kate McCarthy has become an advocate for recording what some call, ‘storytelling’.

“Many of us know someone in the family who told great stories or had a life story to tell. For me it was my grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression and was in her prime at the start of World War Two. She always listened to ‘the wireless’ and couldn’t help herself but tell me stories from her past. I’m just grateful I whipped out the tape recorder when she was in full flight one Sunday afternoon and captured her story. That was twenty years ago. After she passed away, I made sure every member of the extended family received a copy. Now it’s considered a family treasure,” says Kate.

Since then Kate’s appreciation for recording stories from the past has only grown. “It’s a huge loss if we don’t record stories from the past, mainly because the rate of change is so fast and vast. You know your own history best, so it makes sense that the stories which shaped your life are told by the person who experienced them first hand. Important details can be lost when told again and again by other people through the ages.”

What concerns Kate most is that time runs away, and it can quickly become too late. “Once people are gone, their stories and the family history that only they knew goes with them and it’s sad to see,” she says.

Personal history goes beyond the names and dates on a family tree and records the stories completely unique to the individual. Photos and memorabilia bring the story to life and a book is created that becomes a family legacy.

“I’ve prepared books for war veterans, and pillars in the community, but everyone has a story to tell. You don’t need to have done anything ‘special’ or been ‘famous’ – ‘ordinary’ is just fine. As Mark Twain said, ‘There’s no such thing as an ordinary life’.”

Kate now owns the company Forget Me Not Life Stories which was founded in 2009 by Christine Norton, who started by preserving her father’s story. After completing five years working as the personal historian for the Bay of Plenty, Kate bought the business in 2020.

“We work with those who want to preserve their stories for their grandchildren, pass on experience and lessons learned, unique values and beliefs, sometimes important health information, or simply those who wish to leave their story to inspire future generations.”

Kate has nearly completed fifty books alone and has worked with a range of families throughout New Zealand. Currently she is supported by Samantha Cutler who covers the Waikato for Forget Me Not Life Stories.

“We have a small, handpicked network of interviewers and writers throughout the country that is growing to meet the demand however we’re always looking for special people to join our team. It’s a privilege to do this work”.

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