Jul 212016
Reunions are stories of family

Relatives, In-laws, or friends, reunions are a great place to restore relationships and recover faded memories.

Until last weekend, I had forgotten how poignant reunions can be. Whether it’s family, school, or something else, reunions allow you to reconnect with the past. Not only are they great places to re-color some of those faded memories, they refresh the soul.

Reunions, Time, and Relationships

It’s hard to grasp the effect that time has—and doesn’t have—on relationships. Harder still to express. I wish I had the words to articulate the restorativeness (I know, that’s not really a word.) of last weekend. My graduate program, USC- International MBA, celebrated a 30-year reunion. This is the first one that I attended, though there was a 25-year event.

Some people looked more or less the same. Good genes or “work,” they were instantly recognizable. Others, looked markedly different at first glance—gray hair, less hair, or glasses.

But once conversations began, the years peeled away.

Friendships picked up exactly where they had left off in 1986, even though we had to catch up on 30 years or so of life.

Some people have had tragic experiences. Lost a husband. Have children with severe emotional issues. Divorced. Many had lived in other countries, held impressive positions, or earned additional degrees.

In other words, a lot had changed.

Reunions reveal good friends are like stars

Conversations peeled the years away.

Then again, very little changed—even for those who had “redefined” themselves by switching careers or vocation. Which was reassuring. We’d matured and aged, but not changed.

There was a lot of laughter, eating, and drinking.  A lot of memories were reviewed.  New ones were made. The days flew by.

As Mariah Hetherington said about a different reunion, “For me, the reunion’s biggest draw is the potential to reconnect face-to-face with people I truly regret losing touch with.”

Catching Up Before Hand

We cheated a little when it came to catching up.  All 57 of us were encouraged to write “30 years in 300 words.”  Eighteen of us did, in documents ranging from 25 to 700 words.  That helped start conversations.  I’d recommend that. It helps the folks that don’t want to explain the same things over and over.

Rebuilding the Memories

We shared the same experiences, but not the same memories. Sometimes it took several of us to rebuild the memory in terms that made sense. One would remember we were in Charleston, but not how we got there. Another would remember a bus trip. A third would remember the details of the tour we did of the container port. (I can’t remember the trip at all.)

And because we all speak foreign languages, the languages themselves held memories. I didn’t remember one classmate very clearly, until I heard him speaking German. Then the memories came flooding back.

Writing about Reunions

What reunions have you attended?  How did they affect you? What did you learn about yourself? Did they make you feel reminiscent for the times gone by or relieved you’d strayed from the path you were expected to take.

Did you worry beforehand? Buy new clothes? Lose weight? Try to lose weight and fail (I’m raising my hand here)? Think about what stories you wanted to tell? Think about what you would keep silent about?

What memories did you most enjoy reminiscing about? Why? What had you forgotten? Who did you enjoy reconnecting with? Why do you think you’d lost touch?  Do you think you’ll stay in touch now?

If you attended a school reunion, think back. Was it a high or low time in your life? Did you gain some perspective by going back?

If it was a family reunion, what did you learn about family and family relationships? How do they compare to friendships?

Your Turn

Have you written about a class or family reunion? How did you approach it? What advice would you give others?

Jul 082016
Invisible illnesses and daily pills

Chronic and invisible illnesses can separate from family members that need to hear our stories

If you’re like me, chronic and invisible illnesses come towards the bottom of the list of things you’d like to write about yourself. It’s not just immersing yourself in the negativity. Although the term “invisible illness” applies “to any medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others,” according to Social Work Today, some illnesses (heart disease, cancer) seem to generate support from loved ones, while others leave sufferers socially isolated.

Many with invisible illnesses frequently encounter people who, although they’ve never had a license to practice medicine feel beholden to second guess other people’s health status or dispense dismissive medical advice.

I wish Scary Mommy (Christine Organ) would write a post to put a stop to the shaming that people with chronic and invisible illnesses face, like she did with Put Down Your Pitchforks and Cut Moms Some Slack.
I’m happy to see courageous stories starting to pepper the blogosphere, in spite of society’s wont to Monday morning quarterback. Sites like YouDontLookSick.com are giving voices to those who feel isolated.

Why Stories of Invisible Illnesses Are Important to Tell.

