Stories of my relatives, their neighbors and friends have always been a part of my world. Often the
stories were humorous or awe-inspiring but always, they were instructional. Often, I’d ask individuals in
my classes or otherwise encountered, “what’s your story?” hoping they would share something beyond
their name, professional position and the other niceties that tell you nothing about the person.
The idea of helping people tell their story was appealing and along came GAB (Guided Autobiography)!
The process of writing two-page stories and sharing them felt right so I took the instructor course. Little
did I realize how much I would appreciate the opportunity to write down my stories, to share myself
deeply and safely among a group of people I would never have gathered on my own. GAB, has afforded
me the occasion to witness people telling their truths for the first time, receiving positive affirmation
and the courage to continue their stories. Through this simple process, GAB participants have explored
their memories, the paths by which they have arrived at who they are, the joys, challenges, and wonders
of their journey. In sharing, our stories become each other’s; our worlds combine, and we are all
For the last several years, part of my work has been to recover and share the stories of those departed.
Often, we do not have their words, their own stories and all we can do is reconstruct a timeline from a
myriad of formal documents and the occasional photo. What we find gives us an impression of the
person, their professional or social standing and other niceties but rarely provides a clear understanding
of the person, their joys and sorrows, their wonders, and truths.
Would that we all might leave stories of ourselves, in our own words, that help our loved ones,
community and friends know us, the paths we’ve taken, and the twists and turns of our journey so that
they might delight in, be inspired by, and learn for themselves.
Reneé B. Johnson is a non-profit generalist with particular expertise and professional experience in volunteer and arts management, grants management, and training. She consults with non-profit organizations on a myriad of issues. Reneé is a Guided Autobiography (GAB) Instructor and assists patrons at the Hayner Genealogy and Local History Library in Alton, IL. Reneé is the author of Alton ABC, a rhyming picture book and Color Me Alton: Seasons, a coloring book both born of joint projects with the Alton High School Graphic Communications program and Hayner Genealogy and Local History Library.