A common lament after a loved one dies: “I wish I had asked more questions.”
White Bear Township historian and writer, Tricia Nissen, is helping families avoid that sorrow.
Nissen has launched a business called Storyography, which takes an interesting local angle on ancestry research.
She hopes the popularity of DNA testing and genealogy research will create momentum for capturing more life stories from our living elders before those stories disappear. Nissen’s objective is to be a leader in changing the sentiment of “I wish we’d asked mom or dad more questions while they were still around,” to “let’s record the stories now.”
“I have a passion for history and storytelling,” said Nissen, who describes herself as equal parts historian, biographer and old soul.
Growing up on a North Dakota beef and small grains farm, she didn’t have many playmates. Her high school class had 12 graduates. “I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” Nissen noted. “I didn’t know other kids, I knew older people. I was surrounded by them and went with my parents to visit older people. From a young age, I loved it. I always sat quietly listening to their stories. I would ask questions and learned the local folklore approach to stories.”
Easing the loneliness of elders is part of her mission to preserve history. Nissen wants elders to feel truly valued in her “meaningful visits” to interview them in a warm, personal and conversational way.
“I learned to admire and appreciate elders and their many life experiences. It led me to this (Storyography), and gave me a purpose in my life,” Nissen said.
Finding her purpose came after Nissen’s own personal tragedy.
Her story goes like this: Nissen, who holds a master’s degree in history, moved to the Twin Cities in 1997, following a boyfriend who would become her husband. She took a job with Goff Public, a public relations agency. For the next 19 years, she worked as a writer and researcher, mostly for Native American tribes and organizations. She also spent a year as director of public relations with the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe after leaving Goff in 2017.
Then everything changed when her husband Chad took his own life July 3, 2018. He was 48. His death gave her a new feeling of purpose.
“We get one chance to live this life,” Nissen maintained. “After my dad died in 2017 and then Chad died, I knew exactly what my purpose was, and I needed to get busy living that purpose.”
Her time spent with Native American culture reinforced her new career direction. “I learned to love their way of respecting elders,” noted Nissen.
“I want to grow old in a culture where people want to come visit me and spend genuine time with me. If we put as much emphasis on older people as younger people, our culture will be better for it.”
A former co-worker, Chris Duffy with Goff Public, describes Nissen as an “emerging person to know in Minnesota’s aging space.” It was Duffy who suggested this story.
Packages start at $1,975 for five hours of interviews, transcription and soft edits.
She is busy, Nissen said. Clients come to her happy to have found her. “Every project is a little different, but most people want the interview. There is nothing I would rather do than sit across the table and listen to grandpa or grandma’s stories. People are usually comfortable sharing both the hardest and happiest times in their lives. I love walking through the past with them. We need to make their history relevant.”