Stories of struggles and resilience inspire and promote understanding. Unfortunately, those stories don’t always end with a change of fortune. A Job-esque restoration of wealth and family wholeness, or some other version of happily-ever-after. Or a cure.

Neither is that necessarily the message that loved ones need to hear.

Resilience isn’t about waiting for the tide to turn. It’s about learning to swim in turbulent water, or reconciling yourself to staying on the shore. A 15-year-old in my life recently advised a friend who is struggling with depression. “I don’t think this is something you can make go away. But, I think it is something you can learn to live with.” That’s what our stories can illustrate.

Explain your illness.

Writing about invisible illnesses

Writing about invisible illnesses, though hard, can promote understanding.

If you’re thinking, “I shouldn’t have to,” I’m with you. At least partly. On the other hand, , you may also want to promote understanding. Write from the heart or try one of these strategies:

  1. Quote from reputable sources. The medical community’s debates over a disease’s diagnosis and treatment can  undermine patient support. Have there been new studies? Protocols? Perhaps you can borrow a quote from National Institutes of Health or John Hopkins—an institution that even Aunt Betty will believe in.
  2. Get help from an advocacy group. Most people aren’t trying to be complete jerks. If there is literature that explains how family members can be supportive, share it. (If you quote an excerpt, reference back to the original so people can read the complete article.)
  3. Write a third person account and provide an outside perspective. Especially if you feel family members have made up their minds without facts, someone else’s situation may open their eyes.
  4. Rather than educate loved ones on invisible illnesses, help them understand the symptoms you experience. What no-see-ums do you face daily, such as joint pain, shortness of breath, lack of energy?

Explain what’s so hurtful about the folks that don’t get it.

Back when I was at my worst with chronic Lyme disease, I wanted to wear my positive Western Blot like a crest on a soccer uniform, and my doctors’ resumes around my neck.

The questions people would ask would just increase my emotional distress.

“Are you sure it’s not something simple, like lack of sleep?”  Are you sure you’re not suffering from something simple like NO tact and NO brains?

“Maybe if you went out more, you’d get your mind off of it. . .” Let’s see, if I could walk 100 yards or string five words together in a sentence I might be able to go out for an evening. Obviously, I’m just staying in ‘cause I love single person pity-parties..

“A PICC line seems a little drastic. . .”   Thank you. I graduated summa cum laude with a triple major, but I’m incapable of processing my doctor’s advice. Good thing that you, almost total stranger, are here to help me through.

Of course, I never said those italicized things. Most of the time, I’d mumble something inane. It wasn’t simply that brain fog made me too inarticulate to debate. I didn’t see the reason I needed to.

It’s a pity ASweetLife.org’s handy dandy email-able 15 Things Not to Say to Someone with a Chronic or Invisible Illness wasn’t around back then. Every one of those things hits the nail on the head, and they explain why those questions are things are counter-productive, if not down-right insulting, while putting the snarkiness on hold.  Aside: Personally, I’d add a #16.  If you’re tempted to begin a sentence with “I don’t mean any offense, but…” don’t say that sentence.

Let loved ones know how they can be supportive and helpful.  What do you need? What makes it harder for you?

Tell the story of how you coped.

Stories are more powerful than facts. Anyone can debate the facts of an invisible illness, but no one can deny your story.

  1. What kind of onset did your illness have?
  2. How did your life change as you became symptomatic?
  3. How hard was the process of having your illness diagnosed?
  4. Was your case stereotypical or not? How did that impact the diagnosis and treatment?
  5. Did you have problems finding qualified medical advice?
  6. Who supported you during that time?
  7. Who helped with the kids?
  8. How did you explain changes to your spouse, kids, and other loved ones?
  9. Is this something that other family members will likely inherit?

Explain your new normal

When the rheumatologist I saw, diagnosed Fibromyalgia, he handed me a little tri-fold brochure on ‘Coping.’ A little bullet point recommended changing vocation or career path.  Simple huh? Not.  Explain why as you tell your story.

  1. What is your “normal” day?
  2. What limitations do you face?
  3. What limitations are you unable to accept?
  4. Have you had to change your vocation?
  5. Have you had to change your lifestyle, home, or family routines?
  6. How have you made your peace with your invisible illness or disability?
  7. Has the illness progressed to visible, i.e., do you sometimes use a cane or wheel chair?
  8. Have you turned to advocacy?
  9. What helps you get through?

