Writing Family Histories or Memories are not as difficult as you may think. I believe Everyone has the ability to write on this subject. On this page I will show the reasons Why people write them, the importance of Memories, Where to start looking for information, and the various types of Research used. Once compiled, you will be able to determine the Format & Writing Style you wish to use. What should be included in the first part of your book and how important that 1st Chapter is will be addressed. Finally, I will list for you some books that you will find invaluable to you. They will serve as excellent reference guides during the your writing process. I hope you will find this information useful. ~ Capucina.
First we should see what the difference is between FAMILY HISTORY and a MEMOIR. A Family History or Genealogy is more than just a collection of names that are the same as yours. Think of it as pieces to a puzzle or the rough sketch to a portrait. Once you have all the pieces linked together your puzzle is complete and your portrait shows the efforts of your work. A Family History is the entire story of a family through the generations. Think of a Family History as a collection of facts about the people in your family that are recorded for future generations. A MEMOIR is a composed narrative which is based on personal experience. Think of a Memoir as a collection of memories by one person about their life. It is a focus upon one's life thru their recollections. A Memoir just like a Family History is written as a way to preserve memories of family life for future generations.
Now, what are some reasons for writing a Family History or Memoir? Most people write Family Histories & Memoirs as a gift for future generations. It is a way of preserving the history of the Family through written word. It reminds us who we are, where we came from and may lead us to our future. And it will give our children and our children's children a sense of place in their families. But, everything must have a beginning and this also applies to writing Your Family Histories & Memoirs. The first step is research....but getting started may be easier than you think...:-)))
There are things in your home right NOW that will help you get your research off to a great start!! Old photographs, home movies or videos, personal papers, family heirlooms, old trunks, passports, immigration and naturalization papers, diaries and journals, birth and death certificates, deeds etc. Also, don't forget the Customs & Traditions within Your Family, the Family Bible, Family Cookbooks...especially ethnic cookbooks list much more than recipes. Check out the attic - you may be surprised what you may find. All of these items have a story to tell so don't overlook anything...no matter how trivial you may think it is. Also get other family members involved. you may obtain some very interesting and useful information.
Now there is one source of research we ALL have available to us. Our own MEMORIES & DREAMS can prove to be one of our most valuable research tools. Our subconcious stores all of our memories and dreams and can bring them to the surface...sometimes when we least expect it. The point is when these memories surface, no matter how insignificant at the time, write them down. Your subconscious stores these memories and dreams for a reason. Don't just shrug them off. These can be thought of as Lasting Memories...they are with you all your life...no matter where you go or what you do, these memories are always a part of you.
Technical Research is more involved but will prove to be rewarding in the long run for you. Some of the different type of Technical Research available to you are:
(1) COURTHOUSE RECORDS - have copies of divorce records.
(2) COUNTY HEALTH DEPT - has birth and death records available.
(3) YOUR LOCAL COUNTY RECORDS OFFICE - this office has copies of property deeds, and possibily some military discharge records. They should also have the locations of veterans' gravesites.
(4) PROBATE COURT - contains house marriage indexes, copies of wills, and may also have pre-20th century birth, death and naturalization records. But remember each county office may vary the way they may list and record these records.
(5) LAND RECORDS - are maintained by each state individually.
(6) FAMILY HISTORY CENSUS - you can check to see which Family History Center is closest to you.
(7) IMMIGRATION RESOURCES - provide information on passenger lists and ship arrivals to the U.S. between 1838-1957. These are on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
(8) ORAL HISTORIES - are a wonderful compliment to a written history. If at all possible never pass up the opportunity to obtain an Oral History.
(9) MILITARY RECORDS - can be found in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. However, these records are not complete. If you are unable to find what you are looking for here, my suggestion would be to check your local American Legion or Amvets Posts to see what they have available.
(10) CHURCH RECORDS - normally house only baptismal certificates, but sometimes you might find some marriage records too.
11) MEDICAL HISTORY - This area is one that is commonly overlooked, but one that is so important. Inherited diseases such as Cancer, Diabetes, and Heart Disease are illnesses that would most likely show up in ancestral histories. They would be listed on Death Certificates as well as be included in hospital records. I'm sure there are many other resources available to you for your research, but this will give you an idea of what to look for. We now move on to the next area:
How much Research do I Need & I How Will I Know What I Have Will Work With What I am Writing?
If you want to write a Family History you must know:
(1) WHO are you writing this Family History for?
(2) Thru your research, did you learn enough about your ancestors (where they lived, what their lives were like, etc), to "paint a picture" for other family members to experience what you did as you wrote it?
(3) If you had trouble with some of your research, did you forget to check your local library to see what information they may have to help you?
(4) The information you have compiled - once it is put together and written, will it satisfy your reader?
If you wish to write a FAMILY MEMOIR ...you must ask yourself:
(1) In your Memoir - did you highlight the important events in your life?
(2) Will the reader of Your Memoir be able to understand the time frame of life...the social trends of that time...how the education you were raise with affected your life, and how was the family unit as opposed to today.
(3) How does your reader know you as a person...aside from being a Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, etc.?
(4) The person(s) you are writing for...will they know your feelings, (what makes you happy, what things in your life you may regret, (what accomplishments you are most proud of, things you are most grateful for?)
(5) If in your memoirs, you also profile so to speak some of your ancestors. Will the people reading understand the importance of these people in your life? And will your readers be able to see their ancestors with respect to the times in which they lived?
You may think the above are "assumed," but when you are writing a FAMILY HISTORY or MEMOIR you must cover all the bases...leave no stone unturned. You want to produce a work that will live on for future generations, and I believe with the information contained on this page...you will be able to do just that.
Ok...you've done all the research...now what do you do? Your next step is to choose the format or style you want your Family History or Memoir to be. There are several formats available for writing a FAMILY HISTORY. All you have to do is to choose the format which best suits your needs.
Family History Formats include the popular CHRONOLOGICAL FORMAT listing family events according to dates. This format traces ancestors from past generations up to the present. If you had a family member that was an important part of the community they lived in, you may wish to do a COMMUNITY HISTORY - This type of format is exclusive to the time and place your ancestors lived. A novel way to preserve your Family History would be to write a FAMILY HISTORY COOKBOOK. Treasured recipes as well as family customs and traditions, little antecdotes, etc. would be a wonderful way to record a family's history.
You may also like the idea of Composing Your Family History on your computer...build a web-page where you an include all that vital information on your family. Or, you may decide to Record Your Family History on Cassette or Video Tape (Oral History. If you like poetry, maybe a BOOK OF POEMS that would reflect the history of your family might appeal to you. You can see there are a lot of options available to you here...:-)))
Family History Styles - Most Family Histories are written as a Narrative (the author tells what happened,) and normally in the third person which gives more flexibility to the author telling the story and told in the author's "natural" voice. It is also written obviously in the past tense as the events being written about happened in the past. Also remember it is much better to keep your sentences and paragraphs simple and easy to read.
(FONT COLOR="red">Memoir Formats can be in the form of a Short Essay, a Poem, or possibly even a Novel may develop from your life experiences. Memoirs are written in the 1st person. Just remember whatever time frame you are writing about...make sure your facts of that period are accurate. Your research for a Memoir is not extensive as it is for a Family History but your descriptions of events and people during that time should be as factual as possible. It is also a good idea when writing a Memoir to stick to one main theme or focus in your memoir. You don't want to include things that are not relevant to the topic you are writing about. Once you have written your Family History or Memoir, it is then time to explore how you would want it to look if written in Book Form:
When you first begin collecting information, you will want to consider what you wish to include in those very important first pages of your book. Even though these pages may be the last you do...careful planning and presentation will make it a WINNER !! Those first pages include:
Title Page - Centered, it appears about 1/3 down on your page, then double-space and in the Center type By: Then double-space again and place your name. Note: No page number is placed on this page.
Copyright Page - This information includes either the word Copyright or the ï¿½ symbol, the year, by Your Name. The year you enter is the year your manuscript was completed. This information is placed on the back of your Title Page. Also your ISBN number is placed on this page also.
Your Dedication Page - This page is where you enter your Dedication to whoever was instrumental in inspiring you to write your book. The page is not numbered and most Dedications are centered on this page.
Acknowledgement Page - Your Acknowledgements are centered on yet another unnumbered page. On this page you thank the people who may have assisted you in your research, or helped you in writing your book...or were of constant encouragment to you in writing your book.
Permission Page - On this page you will list excerpts from other authors? works. This would include verses from a poem or a song, part of an article, etc. You would list the source with the Title, Copyright, and page numbers if applicable.
Table of Contents - If your chapters include titles or if you have your book divided into Parts I-V they would be listed here. The chapter titles would be followed by their page numbers.
Preface - You place the theme of purpose of your book on this unumbered page.
Forward or Introduction - The information contained on this page may be written by someone other than the original author of the book. It may be someone who is well-known or not...but it will add credence and prestige to the book.
Prologue - The Prologue appears just before the first chapter and may indicate the reasons why the past of your Family History is being explored.
Text - Numbering of your pages begins on the 1st page of your chapter and continues to the end of your book. If your manuscript will eventually have the appearance of a regular book, numbering of your pages would begin with page one appearing in the upper right-hand corner. Page two would be placed in the upper left-hand corner, alternating in this way throughout your manuscript to the end.
