Writing your family history
Have you spent years researching your family history? If so, have you given any thought as to what you are going to do with it? Sadly, not many people will be interested in lists of dry facts and documents stored in boxes or on a computer (your computer files may not even be accessible in the future). Even a beautifully produced family tree tells you nothing about the lives of the people featured.
However, by writing up your family history, you have the opportunity to create an accessible and engaging legacy that people will be able to enjoy both now and in the future.
Some common reasons for not writing your family history
You are not a writer. Well, you probably weren’t a researcher until you started exploring your family history and that didn’t put you off.
You haven’t finished your research. Every family history researcher knows that research is never finished. There are always more things to find out and discover but there is no reason why you can’t write and continue your research at the same time.
You don’t know how or where to start. Start by reading this article for some general tips on writing a family history and then visit www.beginnersguidetowriting.com for more advice and support.
Writing your family history one story at a time
Although your research will include a vast catalogue of names and dates etc., it is the stories behind these that can bring a family history to life.
Names and dates can’t show why a distant uncle lost all his money and ended up in a workhouse or how an ancestor was eaten by a whale (yes, I was actually told this story). If you don’t tell these stories who will?
Writing a complete family history can be daunting but by focusing on individual stories you will soon have a collection of stories which could be the makings of a full-length book. If your family is not interested in your research then grab them with a good story or two. They will soon be asking for more rather than rolling their eyes in despair when you produce yet another list of names and dates.
Stories can bring your family history to life
There are many ways in which you can start to bring your family history to life through story telling. You could look back through your research and pick out an ancestor who has a particularly interesting back story or you could create stories based around a specific theme, place or branch of your family.
Similarly you could use photos, memorabilia, newspaper articles, letters, documents, diaries etc. as the inspiration or starting points for stories.
Give your stories broader appeal
You can add more interest and colour to your stories by looking beyond the lives of your own family to the broader historical and social context of the times in which they lived. The lives of your family are unique but equally there will be many experiences they shared with their contemporaries and communities some of which may have had a big impact on their lives.
You don’t need to be descended from royalty
You don’t need to have significant or royal ancestors to produce interesting stories. There is a growing interest in the stories about the lives and times of ‘ordinary’ people and so your stories have the potential to reach an audience beyond family and friends.
You don’t have to be an experienced writer
Don’t be put off if you are not an experienced writer or have never written before. It really doesn’t matter if your writing isn’t perfect. The main thing is to preserve the stories of your ancestors which might otherwise be lost and forgotten.
Get some help
If you struggle to get started, don’t give up. At Beginners Guide to Writing we provide one-to-one and group support together with a selection of information products and courses. In addition to our regular blog posts, we also provide a variety of writing and editing services to help you succeed as a writer. If you feel a bit isolated as a writer and need some encouragement, you can also get together with other writers by joining in with the conversations on our writers’ forums.
To find out more about what we can do to help you get started as a family history writer, go to www.beginnersguidetowriting.com
I am very excited to be exhibiting at THE Genealogy Show in June 2019 and hope to see you there.
In the meantime, happy scribbling.
Chris Lightfoot (founder of www.beginnersguidetowriting.com)