Online Learning Blog

Tips on Writing a Family History

Published on 8th August 2014 by Diana Nadin

Tips on Writing a Family History

Every time you turn on the TV there seems to be a programme helping members of the public or celebrities to trace their ancestry. It’s fascination stuff and it’s big business for the many websites that – for a fee – give access to records and information on the subject.

But what if you just want to quietly concentrate on writing your own family history? Something to let the younger generation know what it was like in ‘the good old days’ or to ensure that past generations and what they achieved are not forgotten. Here are some tips that you might find useful:

Tip One: Choose what format you want to use

Don’t think that a family history has to be a straightforward, factual account of what happened. Of course it can be, but it could also be a cookbook, featuring traditional family recipes with an accompanying write-up about the person who you got the recipe from. Or, it could be based on a scrapbook or album format, featuring photos, stories, old ticket stubs and other bits of memorabilia. The permutations are endless - so think creatively and use your imagination.

Tip Two: Decide on the scope of the book

This means deciding on who to write about, why you want to write about them and how far back you plan to dig into your family history. For example, are you just going to cover your side of the family or are you going to go in search of your partner’s relatives too? Are you going to try to include everyone on the family tree or just stick to those that have had ‘interesting’ lives?

Tip 3: Have a plot for your book

A family history is no different from other stories – you need to write it in a way that is captivating to the reader or they’ll lose interest. Your family members should become the ‘characters’ of the story and their lives must be told in a way that shows their suffering, joy, sadness etc. as clearly as any novel would. Try to inject a little suspense to keep your readers wanting to know more!

Tip 4: Include personal bits

You want your family history to show the personalities of its subjects and one effective way to do this is to include quotes, anecdotes, family traditions and favourite reminiscences as well as everyday details about family life. Don’t just concentrate on achievements, write about the embarrassing bits too – show them ‘warts and all’. Telling the same story from different perspectives can also make for an interesting story.

So there you have it – I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. You should now be able to get down to recording your family history for posterity. But if you feel you need some more help, have a look at our Biographies, Memoirs and Family Histories course which shows you how to write and publish your book in easy steps.