Why I Chose Personal History

Blog - Ray & Johnnie Dell

M y maternal grandmother—who I affectionately called Mema—died of a heart attack in 2002. Afterwards, while gathering a few things from her bedroom, I was floored when Uncle R. H. held up a picture for my mom to see.

“Is this our dad?” he asked.

Mama squinted at the small black and white picture for a few seconds, trying to decide if the man really was Ray Callahan.

“Yeah,” she finally replied. “I think so.”

Mama was 11, and the oldest of three children, when her father unexpectedly died. Now, at age 62, she barely remembers anything about him.

Now, she barely remembers him.
When asked about Ray, she told me that he was not a big man, although he was tall, and he had dark hair. He worked for Coca-Cola, delivering bottles of drinks all over Perry, Florida and other surrounding areas. Sunday was his only day off and he refused to spend it cooped up in church. Mama remembers that the family went fishing on some Sundays. She can’t recall her parents fighting in front of their children. “They got along. I don’t remember them ever arguing. If they did, then it must’ve been after we went to bed,” Mama says.

I always thought it sad that my mom and uncles knew next to nothing about their father and his family. Mama never showed much interest in her ancestry until Mema died. It was partly Mema’s fault, though. Even with me, she avoided disclosing many details. Every time I asked her about Ray, Mema would answer my question with a question.

“Do you want me to cry?” she asked. No, I never intended to do that to her.

“Then don’t ask me about Ray,” she said.

I still hope to find some lost memoir…
At the beginning of 2010, I signed up on Ancestry.com to see what I could discover about Ray. That marked the beginning of my genealogy obsession. I love doing research. Even in college, I always preferred the research part of writing a research paper. Frustratingly, in genealogy there is rarely enough detail to really know your ancestors. Only the very lucky possess journals or some other first-person source that paints a picture of who an ancestor was as a person. For me, it was like I spent so much time compiling information about each person in my family tree, and yet I had no clue who most of them were. That fact aggravates me to this day. I still hope that I might come across some lost memoir of an ancestor—any ancestor!—and at last know that person.

After studying Creative Writing at Florida State, it dawned on me that combining my love of writing with genealogy to form a writing service might be interesting. I was apprehensive about finding clients, because I thought most people would think it a waste of time and money, but I knew I couldn’t be alone. I could not be the only person who saw the value of documenting life stories for the benefit of one’s family.

Then, last summer, I came across the Association of Personal Historians. An entire group of people who document life stories in books, films, and more. That is when I discovered that my idea was possible, as a professional business. I knew then that I had to try, to create a business doing something that I love.

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this – how wonderful to be able to live from your passion. Ironically, my own grandmother, who died at 99, is partly responsible for my own decision to branch out into personal history. I was lucky enough to be able to spend hours listening to her stories and look forward to renewing with that pleasure now, with others.

What do you think?

Mailing List

Sign up to receive special announcements.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Service Area

Services provided for Tallahassee, Florida and surrounding areas up to 250 miles away.

Work Map
Click the map for a closer view.

Social Media


Website designed by Alisha Morgan. Logo designed by Nola Cooper Designs. Stock photos from Veer and 123rf. Green web hosting by InMotion Hosting.

Best viewed in a modern browser: