Writing Family Stories

Have you ever wanted to know more about your grandparents other than their birth, marriage, and death dates?  Would you like to have known their interests, hopes and dreams?  

The best way to preserve your family history is to write it down.  Maybe it is too late to capture this information for past generations, but you can preserve stories about yourself, parents, uncles, aunts, and children.  To make your collection richer and more vast, ask relatives to submit some short stories for you to distribute to members of the family.  Capture stories from all ages, not just the elders of the family. 

 A family history is stories of your family.  Genealogy is more of a well-documented research of names and dates. 

 Why is it important to write your family history?   

  • First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents. 
  • Family histories humanize people. 
  • You have important information to pass onto your children and unknown future generations 
  • Stories add more depth than family trees. 
  • Write some stories NOW as memories fade or become fragmented over time. 
  • Family stories can provide diversity.  Past family histories may emphasize the male lines and not provide much information about female members.  Stories of more affluent ancestors may have been captured than less affluent members.

How do you get started? 

Develop a strategy, focus, and timeline.  Give family members some parameters or topics. 

Plan how to organize the information.  Include a table of contents and an index of names and places. 

Try writing an engaging story with characters, setting, plot (events or action). 

Decide how to present the information with participating relatives.  Will you have a book form or digital? 

Document and cite your sources.  This will provide future generations information for further research.   

One of the easiest ways to get started is to pull out some of your favorite photographs.  Write about the event, the people in the photo, the relationship between the people, when and where the photo was taken.  Include the address of the location if possible.   

Consider the feelings of your relatives.  Don’t include a funny story about a relative just to enhance your collection unless that person submits the story or approves. 

Consider copyright laws.  Don’t automatically think you can reprint or publish letters written by relatives.  Per Carmack’s Guide to Copyright and Contracts by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, the rights of the letters belong to the author or heirs of the author. 

If you are going to distribute the family history outside the immediate family, do not include personal information about people who are still alive in order to protect their privacy. 

Try some of these writing prompts: 

  • Start with an anecdote, odd fact, or a joke. 
  • Write a story about one of your most embarrassing moments. 
  • Write about the day your little brother or sister was born. 
  • Describe your most memorable family holiday or vacation. 
  • Describe the first time you introduced a boyfriend or girlfriend to your immediate family. 
  • Think back to an event with your family from your childhood.  Describe a scene between you and your parent or sibling. 
  • Describe how an historical event or natural disaster affected your family. 
  • Describe what you do for a living and why you chose that line of work.  Describe how you obtained your skills such as an internship or going to college. 
  • Describe the interactions you had with your siblings. 
  • Describe special foods your family enjoyed. 
  • Describe what you do during your spare time.  Who do you do the activities with? 
  • When the family gets together, what do they enjoy doing? 
  • Describe how you met your significant other.  What drew you together? 
  • Write about an artifact that is important to you.  What is the story of how you got it?  Why is it special? 
  • Describe an event and what it meant to you.  Tell why it was important. 
  • Write about an important transition in your life.

Explore these books for more ideas. 

Writing Family Stories

These books may provide ideas and techniques for writing your family's stories.

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