Writing about your family history may seem like a fairly simple task at first. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Oh, well that’s easy, I’ll just write a simple chronology of my famly's bloodline.” But as you prepare to put those first few words on paper, reality hits you. You realize that getting started is the most difficult part of the task. Or maybe you’ve started and never finished because you realize that the project was too big. Well, I’ve got great news-YOU’RE NOT ALONE. If you’re one of those people that has given up hope, consider this to be your lucky day. I am here to help.
Now then, let’s begin shattering that writers block of yours with a few key tips and common mistakes to avoid when documenting your family history. Get ready folks, we’re preparing for takeoff…
This is not a novel. When think about where to begin, people tend to stress over the introduction of their family history, as they would a novel. Family histories and biographies fall under the umbrella of non-fiction. In this genre, the first line doesn’t matter nearly as much because the reader already knows what to expect… unlike the latter. Your family history is a series of events. So naturally, you want to start off with the first event rather than trying to fixate on the perfect introductory paragraph. If you want to draw the reader in and keep them entertained, start with the most important, exciting, controversial (whatever it may be) event, then follow through with the most important facts. That way, you’ll ensure that the reader will stay in tune with the story from beginning to end.
Narrow your scope. If you’re going to share your family timeline with the world, it would be in your best interest to start with one ancestor and or event at a time. Then, you can go on to do a subset of the events in their lives. Don’t go all willy-nilly and try to cover the scope of too many generations and branches of families within their family (this is probably the most common mistake). With anything in life, you have to narrow down your choices when you are given too many things to choose from. The same rules apply for non-fiction. Narrow your scope. It’ll make your job a lot easier.
DON’T ADD DIALOGUE. When writing fiction novels, dialogue may serve as the breath and soul of your story, but in non-fiction, especially family histories, you never want to put words into your ancestors’ mouths. In non-fiction, you cannot write out conversations that you have not witnessed yourself or have no evidence of... When writing about people who lived in the long gone past, keep in mind that there were different mannerisms and different ways of speaking in those times and there is no way or properly convey tone. Adding dialogue will ultimately skew your reader’s perceptions of said ancestors. You might unintentionally make your ancestor appear to be more (or less) educated, ignorant, witty, accepting, or dull than they actually were. Remember, this is non-fiction, you don’t want to rewrite history and assign certain character traits to people that they may not have had. If you add dialogue, readers will begin to quote what your long-gone family members supposedly said, and that can turn into a huge problem.
So now that I’ve provided the antidote for your writer’s block, it’s time for you to make known the stories of your distant relatives. Dig deep into those rich soils of your family tree and share your rich family heritage with your descendants and the world.