Your Turn:

Have you told your story of coping with chronic or invisible illness? How did it go over? What would you recommend?

Jun 272016
Silver linings behind broken hearts

Are there silver linings behind the heart-break in your family stories?

Last week, however, a friend showed me how to look for silver linings.

The news is often disturbing, but in the last couple of weeks the horrors that some people will inflict on others makes me want to run and hide. Only I don’t know where I’d go.

The Brandon Vandenburg and Brock Turner rape rob me of sleep. Is our culture is no further along than when I was a teenager? I seethe not only over the injustice of the sentence handed down to Brock Turner. I shudder that it would even occur to a young person—drunk out of his mind or not—to do those things to a woman. That it would occur to their friends to let it happen.  That it would occur to friends to defend their actions.

Then Orlando happened. Horrific enough to be an entire iceberg, but sadly not. Just a tip. The bullets were not the only vehicles of hate. Tragedy brings out the best and the worst in people. Unfortunately, the media likes to give voice to the worst. It sells and gets re-shared.

People (other terms come to mind, but I’ll stick with people) used the Orlando attack as an opportunity for hate-mongering, pontificating, and demagoguery. The reasonable and logical Laura that hides lives somewhere inside my emotional ADHD brain knows that these voices belong to the outliers. But that brought me very little comfort, because I’d see heart-broken posts from LGBT friends and family members cross my social media feeds. The hate cut them, increasing their grief. Particularly that espoused from so-called Christian pulpits. Words sharpened by hate and fear took palatable form, severing—or at least trying to sever—tenuous faith.

Silver Linings in Social Media

As the days went by, voices of support and the spirit of love gained traction, sometimes from unexpected places. Utah’s Lt. Governor Spencer Cox’s moving speech. Fr. James Martin words of comfort, and the way he encouraged us to love.

Through his postings, one of my friends was able to teach me—and probably many others—something about silver linings.  They’re not always easy to see. He made an intentional decision to look away from the hurt and look for the good. He went out looking for silver linings. Literally. He took a stroll through Traverse City, Michigan, looking for signs of comfort and solidarity.

Rainbow flag as a sliver lining

Silver linings in vibrant colors fly throughout Traverse City, Michigan. Photo credit Guy Molnar

He came home that afternoon and posted 25 photos of rainbow flags hung in front of houses and in shop windows. Now he’s up to 42. And in response, his friends have posted the ones they’ve seen.

Silver Linings in our Stories

I wonder how many times I’ve missed the silver linings in stories.

I think of my family history as a tapestry woven by different people in contrasting hues during divergent times. Good times in bright, vibrant colors and sturdy strands. Anxious periods in timid tones embroidered with delicate threads. Huge swaths of grays and blacks mark times of fear and heart-break with knots and tangles.  Together those colors and textures make a beautiful story. And every once in a while, silver linings shine through.

My friend’s silver lining walk reminded me of something important. Seeing silver linings isn’t about drying your eyes, keeping your head up, or even keeping calm and carrying on. You can see them through your tears and in the darkest moments, but sometimes you have to look hard.

As you write your own and family stories, don’t overlook the silver lining that often lurk unseen. Maybe you can make some of those pieces of tapestry into an ongoing bedtime story: a vibrant coverlet lined with silver.


Jun 162016
Truth and Accuracy scrabble tiles

How do you deal with the elusiveness of truth and accuracy in memories and family stories?

The fallibility of memory can make truth and accuracy hard to come by. Competing versions of the same stories—the same memories—dance and whorl around family tables every get together. One person remembers it was a Sunday in July. A sibling insists it was in October and a Sunday.

How do you decide which version is true? What details are accurate? Perhaps a better question is how do you decide if the details of the story are worth fighting about.

Often the answer lies in understanding the difference between truth and accuracy as well as your own role as storyteller.

Truth versus Accuracy Continue reading »

Jun 042016
Daddy with childhood dog

Animal stories reveal character. Think about your family members and which animal stories you could tell.

