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:
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.
Last night I couldn’t find my chapstick. I can’t live without my Burt’s Bees lip balm, especially in winter. I ransacked my purse, all jacket and coat pockets, my bathrooms, but to no avail.
I tried just ignoring the pain for a while, but found myself almost unable to function because my dry, chapped lips hurt so bad! I kept wondering,
“If it hurts this bad for me, how did my poor ancestors survive before lip balm was invented?”
This question sent me on a history hunt!
I just *had* to know how my ancestors kept their lips from developing dry, cracked, and bleeding sores.
Here’s what I learned–it might come in handy when writing about dry, brittle winters in the lives of my ancestors:
- The most well-known commercial lip balm (Chapstick) was invented in the 1880′s
- Chapstick was invented mere minutes from my home! (In Lynchburg, Virginia, as you can see in the ad, above)
- I’m betting local apothecaries had been making and selling lip balms even earlier than this date
- Home remedies for lip balm appear in recipe books as early as the 1600′s
** The Remedies/Recipes
The remedies, from Toilet of Flora (1779), a highly entertaining book of vintage remedies that you can download to your Kindle for free:
Speaking of lip balm (and completely off the topic of ancestors), while doing my research on this topic, I stumbled across the coolest lip balm invention: check out these lip balms that come in gun cartridges!
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!
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!
I’ve heard it too many times over the years:
“Jenny, you really should help me get my ancestral history written!”
<Groan!> I wish I could! But I’ve got five kids to raise, an entire house to clean, a dissertation-writing husband to support, and a church assignment that takes up every last scrap of free time I might find.
Still, while I can’t help all of my friends, family, and neighbors one-on-one, I CAN post some guidelines, tips, instructions, and writing prompts to hopefully get you all started. Please follow for this blog, folks, and I will do my best here to help you take all the genealogical data you’ve compiled over the years and turn it into a story!