Now, if you submit to a regular trade publisher, you just double-space your typed manuscript placing your name in the upper left-corner of your page and your page numbers would appear in the upper right corner.
Once your manuscript is finished you are then ready to compile the back pages for your book. These pages include:
Epilogue - Some authors may enter on this page the intentions of this book becoming part of a series. Or, if you are requesting additional information for future books in the series, you may list contact information on this page.
Appendix - This section may include Maps, photographs, documents or family charts may be listed here. In your Text you can refer readers to the Appendix as appropriate.
Bibliography - This area will list all your research resources...the Books articles, etc. you used that may be of interest to the readers of your book. You will normally list in this way:
Author's Name (Last Name first,) Book Title, the City of Publication, Publisher, and year it was published. If, on the other hand you are citing a Magazine Article, your Bibliography would look like this:
Author's Name (Last Name First,) Title of the Article in quotes, the name of the periodical in Italics, the volume or serial number and date of issue along with page numbers.
Index - This is an important part of your book as it will list in Alphabetical Order topics and important people, along with page numbers who presented in your book.
Your First Chapter is your most important. It sets the stage so to speak for the rest of your book. As in all Writing, your Introduction or Opening Paragraph(s) is what will attract your reader. What kinds of things can you use to "get attention"?? Will your Introductory paragraphs involve suspense or action? Will it involve a specific character? Maybe a photograph of a family member with a narrative to introduce might work. What about using an anecdote? Could your Introduction be words of inspiration? Some authors use the first chapter as a stepping stone for creating their books instead of doing so in the Preface. You may also wish to develop your book to resemble a journal. Whatever you decide, your opening should be creative and an attention grabber.
The Body of your first and succeeding chapters should support what you have introduced in the beginning. Ending your first chapter is not as difficult as you may think either. Leave your reader with just enough information...but not all. Or pose a question that can be answered in the next chapter. Peak their curiosity so they will continue reading. In many cases by the time you come to the Middle of writing your manuscript, it may seem to drag...what can you do? Try to remember to be consistent throughout. Avoid going back and forth between topics or people who may be portrayed in your Family History or Memoir. Maybe a little humour at the right time will do it...or a family secret...or even a slight change in atmosphere. A crisis that affected family members...these are all possibilities.
I'm sure you can think of more ideas than what I've listed here. And, in writing a Family History, you want to make sure to connect the past to the present. An example of this would be establishing a sense of place...by including the senses...the sounds, sights, smells, details that will let the reader experience what you're writing.
And finally, we come to the Ending of your manuscript. Just ask yourself what feelings do you want readers to have after finishing your book? Maybe you hope there will be a new awareness and understanding for what Our Ancestors encountered after arriving in a foreign land. Or possibly you can hope your readers will see the strength and courage Our Ancestors had that helped them overcome the great obstacles that befell them as they tried to assimilate into a new society . Hopefully people will read your Family History and Memoirs and come away with a renewed sense of pride and admiration for their ancestors.
I will spend very little time on Editing your manuscript. Be sure to check for the following: Is it Organized? Does it jump back and forth confusing the reader or is there a logical flow from one area covered to another? Am I missing something? What needs to be deleted and what doesn't? Do I have too much clutter...is what I want to get across clear? Am I creative in word usage without being overdone? Do I use colorful words or phrases appropriately? Of course there is always grammar and spelling to deal with here too. Your subjects and verbs along with your tenses must agree. Am I setting the right mood? Am I using active vs. the passive voice correctly?
As I mentioned earlier, when writing a Family History.... Keep It Elegantly Simple. Write as you would talk. Keep the length of your sentences varied. Write not to impress but so you can be understood. What I have written on this page was done to assist everyone who may have thoughts of writing their Family Histories or Memoirs someday. I also have a short list of books and a few websites that will serve as excellent guides during the writing process of Your Family History or Memoir. I hope you find them useful.
Writing Family Histories & Memoirs
By: Kirk Polking - 1995 ISBN: 0-55870-384-2
Family Tales, Family Wisdom - How To Gather The Stories of A Lifetime And Share Them With Your Family
By: Dr. Robert U. Akert With Daniel Klein - 1991 ISBN: 0-688-10177-1
Writing Your Life - Putting Your Past On Paper
By: Lou Willet Stanek, Ph.D. - 1996 ISBN: 0-380-78625-7
Writing Articles From The Heart - How To Write And Sell Your Life Experiences
By: Marjorie Holmes - 1993 ISBN: 89879-540-0
Please visit this site and read what Della has to say about Writing Your Family History: Your Life Story - By: Della Tenny. You will find some very useful information on her website.