Sussex

Missing Christian Velten inspires life story books

Christian Velten
Image caption Christian Velten disappeared while tracing the route of the River Niger

The disappearance of an East Sussex man in Africa has inspired his sister to help others record their life stories.

Christian Velten, 28, from Burwash, was following in the footsteps of the 18th Century explorer Mungo Park when he went missing in Mali in March 2003.

Hannah Sherriffs, from Fletching, said she wished she had talked to him about his life before it was too late.

With her husband Grant, she has set up Red Letter Books to help people record their memories and experiences.

Mr Velten, a zoology graduate and seasoned traveller, disappeared while tracing the route of the River Niger, but despite many investigations and police searches, nothing has been heard of him since.

He had been copying the route of the Scottish explorer, who was the first Briton to enter the interior of West Africa in search of the River Niger in 1795.

'Recorded history'

Mr Velten had researched his trip for six months and planned to make a documentary about his travels.

Mrs Sherriffs said fears about how to keep her brother's memory alive were the inspiration for Red Letter Books - which record memories and experiences, alongside favourite photographs and other memorabilia.

Image caption Hannah and Grant Sherriffs were inspired to produce life story books after Christian Velten disappeared

She said it was after interviewing her father and her mother-in-law about their lives that she decided to offer a similar service to others.

After taking at least six hours to interview and record a person's life story - covering everything from childhood and schooldays to family life and retirement - she transcribes and edits it into a "coherent narrative".

Her husband, Grant Sherriffs, then uses personal photographs to design and create a personal book of that person's life.

"Life books are for people that we haven't lost - for family members to record their life stories - of loved ones - before it's too late," Mrs Sherriffs said.

"We've learnt the hard way - a lot of life histories can be lost in the space of one generation if they're not properly recorded.

"With my brother, he was only 28 when he went missing and we never thought we'd lose him - but in hindsight it would have been fantastic to have a proper recorded history of his life up until then.

"We never expected to lose him so young. We never thought about it, but for other families we'd like to offer this service."

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