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In Part 2 of her guest post below, Linda Gartz, researcher and author of the ambitious and impressive Family Archaeologist blog, offers tips to others interested in documenting their family histories.

Linda Gartz, Family Archaeologist

Family History Writing Advice

The first thing to do if you want to begin a family history is interview the living, preferably on video tape.  There are dozens of books and hundreds of blogs out there to help. Lynn Palermo at The Armchair Genealogist writes a terrific primer on how to write your family history.

Helpful Books

Here’s a smattering of books to guide you through writing a memoir:

Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach

You Can Write Your Family History, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Life, Judith Barrington (Contains exercises to get those memories flowing.)

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser (Several brilliant memoirists discuss how they did it.)

And, of course, don’t forget Lynette’s guides on writing memoir and life stores, on this blog.

Read memoirs to get a feel for the structures and voices that memoirists use to share their stories and see the kinds of circles they draw around parts of their lives to find the core they wish to write about.

I like the following memoirs. For more, see: 100 Memoirs by Shirley Showalter.

Growing Up, Russell Baker

The Color of Water, James McBride

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt

The Road from Coorain, Jill Kerr Conway

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller

For family history, which is more comprehensive than memoir, I recommend:

Oh Beautiful, John Godges

Family, Ian Frazier

Additional Tips

  • Do your homework. Don’t try to write the book without having put in the incubation and research that needs to be done for the story to emerge.
  • If you have primary documents, read them, and take notes on where you found the information.
  • Talk to family and family friends, who can reveal background and details of family members’ lives.
  • Keep notes and interviews on your computer in an organized filing system.
  • Record your memories with as much sensory and emotional detail as possible.

For one way to organize and share family stories and history, drop by Family Archaeologist, to see how I’ve interwoven family stories and commentary.

Also visit Geneabloggers and click through to “Individual Family History Blogs.” A blog is a great way to share your writing with family members and allow them to comment and add their own memories.

I’ve been truly enriched and enlightened by my search through my family’s past. The greatest gift of the work is the path paved to understanding and forgiveness.

Linda Gartz

Follow Linda on Twitter @lindagartz

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Join me, Lynette Benton, on Thursday, September 29, 6 – 7:30 p.m. for a lively presentation on Life Story Writing, at Minuteman High School, Lexington, Mass.

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5 Responses to “Family History Writing: Guest Post by Linda Gartz, Part 2”

  1. Shirley says:

    These are great ideas, Linda, and I’m glad you are willing to share them here on Lynette’s great blog. Thanks for the shout out to 100memoirs.com also. I am impressed by how long it takes to do the archeological digging required of a great family history/life story. I can already see so many possible research paths to follow that I won’t tackle due to a timetable established by my book contract. I can, however, note the possible roads not taken, both for possible follow-up myself or for others who wish to travel the path of personal historian.

  2. But when the relatives start nagging try these 10 easy steps for making your family history book a reality. A simple photocopied booklet shared only with family members or a full-scale hard-bound book to serve as a reference for other genealogists? Or perhaps a family newsletter cookbook or Web site is more realistic given your time restraints and other obligations.

  3. Thanks for these books, Linda! It’s amazing, actually. Just using Ancestry.com I was able to trace my mother’s mother’s line all the way back to this country’s birth. The oldest patriarch we could find was a free black man who married in North Carolina, moved to Brooklyn, and raised a large family there whose legacy has been there ever since. But no other branches of my parent’s families were as “on the grid” as they were, so Ancestry.com has only been of limited help. I’m not sure how to get beyond North Carolina, though, either, since the US Census is of course not going to go back before 1776! These books could help me figure out where else to look, and who to contact.

  4. [...] and here: Family History Writing Part II  [...]

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