Writing Family Memoirs

Well you are now at the point after researching information about your ancestors that you want to create a written family memoir. That is a good idea. Remember you can always be finding additional information on a relative and it can be added later. Getting started and not putting off the opportunity is key.

So here are some ideas and approaches to help you get started. First, don’t feel you have to write a long and lengthy ‘novel’ and include everyone. It is actually better to concentrate on one branch, especially the family side you have the most information, photos and records concerning.

To define a family memoir or history, know that you will be giving a ‘voice’ to the numerous people in this story. This memoir will give descriptions, settings, events, characteristics to individuals, so that the reader can gather a better understanding of who each person was and what constituted their life.

You will need to sort and pull aside all the documents, photos, journals, records, etc that relate to the family branch you are covering. If that branch is too massive, you can narrow the memoir down to focus on just a few individuals; such as a grandfather and his parents / siblings. Doing this sorting first will really help the writing proceed later. You can refer to details and events that are most important and leave out unnecessary portions.

Sometimes you wonder if all life events should be included – the answer is ‘yes’. For example, if you find records of a brief first marriage of your grandmother, by all means include that event, even if it was short-lived, it did actually happen. Very important is to include other factors that may have caused this first marriage. Maybe the first husband was about to go off to war, the couple married, he was killed in battle and she was a young widow. See, it is not so much the fact, but the surrounding circumstances that really make a story.

Then there are family legends. Should they be included in the story? If you have verified a family tale, by all means write about the legend and what you found, which could be different. For most all family myths there is some truth to the story, but twisted around after numerous years. The key is to use only verifiable facts, that makes the family history credibility.

If you have a family tale you can not totally substantiate, but would love to include it, that can be done, just make sure you state that information. Let the reader know it is a family legend, that this is what you have found, but it is not completely proven.

A great aspect to add to a memoir is if you find any connection to a notable person, no matter how brief. Everyone loves a bit of name dropping, so if that is found to be true, do include it. The segment I included about the life of my mother’s cousin had this:

With Capt. Richard Walters having vast aviation experience, he was very anxious for his oldest daughter, Alice to start flying lessons. So even before she could drive an automobile, she was learning how to pilot a small plane. Besides her father as an instructor, Alice had the opportunity in 1935 to be given a few personal flying lessons at the Miami Tamiami Airport by the world-famous Amelia Earhart, a fellow aviator friend of her father’s. Miss Earhart was in the Miami area many times enjoying the Miami Air Shows that Capt. Walters sponsored in South Florida.

Whenever possible, try to include a person’s conflicts, emotions, fears, achievements and triumphs, no matter how small. If you found an old school report card and that relative had perfect attendance that year, put it down. On a military service record, if they were promoted in rank three times within five years, make sure to write about that accomplishment. Using little chunks of information especially found in local hometown newspapers can really add to the story.

Lastly, do not worry that you must write in a fascinating, smooth, professional writing format. Just write, get the story down in a readable form. It can always be edited by another family member or friend.

Remember by doing a family memoir you are saving family fragments, names, tales, achievements, etc. from the past for everyone today and for future generations.

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