Ordinary people acting as their own historians

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Like most people, Hedrick Ellis grew up listening to his parents and grand parents tell family stories. As a teenager, he often tuned them out, but this year, eager to keep those memories alive, he hired a personal historian to interview his father and mother.

"You hear these stories over the years, but nobody ever really gets around to writing them down," says Mr. Ellis, of Arlington, Mass. "This seemed like an easy and practical way of capturing them."

In this age of the memoir, not all fascinating lives belong to notable individuals. Across the country, people like Mr. Ellis are part of a growing cottage industry of amateurs and professionals eager to preserve the experiences of older generations. Armed with notebooks, tape recorders and video cameras, they are coaxing a lifetime of memories from beloved relatives.

"We're seeing an increase both in the number of people who want to do personal historian work and an increase in the number of elders who want to be sure their stories are handed down," says Paula Stahel, president of the Association of Personal Historians.

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