I’ve spent years chasing my ancestors thru wet cemeteries, musty boxes and up family trees. I’ve dug around libraries, attics, and read books and webpages galore. What I have learned from all this is simple…
no one else gives a hoot if they can’t somehow “relate” to those old names and numbers
Truth is, all that detective and scholarly work is really boring on paper. My family used to roll their eyes when they saw me coming with yet another binder of “genealogy stuff.”
What to do ~what to do? Let me tell ya…
We’re all connected with our families, not by pedigree or heirlooms, but through our common stories. Names and dates have no real pull on our heartstrings. But the joys and struggles of everyday life in another time can fascinate us like a flickering campfire.
Oh and a little tattle-taling or a dash of dishing-dirt doesn’t hurt either!
Without stories our family tree efforts are just tidy (for some) stacks of paper with footnotes and a few photos sprinkled in. I invite you to take the next step with me and you will soon be writing an account of your family’s history to be read , re-read and actually cherished for many years!
When I originally wrote that about two years ago, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. All of the wonderful people we have lost (and gained!) in the short life of this blog is both sad and miraculous. I’m speaking of blogs abandoned or begun as well as losses and gains within my own family.
Telling family stories and even writing our own as “memoir” has become quite a “thing.” I am seeing this form of writing honored and applauded more and more. Only a handful of years ago, a Memoir was one of the trappings (or curses) of celebrity or notoriety. Now, regular people, in common circumstances are writing prolifically about themselves and their “inner circle.” To this I say–HooRay!
I would like to add a very important “beware” to those of us who are writing stories to be read years from now.
I’m not talking about identity thieves and computer hacks or natural disasters and copyright laws. I want to advise you to look over all of your writing in a different way. You need to read over the pages you have enjoyed and slaved over in order to preserve them as readable and understandable documents…later.
Here’s the important point of this:
Have people of many generations read over the words you have written.
Have them work separately. Ask them to mark or note any words, phrases or sayings that are not immediately clear to them (ie: is there anything you have questions about/ don’t understand?).
Take these comments and figure out how to make them clear to “other” generations. As an example, genealogists are accustomed to seeing the word “nee.” Someone who is looking at a family story for the first time may not know the meaning of that funny word. Yes, they could look it up (as we all probably had to) but wouldn’t you rather have them enjoy the tale that is spun on the page? Well of course you would! Other things that some would take as common knowledge are in danger of being lost to time. Like Ration Books and what they were, when, and why they were out there. How about “no swimming in summer?”
Now, decide how to work the definitions and explanations into your work. Below are methods that I have used or seen used to good effect. Remember you want to tell stories more than to give history tutorials. Likely, you also want to preserve these people beyond their vital statistics for lots of generations to come!
A mix of these will probably work in your own writing~
1. Use all the antiquated, colloquial, unusual, foreign, confusing word in italics. Then use a method similar to footnotes at the bottom of the same page to explain it. So perhaps you would write a sentence and italicize nee. Then, appearing at the bottom of the same page a note would appear as such:
nee~woman’s surname before marriage.
2. Work the words into the story and thus describe it (or the phrase etc) as a part of the tale. An example would be to describe an old, rarely used phrase or slang or other term as such:
Jane grew up in the roaring 20′s when women wore long straight dresses, without bras, and were thus called “flappers” and things that were new and exciting were referred to as “the bee’s knees.”
3. Perhaps a bit more complicated sounding (but when working with several family members a work-saver) is the “overview page.” This is a prelude, preamble or forward to the material you are about to present. It isn’t uncommon to find your family stories falling into neat categories related to universal events. Listen to conversation around a holiday table and you will likely hear talk of “the war years,” or “during the depression,” or “on White Avenue.” So, describing that place and time as an overview for all of the stories under the heading will set the tone for everyone’s notable adventure during that family “era.” You could even combine method 1 and method 2 together italicizing the funky words and noting them, and describing events of the time and the vernacular of speech. This is a great way to get around a re-write for several finished pieces. It’s sort of backtracking, but getting the work done without overdoing. This one works best when each story is written as a separate event like my post “Honest Abe and Too Many Jimmys” ( click here to see it http://wp.me/p2pmvZ-72 ) perhaps under a heading such as “Myths and Mysteries.” When the story is a synopsis of someone’s whole life, like my post “Uncle Joe” (see it here http://wp.me/p2pmvZ-bb ) using only the first or second method would be best.
So what tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve tricky writer? Share your secret weapons with all of us in the comment box! Then~ Maybe someone should write that down…