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Writing Your Family Stories

Story ID:4271
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Manhattan KS USA
Year:2008
Person:Everyone's Family
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Writing Your Family Stories



Every family has a history, and a good many families want to record that information for posterity. But who is going to do it? And how will it be done?

Aunt Ethel might be the perfect family member to pen a written history. If only she wasn’t so busy with the ladies aid at her church, she’d do it in a heartbeat. Perhaps Grandpa Orville could write about the many happenings of the family. He’s probably thought about it for nearly forty years, but never has he put pen to paper.

“Not to worry,” says Cousin Oscar. “Everything we need to know is in the front page of the family bible.” He slides back in his recliner and flicks the remote from one football game to another.

Oscar is both right and wrong. The cold, dry facts may be listed in the family bible. Birth dates, baptism dates, marriage dates, and family deaths are chronicled. But the stories behind each date may disappear as the generations move down the line. They become lost treasure.

Those same stories grace holiday tables when families gather. “Remember when….” might be said numerous times between the chip dip and the turkey and on to the pumpkin pie. Family tales that evoke laughter and sometimes tears give warmth and
substance to a family gathering. Each new generation listens and files these tales mentally as “stuff about my family.”

If you want the stories to last forever, they need to be written down somewhere by someone and distributed to all family members. Many families hold reunions. What a joy it would be to have a booklet in hand to be given to each family represented. No matter how far back your family history extends, whether to the Pilgrims or the Irish railroad builders or to displaced persons after World War II, those who receive the booklet will consider it a treasure to be handed down to their children and grandchildren.

Most Americans have ancestors who came to this country as immigrants. Whether it occurred in the 1600’s or the 1900’s, the story is personal and sometimes heart-rending. Great-great-great Grandmother Sophia may have fled danger in her own country, came to America, married and started a whole new life. Questions arise which can be answered by assembling bits and pieces of stories passed from daughter to daughter or son to son.

Great-Grandfather Tobias might have come to America because he heard the streets were paved with gold. Here, he knew, he could become wealthy. Did he or didn’t he? The tale needs to be recorded. Great-Grandfather set the example for those who came after him.

You might begin the compilation of a family stories booklet with a discussion at a family gathering. No doubt the majority in attendance will agree that such a project should be started. If nobody volunteers to be in charge, be democratic and select someone by a vote. A few complimentary comments might sway the individual to accept the challenge. Or select a committee of three or four. Working together might be fun as well as more productive. If you’re lucky, one individual will have a keen enough interest to volunteer.

Interviews with family members, research at libraries, search engines online, and tape recordings of the oldest family members reciting their memories will all be of help. And don’t forget that all-important family bible. Gather the data over an unspecified period of time. You can add to the information from time to time. It’s likely the interest level in the project will rise as those working learn increasing amounts of information. The more you find out, the more you want to know.

Once the research committee feels they’ve come up with a sufficient number of stories, it’s time to decide on the kind of book you want to produce. No two families will create the same kind of publication. Some may write by hand on notebook paper and run to the copy center to make copies, staple it together and hand it out at the next family gathering. Others will make the original on the computer, add graphics, and use colored ink. They’ll print out the number of copies they need. Perhaps they’ll put each one in a folder or notebook binder of some sort. Some families may go to the expense of having a local press run copies with a fancy cover.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like. The important part is what lies within the pages. This is one book that does not need to be considered great literature. Cousin Oscar, Aunt
Ethel and Grandpa Orville can read it, nod their heads in agreement, wipe away an occasional tear, or have a good belly laugh when they read the history of their family.
The keywords here are “their family.” These stories belong to no other clan, only their own.

So don’t only talk about writing your family history at the next Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukah celebration; take steps now and start the ball rolling. Grandpa Orville isn’t going to be around forever.

Things to Consider when Writing Family Stories

DO:
1. Tell one story at a time.
2. Give praise where it is due; consider skipping anything that might prove uncomfortable to others.
3. Concentrate on the important part of the story rather than small details.
4. Revise and rewrite. (A first draft gets you started, but rewriting will make your story stronger.)
5.Include dates when possible
6. Give your story a personal touch by including your feelings, not only a report of the facts.
7. Read your story aloud.(This helps catch many small errors.)
8. Put the story aside after you've written it. In two or three days, read it again. You'll see it through different eyes and errors will become apparent.


DON’T:
1. Tell too much in one story.
2. Use passive verbs like was, is, and are.
3. Use too many short, choppy sentences. Balance them with longer sentences.
4. Try to always tell a story in chronological order.(Sometimes rearranging makes for a more interesting story)
5. Worry about how good it is.(It’s for you and your family; they love you no matter what)
6. Start with "I was born on ________,19____ (A blow by blow description of a life isn’t necessary. Somewhere within your stories, you will be able to mention birth date and place. Within each story you write will be many tidbits of information. When put together, the bits and pieces will give a complete picture of you and other family members)
7. Forget to set the story aside for a few days, then revise it.
8. Use unnecessary words when writing. (Part of revising is getting rid of those words that don't add anything to the story. Look for words like just, then, well, you know. We use them in speaking, but the deter from the importaant part of your writing.
9. Use too many adjectives.Flowery adjectives weaken the story. One adjective is descriptive, two or three becomes sickeningly sweet.
10. Forget to enjoy what you're doing.