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!

My rather blurry featured image shows my mum, her sisters, their brother who was in the RAF, their parents – my grandpa in uniform because he served in both wars.

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

Where did the time go?

I came across an old school magazine from the grammar school I attended in Cambridge. In those days all children took an exam in the academic year that they were eleven, called the 11+, and you were allotted the school according to the result. Broadly speaking there were grammar schools for children who were deemed more academic, and secondary modern schools which were more vocational; in some areas there were also technical high schools which were definitely for young people who wanted to learn a trade. There is still an ongoing debate as the whether this system should be brought back and I guess there are strong arguments on both sides… however, I went to a grammar school.

My school was the Cambridgeshire High School for Girls, usually called just the County and I spent five on the whole very happy years there until my  family moved to the west country when I was sixteen. each year the girls produced a magazine and I came across them recently and it is amazing to look through them, the forgotten names springing off the page and reminding me of people I last saw when they were teenagers. I was rather taken with the charming drawing by Janice Chapman who would have been twelve or thirteen when she drew it. The poem by Barbara Pulleyblank was no doubt inspired by the Viet-Nam War, the racial strife in the USA and the lingering despair over the assassination of Kennedy and the shadow of the Cold War. I wonder what the poems of today’s teenagers are like, and what anxiety and despair they express about their world?