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.
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.
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
- 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.
Follow Linda on Twitter @lindagartz
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.