Who doesn’t love a great story? How much more when it’s about your family? You may recall hearing many oral stories told by family members over the years, and now you want to write about them. One of the first considerations you have to make is deciding what was fact and what was probably a really good yarn.
A major difference between an oral story and a written one is when you heard the story what do you notice about the story teller? Was their face animated? Were they stifling a grin, trying not to laugh? Did their voice or tone change; did they build a picture in your head with suspense and anticipation? What about their body language, hand gestures? All these things combined add to the excitement of the story doesn’t it?
Consider too, your relationship to the story teller, are they embellishing and pulling your leg and would you know if they were? That might depend on your age whether you were a child or adult when you heard the story. Did they have a history of telling tall tales? Regardless you were no doubt transfixed and caught up in the story.
So how do you now transfer that interest to a written story, how do you get more meaning across to your reader? Even if you don’t have many stories to start with or would like to find more of your own, you can, and all you need to do is some investigating of your own. But how can you get that across when your ancestors have long gone, and there’s been no one you know who knew them? Let’s have a look at some ways you can make anything you write about your family history enjoyable to the reader and help them relate.
It’s a fair bet you may have been delving into your family tree for quite some time and know and understand the relationships, especially for those ancestors that were around hundreds of years ago. Consider your reader that they haven’t had the benefit of this and are reading it for the first time. They may have no clue on who the person was and what relationship they are to them. Since your story is not just about facts such as where they were born and when they died, some of that information will be left out, leaving gaps. An excellent way to overcome that is to include a pedigree chart or a family group record sheet in the book. These charts show the relationships to each other and your reader.
When you are writing about where your ancestors lived and especially if you are doing several branches of your family tree at once, it doesn’t mean too much to the reader when you said where they were born and worked, especially if in another country. Imagine how a map can provide context and distances between places and how close one branch of the tree was from another? Google has great maps, and you can put in the search bar “how from ‘x’ place to ‘y’ place” it will then provide a map showing lines and the reader can see how far and how much they traveled around. Just be sure to reference the map in your book.
You can add layers of information and more dimensions to your stories by finding as many records as you can much like a puzzle. Don’t just think about ‘hatch, match and despatch’, (aka birth, marriage and death certificates). Think wider to census and voting records, actually look at them and build a picture, what can you glean from this information? What can you surmise? What about land documents, travel and transportation records? Consider other records such as migration, military, school, church and cemeteries. Don’t forget Wills and Newspaper articles; I have found articles on my family about stories I heard as a child. So much information is now available to help you with your stories. To think I know more about my grandparent’s ancestors then they did is amazing.
Most of us when we look at old photos mainly look at the people, their faces and sometimes we will look at what they wear. However when it comes to writing your family history, you are looking for clues everywhere. Go back to the photographs you have, what else do you see? What style of clothing are they wearing; compare to searches using Google for that period? If it is a studio photo (most older ones were), what props can you see, who else is in the picture? What about the background is there animals, buildings, and if so look close at the buildings what are you seeing? How does the information tie in with what you have? Does it add more ideas?
We live in the best time for genealogy and family history research. You can now time travel and find out what places were like where your ancestors lived especially if you have an address. You can then end up with a picture once again providing more meaning. Often countries such as England for instance still have many old and original buildings although they may have a different use today. Searching for what a town was like in your ancestor’s day can give you insight into how life was for them. I’ve even found documents written by early settlers, and they name many of the first settlers and some are from my family line and talk about what life was like first hand. You can find out so much by doing a little outside the box research.