My neighbor Frank likes to say that the way people act around dogs shows what type of person they really are. He’s right. Animal stories reveal character. Frank has never gone so far as to say that if someone doesn’t like dogs, they have questionable friendship potential, but I suspect that thought has crossed his mind.

How Animal Stories Reveal Character

John Grogan’s memoir, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is a great example of how animal stories reveal character. In Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann explain the popularity of the yellow lab as a character. “One of the reasons Marley is such a beloved character … is because Grogan reveals his dog’s flaws as well as his joys.” The same holds true for the author. We don’t just love Marley. Continue reading »

May 272016
What else have you lost quote by Havelock Ellis

What else have you lost? How did that loss teach the fine art of living?

Grief often rears its dark, draining head, not just when someone dies.  The onset of many life crises is the loss of something. A relationship, a value, a sense of purpose.  We’ve all experienced a loss of a pet or cherished object (See Writing Your Lost and Found Story.) But what else have you lost during your lifetime?

Loss of a Relationship, Sense of Identity

A loss of a relationship can also entail a loss of an identity. Our worldview changes when life chooses to make an illegal U-turn.

Recently, a friend of mine when through a time of anguish that makes me feel neurotic grieving over my perfectly normal empty nest. Her 20-year-old daughter disappeared from a rehab facility in a major city many hours away from home. For two eternally long months, there was no sign of her child.

Finally, by chance, driving along a major thoroughfare in her own city, she spotted her daughter. The reunion was also a moment of heartbreak. My friend has a hard time talking about it. Though she temporarily located her daughter, my friend’s world had shifted on its axis. In addition to missing her daughter’s physical presence in her home—in her life, the shroud of adulthood that her daughter now possesses limits her ability to help her child who suffers from mental illness and addiction.

When have you had to make peace with a new version of “normal”? A divorce, job loss, or career change can also spark feeling of a loss of identity. How did you right yourself? How did you regain your sense of self? These make great stories, stories with the power to connect across generations.

Innocence Lost

Another friend tells of her pre-teen loss of innocence. The Oakland County child killer and the panic he instilled in the entire Detroit metro area robbed her and her friends of carefree afternoons, riding bikes to each other’s houses. Of going out to play out from under the anxious, watchful eyes of their parents. The bubble of invincibility that buffets children against the horrors of the adult world popped. In its place came an imagination that ran rampant. It colored not only her own development, but the eventual choices she would make as a parent.

Loss of Physical Ability, Memory

There are things that our mortal, frailer-than-we’d-like-to-admit bodies cheat us out of as well. They betray our still active minds by refusing to work, or at least work as well as we’d like. They force us to fight disease instead of those life battles we want to mount.

Perhaps you’ve had to bear helpless witness as a particularly cruel disease causes a family member to misplace memories, even their sanity. Past moments, even the recognition of loved ones, fade into oblivion. Consider writing about these moments of heartache; they tell stories of love and devotion.

What else have you lost?

Along the road, whether by virtue of physical maladies or of the life sh** that happens, we lose things. Intangible things. Confidence. Independence. Hope. Faith. Courage. Our groove.

Don’t you think these moments are important to share? What would you want your loved ones, especially those of future generations, to take away from your story? Of course, they’ll be touched by your loss, but they can also learn from your healing or your renewed perspective. Perhaps they’ll even discover that resilience isn’t inborn, but something that can be gathered along the way, even on the roughest, dirtiest roads.

Havelock Ellis is quoted as saying, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Let your loved ones know how you did that.

May 192016
 Fathers' Day Ideas illustrated by my husband

Since this guy is notoriously hard to buy for, I’m always searching for more meaningful Fathers’ Day Ideas.

Is it just me, or are fathers more difficult to buy for than mothers?  I’m always short of fathers’ day ideas. My husband has a box in the bedroom with yet-to-be-used gifts he’s received.  He claims he appreciates all of them, but I’m always searching for more meaningful gifts, particularly those that will bring precious memories alive.

Spending Time with Dad

Making memories trump recalling memories.  First and foremost, focus on those gifts and ideas that you can look back on with fondness in years to come.  Bonus points if you can do something that will evoke memories of the father in question’s own childhood adventures with his dad.  Going fishing or hiking. Building something in the workshop. Perhaps instead of making a craft for dad, the kids can make a craft with dad on Fathers’ Day.

