So You Want to Write Your Family History …

Before things went wrong, back at the beginning of the year when al was normal, I was running two writing groups. One of them was all about writing of various sorts, just a typical sort of a group where I would present a topic, we’d chat about it and maybe I’d make a few suggestions of what and how to do things, we’d have a cup of tea and a biscuit, then we’d share what we’d written about during the previous month. The other group was about writing a family history – not doing the research, I’m not an expert in that although I have done a lot of research in my own family.. This group was about how we might write our stories, share what we’ve learned of our past relatives and their lives. It followed a similar patter, topic, discussion, tea, share stories.

Sometime ago I gathered together a collection of ideas I’d had about starting to write creatively and published a small book, So You Want to Write… Back to the beginning of the year when I was thinking about my writing groups and what I planned for 2020 and wondered if I might put together my ideas for a second book, So You Want to Write Your Family History .. I looked back over what in a former life I would have called my lesson plans, and began to bring them together as a guide to creatively writing the story of a family. Then life changed for us all and I just about forgot about it all as I really got stuck into finishing my latest novel Winterdyke.

I was looking through my saved documents and came across the draft version of this next So You Want to… book and I was amazed that it was pretty much complete! It needs finishing, it needs some additions, it needs an index and an introduction but I hadn’t realised I’d written so much and it was so close t being ready to be published! I might deviate slightly from my next challenge, and get it finished and out there!

Here are the first couple of chapters:

Telling tales… Everyone has stories, of their own lives, of their families, different myths and legends of forebears… You may have investigated your own family history – but how do you write about it, how do you pass it on to future generations, how do you bring the bare facts to life? How do you take the dusty details of a census return, or those dry bones of a last will and testament, or the complicated past relationships your research has revealed – how do you take this dull research to life?
How do you take the tales you were told as a child by older generations and make their tales into a story? It’s a complete myth that people in the past stayed close to where they were born – they travelled far and wide, for work, for love, to serve their country, fleeing from something or running to something… And the old diaries, letters, odd bits of paper, shopping lists, scribblings in the margin of a book – what can you do with them?
And your own life, maybe you want to write your own story to pass to your children, your grandchildren, or to other unknown generations, when you are the past and they are the present…
So how to write, how to write your family history?

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? You’re fascinated by your history, and others will be too – if you make your research accessible, engaging – and most of all interesting!
How can you make sure your readers will can follow your family’s journey and be gripped by what your account?
You want the story you write to be as interesting and understandable to others as it is to you; you want it to be more than just a list of dates and facts – you want to tell the story.

I’m not sure when it will be ready, certainly before Christmas and maybe before November when the annual writing challenge, the National Novel Writing Month starts.  It’s only going to be a short book, a pithy book, but I hope it will be helpful to people with a story to tell, a true story!




  1. Jnana Hodson

    I hope you address the question of having multiple versions of the same incident or person. Dealing with my grandparents, I found that leaving these unresolved was the way to go … if nothing else, it was an admission that we see things and remember them differently, perhaps for different reasons.
    Best wishes on the project. These stories need to be preserved before those who could tell them are gone.

    Liked by 1 person

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