Writing about your family history (ii) … the people you knew…

When you are writing about your family history,  you want to make it accessible – and more than that, enjoyable! You want to engage and intrigue your grandchildren, or their children – you want them to feel part of the story, which of course they are!

With any novel you might read it probably belongs to a genre and has a theme, and that shapes the narrative… you can do the same with your story. Instead of telling your story via the family tree you could pick out a theme which you might follow.

Here in the UK, people of my age grew up in the aftermath of a global, civilisation and culture changing event, the war – and we will have known people who lived through it. Some might have grandparents who experienced the war, and even the war before that, the 1st world war; there are other conflicts which might have touched our families – the troubles in Palestine, the Korean war, Kenya, Cyprus as well as more recent war zones. This could be a theme for your story; instead of trying to tell the whole story of your father, grandfather, uncle’s life – why not write about his war… in fact you may not know very much about his service life (although there are now plenty of ways you can find out about his record) You may not know the details of his service, but you might know the affect it had on him; my father  was in the parachute regiment and served in France, Italy, North Africa and Greece but he told us very little… except the funny things which happened to him. I have written a series of short stories about his comical escapades  imagining the details I don’t know.

The war did not only affect the men,  it affected the whole country, the women, the children, the old and inform who could not serve on a battle front. There are tales to be told about the home guard, about families digging for victory, cooking with a ration book, remaking old clothes – stories from the women who did their bit for the country – fertile ground for creative writing!

… and the children; my mum grew up during the war and she and her sisters kept a diary of life – I could just copy her diary, but using photos of the three girls, I could imagine their stories more fully. Their father and brother were away, Father in the army brother in the RAF, so the four women managed as best they could and offered a friendly welcome to young army boys stationed nearby, far from their own homes.

Maybe you only know scraps of their stories, things you half-remember; use your imagination to weave these stories together to give a glimpse into your family’s past. You can add the bald facts at the end, but by being creative, you can save their stories and hand them on – if only you remember them now, you are the only one who can do it!

In these photos my grandpa is in uniform because he served in both wars.

Audrey, Alan, Monica, Ida, Reg, Beryl Matthews


I wrote a fictional account of one man’s search for his family through genealogy, his research led him to discover as much about himself as about his family from several hundred years ago –


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