Writing a family history? Start with the stories about your own life

As a family historian you will probably have spent years tracing your family back through many generations to discover more about the lives and times of your ancestors. But have you ever considered how your own life is also part of your family history? It may not seem anything special to you right now but in the future, your descendants will have the same fascination for the details about your life as you have for the ancestors you have researched. So, before you start writing a family history, read on to find out how you can combine your stories with stories about your ancestors.

The best way to share family history is to write the stories you have uncovered in your research and a good place to start is with the stories you know best – the stories that make up your own life. As a family historian you probably think that your role is to write only about your ancestors, but it is their lives and experiences which have helped to make you the person you are and so your life is the perfect starting point for writing a family history.

The tale of someone’s life begins before they are born.” Michael Wood

Compared to the altruistic act of writing stories about other people, writing your own stories can seem a bit self indulgent but your stories are just as much part of the history of your family as the people that came before you.

However, the aim is not to write your complete life story. Just as I encourage people to look for the stories that bring their family history research to life, you should look for the stories that capture the essence of your life.

Where to start looking for those memorable moments

If no stories spring to mind, think about the people, places and events that have helped to shape your life and make you the person you are.

People

For example, write down the names of all the people that have had a positive or negative affect on your life. Sometimes the best stories can be found in the more challenging relationships. However, reflecting on the dynamics and emotions associated with anyone who has had an influence on your life, can provide good material for a story.

Places

Make a list of the places you have lived in or places that have a special meaning or significance for you. Revisiting a place from your childhood or any other period of your life can spark memories about experiences and times that you had forgotten.

Events, challenges and turning points

Try to recall any notable events, challenges or turning points in your life which took you in a new or unexpected direction or influenced what you did or how you lived.

Artefacts and mementos

Do you still have, or do remember, any artefacts and mementos which had a special meaning for you? Make a note of what they were and why they meant so much to you and use these recollections to create a story which evokes the emotions and memories associated with them.

Photos

Old photos are a great way of bringing back memories and providing details about people, settings and events which you may have long forgotten.

Ask your relatives

If you get stuck on any details, ask a family member. They may be able to fill in some of the gaps and they may also remember things about you that you have completely forgotten.

And finally

Once you have come up with some basic ideas, scribble down a quick summary of each. You will then have something to work with when you start to plan which stories you want to include as the starting point for writing a family history.

For more tips on how to find ideas for stories, check out Writing your life story – get started with these memory jogging tips