the sage connection

Olympia couple guides people in journaling, memoirs and family histories

“Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down." ~ Alex Haley


In another life, I was the director of programs for 20 active senior communities across the great state of Texas. My role, in a nutshell, was to offer programs and activities that would keep the residents engaged.

Of all the programs we provided, my favorite was the telling/writing of life stories.

The residents were happily surprised to find people enjoyed reading and hearing their neighbors’ stories and the staff gained some valuable insights about what residents needed to improve their current quality of life.

I will be the first to admit it took some doing to get them started. All the usual excuses – I can’t write, I can’t spell, I don’t know what to say, etc. – had to be overcome.

The first step was to convince them that their lives had mattered. That their families, especially future generations, would be fascinated by their first-hand experiences with historical moments. And that their memories of the funny and touching moments of their lives were far more important to the story that any spelling errors.

Finally, a few came forward and then and a few more until the program was a  success across the state.

This was before the popularity of ancestry searching and the availability of DNA testing. Flip cell phones were used for calling but not for Google, so if this is something to interests you today, count yourself lucky.

Because back then we did not have The LifeStory Institute.

Charley and June Kempthorne have been guiding people in journaling, memoirs and family histories since 1991.  Their business, The LifeStory Institute publishes the LifeStory Journal and offers itself as a “workshop for memoirists, autobiographers and family historians.”

Before June and Charley settled in Olympia five years ago, they had been publishing, teaching and coaching new and longtime writers of all ages how to write about their lives and the lives of their ancestors. 

The premise is that everyone can, and probably should, write their life story to pass on to their family, friends and other interested parties, including and perhaps especially, professional historians.

Charley writes the newsletters and books and his wife June tells her stories through art and pictures. “We've been publishing the newsletter/mag for nearly 30 years and I have a couple of books on the subject which, last time I looked, are in the Timberland Libraries,” Charley explained when I asked how long they have been working on this project.

His most recent book is called Narrative Journaling: 28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life. It is also available for sale online.

His instructions are simple and easy to follow for beginners and long-time writers alike.

“Whatever it is, it is,” Charley writes. “Stories accumulate.  Think of your life as a series of scenes, like a movie.  List the scenes just for today.  Then choose a few of them, or all of them if you have time, and write them up.”

Find out more about Charley on his Facebook page. If you are interested in learning more about journaling or writing your family history, check out The Life Story Institute and sign up for their newsletter.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below.   


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