My family history writing group

It’s nearly a year since I started my family history writing group – we are all interested in finding out more about our ancestors and researching our genealogy, but we meet together to think about how we can tell our family stories – we are a writing group, not a researching group!

As usual people join groups and then for various reasons aren’t able to come any more, and so it has happened, but now we have settled down into a consistent eight of us and we met last Monday at my house as usual. I generally have a rough plan of what we are going to discuss and focus on for the first half of the get-together, and after tea/coffee/biscuits we share what we have written from last time.

This is what was on the agenda on Monday:

  • Brief  updates/ any news/ introductions
  • Last time we were thinking about domestic details – adding interesting colour to your stories
  • Today we are thinking about plots and themes – are we going to bring out an aspect or thread of a story of one of or a group/family of our ancestors? For example
    • from place to place– the travels and journeys of our families
    • rags to riches – from humble beginnings to a different life
    • village/town/city life
    • war story – what happened not just to those who went away but those who were left behind, and those who came after
    • love

…and then for next time (only a suggestion, not compulsory):

  • Subject for next meeting (this is completely optional!! It is only a suggestion!!)
    • A glimpse behind the curtain – the story of an ancestor who had a secret
    • Or choose from the examples above (travels/journeys, rags to riches – or vice-versa, war story, love)

After refreshments we shared what we had been doing from last time; I’m so lucky to have such an interesting group of people to work with – the stories they brought were so interested and varied, and without breaking any confidences, here’s a brief summary of what we shared:

I shared my story of my mother and the horrible teacher which I wrote about here; I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way for me to write my family history is to use my imagination and create a filled-out story from just the bare facts – in this case it was my mum as a young girl being kind to a teacher who was beastly to everyone.

Someone continued the story of her childhood; she is such a gifted writer, her prose flows effortless and each ‘episode’ not only follow on from the previous, but is also able to be read as a stand-alone story. This time she wrote about being evacuated from Birmingham during the war.

Someone – who feels that she ‘is not imaginative’ (although she is!) had written three small vignettes I guess you would describe them, recalling tradesmen from yesteryear, the coal man, the rag and bone man and the milk man, all who delivered to houses with horses and carts… cue much laughter about buckets and shovels and compost heaps, vegetables and roses (using the horse’s ‘deposits’ as manure!)

Another person had written about a Christmas tradition from when he was a child; his family would pile in the small car, loaded with gifts, and drive round to all the aunties and uncles and cousins, delivering, and receiving refreshments at each. In those days it would have been quite an expedition in an old-fashioned car, and the details of the different relatives and their houses was amusing and interesting.

Someone else gave us an interesting insight into their first jobs after leaving school, their social life and the ups and downs of their romances. We all commented how different a young person’s life was then, their relationship with their parents who were so strict, and how these days social media and mobile phones mean that everyone is in communication with everyone else almost instantly!

One person has a collection of letters written during the war written by a relative who served overseas. When she first joined the group she was struggling to know how to ‘attack’ them, how to present them without just transcribing them all. She has really got to grips with it, and chosen to write in the present tense which brings an immediacy to what she has done, which makes it very engaging and accessible.

It really is an interesting and enjoyable group and I look forward to the next meeting in February!

If you missed my story about the horrible teacher, here’s a link:

…and here is something I wrote about rag and bone men:


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