We’ve all heard the advice, once you start researching your family history,
"Write a book about what you know?" If not, give it some thought –
don’t the very best stories often come from life? So, what’s stopping you
from writing your own story about your family history?
Memoirs are superior alternatives and valuable additions to scrapbooks and
photo histories. They also tend to be easier to digest than complex genealogy
charts. Don’t let the scope of a memoir scare you off. Look at the ideas
below, to help you through that first tough chapter with the following
Set goals in terms of length and deadlines. If you lack free time, set
aside at least ten minutes each day. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the
finished pages will pile up.
Ask others to help with the project. Share what you’re doing with friends
and family and see if they can, in some way, contribute. If nothing else,
their collective excitement will feed your own enthusiasm. As with all
research always double-check your information.
Don’t expect to create a best seller. Few of us are capable of writing a
great novel. But that’s not what you’re trying to do. You may be limited
by capability, but your history is important – don’t let a lack of skill
keep you from setting down your history on paper.
Begin by picking a focus for your memoir. Do you want to write about one
person or several generations? Do you want to spill into the present, or stick
mostly to the past?
The next step is to choose an appropriate format. Do you want a lengthy
narrative, or something short and simple
Collect Your Information
Supplement your information by talking to relatives. Ask them questions about
homes, neighbours, family traditions, education, employment and life events –
anything that will lead to a story. Be sure to document all your sources for
Fill in the gaps with history – especially if you’ve chosen the novel
format. Giving your story an historical context will add richness to your
Once you’ve completed your research, organize your notes into an outline -
by chronology of life events, marriages, employment, etc. This outline will
serve as the skeleton of your story.
Similar to an outline is a timeline. A timeline is helpful when working with
dates, historical facts, and specific life events. Organize your timeline like
an outline, just include the actual dates – and be sure to keep those dates in
order. Refer back to your timeline to ensure you don’t get events out of
Write It All Up
Develop your own style. Don’t try to copy anyone else..
Keep some essentials handy – namely a dictionary, thesaurus, atlas and the
Internet. A book on ‘Old Handwriting’ will help when reading old documents.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a second pair of eyes. Choose someone you trust
to give you honest feedback. Someone with a background in writing is a plus.
Share Your Story
Once you’ve finished your memoir, be sure to show it off.
Publish it yourself. If you can afford to, you may want to pay a company to
print your family’s history for you. Or, just go to a copy shop and have them
print and bind your memoir like a book.
Use your family’s resources to distribute your memoir. Publish your memoir in
a family newsletter. You can also publish it serial-style on your family’s
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