Writing history

Next week I’m giving another talk to the local family history group on writing their own or their family’s history. I gave a similar talk last year but I think they want a more step-by-step guidance as they are historians and genealogists, not writers. I have a family history writing group, and the members who first came having written nothing creatively since they were at school were at first a little daunted; now they are writing so well, telling their stories so brilliantly, and so individually!

I’m just at the planning stage for my presentation – I shall chat, but having slides and something to focus on in a power point is helpful to the audience… This is as far as I’ve got:

  1. Why write your family story? You have your tree and the details of births, deaths, marriages, maybe wills, court reports, war medals and service records, newspaper articles, photos… You have a wealth of information about your people and their relationships to and with each other, and the places they lived, worked, travelled to…
  2. … but how can you share it in a way that others can understand and enjoy? You can share it by writing the stories. Writing the whole life story of any individual, can be daunting, and also is there sufficient in a whole life story to be engaging?
  3. Here’s an example from my family history.
  • my great grandmother Lois was born in 1853
  • her father was a basket maker
  • who married a second time after his first wife died
  • he had eleven children from his two marriages
  • Lois met, lived with but never married Louis Walford, a Jew
  • they had five children
  • Louis died in 1895
  • his wealthy family had nothing to do with Lois but supported the children
  • Lois’s five children married and had children themselves
  • Lois died in 1930 at the age of seventy-seven

Like any good story you need –

  • characters – you have plenty of them!
  • locations – you know the locations, if you have no photos, or can’t visit them, try Google and Google Earth
  • narrative – the story! If you don’t know all the details, imagine them, be creative
  • point of view/narrator – who is telling the story, an unseen narrator, the character, you?

I will share some of my stories to show how small chunks of past lives can be brought to life. It’s somewhat difficult just talking to people – I much prefer a workshop situation where they can have a go at small exercises, so I might suggest it to the organisers…  That would be another interesting challenge for me!

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