Writing your Memoir: Preserving the Past for the Future


Writing your Memoir: Preserving the Past for the Future

Years ago, Cina Coren started researching her family’s history and it led her to launch Precious Legacies. Precious Legacies’ mission is to facilitate the recording of memories and preserve it for posterity, for the person involved and their descendants. We met with Cina to learn about her own story.

Tell us how you got started.

Despite reaching American soil before World War II, like many people of that generation, my parents revealed very little about their childhood in Europe. I knew nothing about my mother’s Polish shtetel or my father’s Russian village and by the time I became interested, I had missed that boat. Almost all my relatives had passed away; there was no one left to interview and online sites were of little help.

Which Internet sites did you use?

I covered all the sites I knew about: Ancestry.com,Myheritage.com, Geneology.com, sites specific to the cities my family came from and others. I even searched the archives at the Joint Distribution Committee, HIAS and YIVO.

How did you widen your net? Where did you go from there?

After sharing my frustration with others, I realized that there are many people who find themselves in a similar situation. However some still had family they could turn to, so I recommended that they speak with their parents, grandparents and anyone with memories of their past. Some of turned to me and asked that I help them organize whatever information they were able to learn.

Was it at that point that you realised your experience could be useful to others?

Yes, I became passionate that one’s past must never be forgotten; I resolved to use my communication and writing talents to start something meaningful and help preserve memories in a structured and compassionate manner.

I began by writing my father-in-law’s life story.  Then I told people what I was doing and one referral led to another.

Referrals are always best but every so often I post an ad on Facebook and get myself out there.

How do you get people to face experiences they might not want to remember?

Everyone has a story but telling a story is never that simple. To begin with, they must reach a point where they are willing and able to re-examine their memories. Only then can they move ahead to the next step—sharing these memories with their families.

Throughout the interview process my emphasis is on ensuring the client feels comfortable. I let them talk at their own pace; I probe gently without pushing too much.  More often than not, once people start—their confidence increases and they speak freely. Sharing their thoughts helps them to revisit their past in a way they never have before. They begin to appreciate that there are others who are interested in hearing their story.   

I credit Schindler’s List with opening up the floodgates of the past for many people. This remarkable movie allowed thousands of survivors and families of survivors to shatter the walls they had built and encouraged them to face their memories.

It is important to point out that not everyone has a tragic past. Many might decide to have their memoirs written up because they need to have their families understand where they came from and why they lived their lives the way they did.

Often, it is the children who encourage their parents to share their stories. Families come together and decide that the time has come to learn about their roots. They also understand that the process can be therapeutic and they organize the book opportunity for their parents’ 80th or 90th birthday gift.

Children and grandchildren contribute their own memories and it then becomes a project that connects the generations.

For whom have you penned stories?

Every story is unique. I’ve written about a Jewish woman from Libya, a Polish man who became a Partisan and escaped to Russia, a Russian boy who left his family and outsmarted the Nazis by impersonating a German officer. The sheer chutzpah and will to survive is mindboggling.

What kind of package choices do you present the client?

I provide different packages, depending on various factors; in general I will charge by the page. I interview and record the person involved and then ask family members for their input. I write up a first draft and send it to the interviewee or the person designated as decision maker. Then we go back and forth until the final draft is perfect.

Do you have any tips for our readers to help them broach the subject with a loved one?

It’s worth speaking to loved ones about how important it is for them to transmit the past to future generations. It is often a slow process but with time, most people open up. Unfortunately, people often wait too long and the memories start to slip away…

Cina Coren is a former Wall Street broker and financial advisor. She holds a Master’s in Communications and spent many years writing for international news outlets and publications.  For the last 10 years, she has been transcribing people’s life stories into family memoirs that can be passed down to future generations.

She can be reached via phone: 054-757-6250 or email: [email protected].