When writing an ancestor’s story, photographs provide me with textures, colors, props, clothing styles, hair styles, facial features, and apparent personalities that help my ancestors come to life on the page. Photos prevent histories from feeling stale and boring, so I *must* have visuals for every project that I write!
But when I can’t find photographs of a particular ancestor, I often have to get creative by inserting, instead, small images of ancestral signatures from records, photos/maps of the places they lived, or photographs of their gravestones to my family history narratives.
Imagine my excitement, then, when today I discovered one author whose ancestoir takes this strategy to an even more beautiful and visually appealing level: a photographic essay about ancestors on Narrative.ly:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading *and* viewing it!! This delicate weaving past, present, and future together in one narrative is the reason I prefer ancestoir to straight-up memoir or biography. In short, I crave the best of both worlds–both the stories of the ancestors AND the people who discovered them!
So please take a moment to read/view Tara Israel’s stunning family history photo essay on Narrative.ly at this link: http://narrative.ly/family-ties/playing-telephone-with-history/ and consider how it might help inspire YOUR family history writing activities. Also, if you haven’t joined already, check out this month’s Family History Writing Challenge.
This thanksgiving, are your ancestors invited to the celebration?
Sure, you will be with your living family during the holiday, but you don’t have to limit your guest list to the living—Try inviting your ancestors to the gathering!
Here’s how your ancestors can be a part of the celebration:
- Skip that “everyone list what you’re thankful for” go-’round-the-table game and introduce the “unseen guests” at your dinner table instead. Hand each family member a card that introduces that unseen “ancestor guests” (ie-“We’d like to welcome Mary Johanssen, from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mary was born in 1859 and married at fifteen to Paul Onstadt. They had twenty children, but seven of them died as babies. Mary is your great-great grandmother. As we eat our dinner, let us be mindful of all that Mary suffered during the great famine of . . . ) then go around the table, having each family member read their card aloud.
- Family Bingo: Distribute blank bingo cards. Players must fill in the blanks with the names of all the ancestors/relatives that come to mind. The bingo-caller then draws family names from a jar; five names in a row wins a small gift.
- Story Circle Game: Frame a topic, where the participants will relate a life story or memory of dearly departed relatives. One question might be, “What things were rationed in World War II and how did you deal with it?” You might ask the question, “What is your favorite memory of growing up in Grandma’s hometown?” Before commencing the actual storytelling, you should let the people in story circle know that you want to gather their stories for posterity. Be prepared to capture the stories manually in the event that anyone objects to audio- or videotaping. Remember that the information you collect should be documented with the name of the person who tells the story, the date and location of the story circle, and any dates and places the person relates. You never can tell what research leads you will pick up in the process.
- Table Teams: While waiting for dinner to be ready, cover each dining table with a disposable white plastic tablecloth (this plastic comes in a roll especially for such occasions). Put a few markers on each table top, then invite family members to draw their family’s family tree on the plastic cloth with the magic marker. Full names, birth dates (and death dates in some instances), marriage dates, spouses’ names, and children can be brainstormed while everyone is waiting for the dinner to start (beats watching television!
- “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” trivia about family members and ancestors. The fastest finger ones also deal with the family. For example, “Put the following family members in the order of their birth.” “Which person was not a nurse?” Be sure to include persons who have married into the family, too.
- Create a centerpiece with family mementos. Using photos, heirlooms, or handed-down ornaments, you can create a visually stimulating centerpiece that may spark up the conversation you have been waiting for.
- Heirloom Show & Tell: Have everyone bring in a family object (clothing, a book, a work tool, a knickknack) with a history. Display the items and, later, make time for a storytelling session.
At one of my own family gatherings several years ago, I printed out a bunch of paper copies of ancestral photographs (with captions and life span dates at the bottom) then gave each grandchild in the family a blank family tree like this coloring page (below), to which they were assigned to paste the photos in their proper order:
When the children had finished, another relative had them all laminated as “family history place-mats” for the kids to use during the big family dinner. We still have those place-mats at our house, and though they are looking a little sad, I love how my kids still talk family history during dinner, because these ancestors are always our special “guests” at dinner, thanks to the place-mats!
You can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):
I hear this question all the time:
“I’ve spent years on my ancestors’ story. Am I ready to publish?”
“Reasonably Exhaustive Search”
Can you say you’ve conducted a reasonably exhaustive search before going to press? To decide, ask yourselves these questions, also outlined by the BCG:
- Have you examined a wide range of high quality sources?
- What is the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion?
Even if your answers to the questions above indicate that you’re ready to publish, there remains that fear–the fear that somewhere out there is a gold mine of undiscovered data that would render your ancestoir irrelevant and/or incomplete. But before you let that fear put your printing project on hold, consider the following:
When speaking with Suzy Barile, author of her ancestral history, Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, I asked her, “How did you know when you were ready to publish?”
Barile explained her own “reasonably exhaustive search” details, but followed up with this helpful anecdote:
AFTER publishing her ancestors’ story, Barile was contacted by a woman in a faraway state who had happened upon a scrapbook in a dumpster that turned out to be the scrapbook of the “southern belle” ancestor for whom this history was written. Does this mean that she published too soon? Not exactly. This new information–the previously undiscovered scrapbook–would never have made it to Barile had she not published the book. The book’s noteriety is what helped the scrapbook-finder identify whose scrapbook she had found.
In other words: don’t hold back because there might be more records out there. Get your story published *because* there might be more records out there, whose owners might not know how to find you unless you make your story public. But only do this after you can say you have completed a resonably exhaustive search. You can always publish a second addition or–better yet–a sequel or prequel!
In the meantime, try blogging about your ancestors while crafting their ancestoir. This might help bring informants out of the proverbial woodwork, too.
So keep searching, keep writing, and let me know how you’re progressing!
Today is Scrapbook Sunday, so today’s tip is for people (like me!) who don’t have time to scrapbook, or for people who worry that if they add too many embellishments to their photos, future generations will look over all the doodads and think, “Dang; my great-great-grandma sure had a LOT of time on her hands!”
The solution: PROJECT LIFE. Here’s how it works:
(APOLOGIES–this video is long and annoying, but worth it to see the product)
Whether you are writing your ancestors’ life stories (“family history”), your own life stories (“memoir”), or your life story with ancestral stories woven throughout (“ancestoir.” I invented the word, FYI), you can surely find the time to jot down a few notes today, which we will then shape into an actual story on Wednesday.
To help you all get started with your personal and/or ancestral memoirs today, I will start with a topic:
So hurry and grab your notebooks (the real paper kind) or laptops and jot this down:
- What did you eat for breakfast as a child?
- What did your parents typically eat for breakfast when they were young? (this might necessitate a call to your parents, or some aunts and uncles who remember)
- What did your ancestors typically eat for breakfast? (might require a phone call or a trip to the library to peruse food histories such as 1000 Years Over a Hot Stove)
Now, as you are jotting down those foods, try to think in adjectives. Be creative! Were your Cheerios crunchy? Did grandma’s biscuits ooze with salty sausage gravy? Try to toss in as many creative writing words that will help make the story of your (or your ancestors’) breakfasts sound as delicious to the reader as they are to your memory!