How to tell your family story

I’m beginning to pull my ideas together for my next little book in my So You Want To Write… series, and this one is going to be about writing a family history.

Genealogy and family history research is o popular and so many people produce the most amazing family tree, and have a fantastic archive of research, not just records and certificates, last wills and testaments, but photos, newspaper cuttings, maps, actual possessions from people of the past. They also have stories they can trot out to anyone who’s interested – it’s incredible the amount of sheer graft people put into finding people from the past.

The trouble is, often when they come to try and share their information with their present day family, eyes glaze over, yawns sneak out, and really, although they may want to be, the family is really not able to engage with the mountain of information. Even stories can ramble on, and the listeners can drift away to thinking about what to have for lunch, or what’s going to happen in the next part of the TV series/novel/radio drama they are following. Yes family members are interested – so how can you make what you have accessible?

I’m a writer, so to me it seems obvious to write these things as stories – but to be really honest, I have only just started to do this! It’s only very the past few years I’ve begun to tell my family story in a way other people might want to read it. For people who don’t write, or might say they are not writers, it can be a really daunting task, so I want to suggest some ways to get them started – to tell their stories in a manageable way for them, and a readable way for their family.

Here are just a few ideas:

So you want to write your family history

You have done your research and you have your family tree; you may have photos and maybe other artefacts and memorabilia, and you have the stories you’ve been told.
How do you bring this together and write your family’s story for others to share; your readers will want to understand, to engage, to follow and to be gripped by what you produce?

  1. Decisions decisions

Where do you begin, to tell this story… At the very beginning? This is not necessarily a very good place to start.

  • Do you start with you and tell your story and from there to your parents and back through the generations?
  • Do you start as above but with your parents, and trace their parents and back through the generations?
  • Do you start with an interesting or significant forebear and tell their story, moving back to their ancestors, and forward to their descendants?
  • Do you start as far back as your research has taken you and work towards the present?
  • Do you follow just one family line?

What are you trying to do? Whose story are you telling? Do you really want to write everything you know, or focus on something contained, readable, engaging?
You must make some decisions.
Like any story you have to think about the character, the people.

© Lois Elsden 2018

Here is a link to my little writing book:


  1. karenlee

    I’ve been wrestling with this very idea for a few years, and finally decided to start a whole new blog. It just went live. We are overwhelmed with memorabilia, documentation, photos, and more and I have not known how best to begin. I took the plunge and decided to create ancestor profiles using our collection of documentation. It’s a way to bring my ancestors to life through stories; it is my version of Story Genealogy. It has been so much fun writing about my ancestors and getting to know them through stories. It will take me years to complete, but it’s for my children and I’m in no hurry. Your question above, the “What are you trying to do?” is the same one I had to figure out before I could move forward. Once I decided on stories, the rest flowed. Your post has great questions to ask before one starts this monstrous process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      Good luck Karen!!! It’s such fun, isn’t it, and so addictive! I’m looking forward to reading your stories! One of the ways of telling my family’s story I’m using more at the moemnt is creative non-fiction, actually writing stories based on the facts I know but imagining the details – things like clothes, meals, conversations… I’m never going to really know what happened between distant ancestors, but I can imagine! Once again, good luck!! Lois


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