“Dad told some great family stories, but I didn’t write them down. It’s too late now.”
How often have you heard that? Or, maybe you even said it. I know my personal regret is that I didn’t ask more questions and now, all of the older generation is gone. Perhaps you feel like that too.
If family stories matter to you, then you need to record them—for yourself, the family, and even future generations. You don’t have to be a professional writer to get this project completed.
When I produced books for other people, just ordinary families would bring in personal histories and sometimes even poetry an older member of the family had written. Sure, those works weren’t commercially marketable, but those family stories were worth millions to the people who cared.
If you have been thinking about writing about your family, it’s time to start. There are a number of ways you can approach this project. You can simply collect the stories and write them down or you can go into great detail . You can do as little or as much as you have the time or inclination to write.
To add even more detail, you can do some genealogy research and add layers of history and interest to your story. I am not a genealogy expert, so I am going to give you some links if you wish to learn how to research your family properly. Warning: this type of research is addictive for it is filled with the lives of very interesting people!
Writing Family Stories
If you want to get started, try this:
- Start gathering: stories, pictures, documents–everything you can find that is connected with your family.
- Write down everything you remember, then start writing down all of the stories other family members tell you.
- Organize those pictures: write names, dates, and places on the back. Recently, I went through three generations of pictures, and many of them were not labeled. As a result, they are absolutely useless.
- Documents verify. Sometimes, you have access to documents, so very carefully label them—better yet, scan the doc and caption it with your computer program. That way, the original is untouched.
- If possible, tape the stories. I did tape my Father and we actually got up through Pearl Harbor. While taping, I heard tales that he had never told me. Plus, it was a fascinating and detailed look at a critical part of our national history.
- Decide how you will limit your family story. Will you just write the stories you have heard? Will you write about multiple generations on one side or the other of the family, both sides? How far back do you want to go?
- Computer programs lighten the work. If you are doing detailed research, find a computer program which will aid you. Roots Magic is easy to use and not very spendy. It allows you to add stories and pictures to genealogy charts.
- Limit your research and collection efforts. Research can go on indefinitely, and you can get so bogged down in collecting info, you will forget that you wanted to put this all into some format that you and your family will enjoy. There is a time to begin writing.
If you want to write your family stories but writing is not your forte, find another family member who likes to write. If you don’t have anyone like this, try recording your thoughts and then have them professionally transcribed. At least in that way, you will have something down on the page for posterity.
Some links that might help you with genealogy:
Roots Magic is a really easy program to use when you want to record the genealogy and stories of different generations.
Genealogy sites which might help you learn how to research and record:
Interesting PDF on how a grad student set about writing her family history. Lots of advice on what worked.
Don’t forget to search on Pinterest–they have thousands of sites on writing family stories.
One of the genealogy sites has an annual contest for family stories. Their annual deadline for submissions is December 15. Consult the site for details: http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/family_history_writing_contest