I started my family history writing group yesterday… and handed out a sheet with some ideas to consider; reading it through now I think I may polish this up a bit… but here is what I gave them – first draft!
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO TELL YOUR FAMILY HISTORY– What is the end ‘product’ going to be – a folder of printed pages to show to the family, or maybe an actual printed book which could have a wider audience – there are plenty of ‘publishing on demand’ options these days (such as Lulu or Amazon)
- you need to be realistic in what you can actually do and have an end-product!
- who is going to be sharing your story, and what materials do you have (photos etc)
- maybe a memoir/story: the combination of story-telling and personal experiences can focus on a particular episode or time in the life of yourself or a particular ancestor
- a recipe book – but write about the people who created the recipes, and the occasions when they were shared!
- a scrapbook or album with photos in order and stories, descriptions and family trees
- be creative!
HOW MUCH AND HOW FAR? Think about who you want to write about, yourself, a particular person – or as many people as you know! How much will you writer and how far back will you go? Make it manageable, you can always change it or do it differently, later!
- a single line of descent – from one person
- all the descendants of one ancestor – I don’t recommend this!
- start from your known ancestors – known to you, your grandparents for example
TELL IT LIKE A STORY – It makes it more interesting to read if you have a plot, like a fictional story; think of your ancestors as characters in your family story, what problems and obstacles did they have? A plot gives your story interest and focus and might include:
- moving from one area to another, country to city or vice-versa
- from agricultural labourer to town folk
- moving out of poverty – or maybe losing a fortune!
- the war
USING WHAT YOU KNOW – You want your family story to be readable, interesting and moving, you have to be creative – you don’t want a dull list of dates of birth. You may not know the type of house your ‘subject’ lived in, or the sort of work they did as an ‘ag lab’ – but these days you can very easily find out! You can add colour with fashions, art, transport and foods of the time… you can find locations on Google earth or at the library
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING? OR NOT? – Choose something interesting to write about… you can add the details later or separately !
BRING THEM TO LIFE – You may not have actually met the person you are writing about – maybe no-one in your family remembers them, but you can imagine, be creative, guess at aspects of their character from things they did (remarrying after being widowed, adopting another person’s child, moving from place to place in search of work etc)
INDEX – Useful to your readers – and to you!