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Let’s Hear from an Expert: Joann Dobbie, Founder of Legacy and Lores


Legacy and Lores helps to preserve family stories. Why did you launch this business?

It’s extremely important to preserve our family stories! Documenting them in writing is the best possible gift a family gives to future generations. Without this legacy, every generation starts over. By embracing the importance of family, we bring life to the family tree.

How many times do we hear: Put your will in writing or make sure your estate plan is written. We’re told that if we don’t do this, it will cost our heirs a lot of money and time. But what happens if we don’t put our family stories in writing? Once someone dies, their stories and memories are gone forever. There is no amount of money or time that will give us what we need to capture these stories. By documenting them, we create a customized book that becomes a priceless family heirloom.

This idea really hit home when, after spending over 20 years in corporate America in the financial services industry, I wrote a book about my grandmother. I found a box of Grandma’s “things” (passport, birth certificate, letters, photos, etc.) in my mom’s basement, and decided to put together a 7- to 10-page document about Grandma for my brothers and sisters. This project took on a life of its own and it ended up as a 153-page book I self-published, named Journey of Discovery.

During my journey researching and writing, I discovered so much about myself, the importance of family, and how critical it is to talk to our parents and grandparents while they are still alive. I continually wonder, why didn’t I ask Grandma more questions when she was alive? I want to prevent others from making this same mistake.

Tell us more about your services with Legacy and Lores and how you work with families.

Legacy and Lores helps individuals and families document their stories into a highly-customized book. We understand the sensitivity and emotional involvement this entails.  Each project is individualized and can be accomplished in one of two ways. As a ghostwriter, we interview family members and write the book for them. Or, if a family member wants to write the book themselves, we coach them through the process. Let’s discuss the process for each of these vehicles.

When we are the ghostwriter for an individual or family, we meet in their home to conduct the recorded interviews. These are usually scheduled in two-hour sessions, with a total of at least 12 hours of interviews, depending on the number of family members we talk to. Additional hours may be needed for research. This involves names, dates and locations, especially when we need to verify or search for information. The Newberry Library in Chicago is an invaluable resource. Records from churches and cemeteries, court houses and city halls, in respective cities, can be useful as well. We also consult immigration and census records as needed. We then transcribe the interviews, organize the materials, and write a narrative. The family reviews this first draft and makes any changes and corrections.

When we work with our client as a writing coach, we partner with them to help them write the family story.  We assist with organizing the materials, facilitating the writing and development of the manuscript, editing and, if needed, conducting research. We encourage the individual to stay focused and motivated.

In either case, once the narrative is completed, the next step is to select photographs, documents, and letters that the family wants to include. While our designer creates the layout, binding, and cover, our editors conduct a final proofread of the manuscript. The client also has the opportunity to review the manuscript several times to make sure everything is correct.

After receiving the final sign-off from the client, the book goes to print. Most of my clients self-publish their book. If the manuscript is “just for the family”, printing is still involved so we determine which route is best for the client. The complete process from start to finish can take anywhere from six months to two years. Because this is a highly customized book, the minimum price is $10,000.

It’s such an amazing experience to see the family when they receive their beautifully-bound, customized family book.

Going through documents and photos

Can you give us examples of families you’ve worked with and what you did for them?

I have worked with some amazing and remarkable individuals and families!

While the work I do with families is highly private and confidential, I can share how I helped Lenore Janecek write her memoir, A Thousand Sparks of Light, which she self-published. I met with her in her home and I coached her through the process. It was amazing for me to walk with Lenore as she wrote about her life from a young child to the incredible woman she is today. Lenore tells the story of being diagnosed with cancer and going through invasive surgery only to discover, through dogged perseverance, that there had been a disastrous mix-up, followed by a cover-up. She went through an extensive legal battle to obtain her “lost” medical records. This book is an intimate spiritual journey about survival, empowerment, and fighting for yourself.

Examples of client books

What resources do you recommend for memoir writing?

In the past, most people wanted to keep their stories “within the family.” Now, with the emergence of celebrities writing their stories, we are seeing an increase in memoirs going to market.

I firmly believe every woman has amazing stories to share about their life.   It’s important to share our journey’s not only to help ourselves (writing a book can be very cathartic) but also to help other women learn from our experiences.  A book is such a tremendous gift of giving.

Good questions that are often overlooked when writing your memoir include:

  1. What makes you happy/sad?
  2. Who has had the greatest influence on your life and why?
  3. What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?
  4. How would you describe yourself?
  5. What’s important in your life?
  6. What the most important lesson you learned in your life?
  7. What’s your idea of a good time?
  8. How would you describe yourself as a child?
  9. How would you describe your spiritual beliefs?
  10. What’s a secret ambition of yours?

A book to read if you want to write your memoir on your own is Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time by Patricia Carpenter.

My favorite memoirs, for inspiration, include:
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Von Trapp
A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by C. David Heymann
Estee: A Success Story by Estee Lauder

Resources for research:
Newberry Library in Chicago
Family Search
Find a Grave
Census Records
Immigration Records
Also check out Church records and County/City/State Historical Societies.


Connect with Joann Dobbie
Book: Journey of Discovery


Joann Dobbie is a published author, writing coach, ghostwriter and personal historian. Her most recent book, Journey of Discovery, chronicles her Grandmother’s life in Austria and America. To accomplish this, Joann parallels her first trip to Austria in 2010 with her Grandma’s journey from Austria to America in 1913. It is a priceless family heirloom full of engaging family stories that embraces the importance of family.

Joann’s extensive experience writing newspaper feature articles and monthly magazine columns goes along with her vast background in writing training programs for sales, sales management and marketing campaigns. 

Ms. Dobbie is an international business communicator and global leadership development trainer. Her professional career took her to Northwestern University as Director of Corporate Education, Axa Advisors as Director of Business Development, and Aetna Financial Services as Director of Financial Planning and Director of Seminars. She is President and Owner of Legacy and Lores as well as Art of Business Communications.

In her free time, Ms. Dobbie enjoys running marathons, volunteer work, reading and spending time with family and friends.  


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9 Responses

    1. Maybell,

      It’s so good to hear you like the ideas! Everyone has a story and it’s important to capture it and pass it on. There is so much to learn from our families. Thank you for your response!

    1. You are very welcome, Richard. And THANK YOU for such an awesome compliment! It is wonderful for me to see my nieces and nephews reading about their great-grandma and getting to know a person who is part of their heritage.

  1. This is so important and you are helping people in the process. When we focus on the beginnings of family, some people are pulled to the negative. But digging deeper will reveal the hardships and the desires that created family. There is always a gift somewhere. We need to honor that. And for those whose parents are aging, ask them questions and record the answers. Once they are gone, so is much of their history.

    1. Beth,

      Your thoughts are articulated very well. Thank you for sharing! Asking the questions and recording the responses of our parents and grandparents is so important. Yes, it takes time but it is extremely valuable information! It becomes a gift for everyone in the family, especially future generations. Every family story is a gift.

    1. Rena,
      Thank you so much for your comments. It makes me very happy that you think it’s a great idea for a service. People often get “stuck” when embarking on a project such as this. After reading this, I hope you will open your file cabinets and continue your journey of writing a book about your family history. It’s so important!!! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

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