Tuesday, January 8, 2019

How to Turn Your Family History into a Great Read

There is an appealing story in your family's background. Find your story's hook and run with it!

In 1976, my brother Jay had a college assignment to write a paper about his family history. He sent home letters with questions for our parents to ask their parents. During the Easter break he talked over the details with mom and dad. Back at school he wrote the paper and got an A-.

Jay updated the paper in 1992. I wouldn't get involved in genealogy until 2003. That's when I started finding all the errors in his paper!

Despite some faulty memories and no documentation, he did write an engaging story. The key was finding a good hook and weaving it throughout. Jay chose the number of coincidences in our family history as his hook:
  • Our father grew up in the same building as his future brother-in-law.
  • Our mother once dated her other future brother-in-law.
  • Our father and our uncle were both stationed at Langley Air Force Base. Each had to bail out of a plane, though several years apart. (See "What Story Does Your Ancestor's Job Tell You?".)
Take it a step at a time. Choose your theme, gather your facts. Keep climbing.
Take it a step at a time. Choose your theme, gather your facts. Keep climbing.
That's the tip of the iceberg. My grandfathers came from neighboring towns in Italy and ended up one block apart in the Bronx, New York. That's the only reason my parents met.

My brother tells a story about one set of our great grandparents. My research turns out to blow family lore out of the water:
  • He says her name was Rosemarie Ferrara. It was Maria Rosa Caruso.
  • He says they married in Italy. They met and married in upstate New York.
  • He says our great grandfather Pasquale had to convince his reluctant wife to come to America. Actually, she got here first and was single at the time. It was her brothers who introduced her to Pasquale in New York.
  • He says it was a coincidence that our grandparents had the same last name. No…they were 3rd cousins.
When Grandpa was answering questions for Jay's paper, he left many things out. The truth is, Grandpa took a room in Pasquale's house because Pasquale was his father's 2nd cousin. That's why they had the same last name. That's why Grandpa married our grandmother. It was no coincidence. (See "Spinning Genealogical Facts into Your Family Story".)

Still, the coincidences do make a good hook. The fact that all branches of our family tree started in the same Italian province is a pretty good coincidence. I'd like to run with my brother's idea and add to it the benefit of my research and documents.

What about you? What might the hook be in your family story? Here are some suggestions:
  • coincidence
  • sacrifice
  • loyalty
  • love at first sight
  • injustice
  • survival
  • suffering
  • achievement
  • freedom
  • forgiveness
  • religious beliefs
  • cultural influences
If something in that list makes you think "that's my family, for sure," consider diving in. Start with lists of facts to support your hook. Pad it out with stories supporting the hook. Put more and more together. Outline it. Will you tell the story in chronological order? Or will you start with a key moment and tell the story in flashbacks and flash-forwards? (See "How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives".)

You may not be ready to write your story today. But consider these possible hooks and keep them firmly in mind. During your family tree research, be on the lookout for that hook when it shows up in the facts and stories you uncover. (See "How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life".)

You've got a good story there. Don't leave it untold.

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4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Now we all need to find a little time to get started!

      Delete
  2. Time to do this is the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't think you have to do it all at once. Start with finding a theme that can turn it into a good story.

      Delete

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