Memory Gifts

Fathers' Day Handprint In addition to those mentioned in 4 Ways to Share Memories with Dad, I’ve marked some great memory related Fathers’ Day ideas on my Fathers’ Day Ideas Pinterest Board. One that really struck a chord with me was carrotsareorange.com’s idea of “Our Little Book of Experiences,” a creative take on the ubiquitous coupon book. You can fill this one with memories of great moments spent with dad or promises of future quality time together.

In many offices, desk space is at a premium. I particularly like Shutterfly’s customized smart-phone case, which doesn’t require Dad to give up precious desk-top real estate.  Photobooks are also always well-received. Consider filling one with photos of Dad’s success at his hobby, such as finished wood-working projects, his garden in full-bloom, or photos of him coaching little league.

Preserve Your History with Dad

Topping my list of Fathers’ Day Ideas is preserving your history with your father, and Story Corps presents a wonderful opportunity to do just that. Founded to increase understanding through audio interviews, their mobile booth travels around the country recording moving conversations. They’ve also launched a Story Corps smartphone app. The app features the same meaningful question prompts and, like the official booths, uploads interviews to the Library of Congress.

Grandpa Fathers’ Day Ideas

You don’t want to get me started about how hard it is to find a present for my father-in-law. He doesn’t want for much. If he does want something, he goes out and buys it.  Now that he and my mother-in-law have down-sized, they don’t want “clutter.”  So, gift card it is….

Give your difficult-to-buy-for dad or granddad a piece of their family history. You can use FamilySearch.org or your library’s edition of Ancestry.com to make him a starter pedigree chart. And, rude as it sounds, you can give your dad a DNA test.  Not to confirm paternity, mind you, but to give him an insight into his heritage.

Want More Fathers’ Day Ideas?

Your Turn

What was your favorite Fathers’ Day gift? Have any other memory-related or memorable Fathers’ Day Ideas?  Please leave your thoughts.

May 132016
Lost and found story- letters spelling out Lost

What’s your lost and found story. (Letter images by Leo Reynolds. https://is.gd/LU27zB)

“How could we have lost something so precious?” my friend lamented to her husband. Dusk approached. She, her husband, and various friends had searched throughout much of the previous night and all that day for their elderly little dog that had wandered off.  Their story is still unconcluded and it’s hard to watch it unfold.  But it made me think. We all have at least one major lost and found story.

Perhaps it’s a lost object that still sticks in your craw. Perhaps you’ve had an experience analogous to the finding the prodigal son.

Writing about things lost and found

Whether there’s a happy ending or not, stories of things lost or lost and found make compelling narratives.  In fact, such stories are easy to find all over the Internet.

Most of us have been there. For instance, there was the 10 minutes during which my then 5-year old was missing at the Salt Lake City airport. I can still remember the panic I felt and the way that I wanted to strangle the slow-to-take-it seriously airport security guard.

Elements of your lost and found story:

1. What went missing? (duh)
Object, person, pet, or other.  It may have simply disappeared or was stolen.  Wallet, military metal, vacation or wedding pictures all come to mind, but you can take a creative twist on this topic.  One example is Kannaki’s “My Mother’s Shoes.”

2. Why did it matter to you?
This could be obvious, such as in the case of a five year-old, but it isn’t always. Perhaps the crucifix that went missing had been passed down from your grandmother, a life-long devoted Catholic. Perhaps it had brought you comfort on numerous occasions.

3. How did you discover it (he or she) was missing?

4. How did you feel about it at the time? What was your state of mind?
In the case of my friend, her word choices are telling.  The rest of us consider her little dog as “gone missing.” We use a blameless phrase. Repeatedly, I’ve heard her say, “I lost my little dog.” She’s shouldering the responsibility, way more than she should.  What happened in your story? Did you feel responsible? Victimized?

5. What measures did you take? Posters? Letters? Flyers? A reward?

6. Who helped you search? Were they actually helpful?
I can’t help remembering that security guard blithely pointing out every young boy in plain sight.  “Is that him?”  “What about that child?”  Me nearly yelling, “Get on your radio!  None of these children are wearing a dark blue shirt with a rhino on it!”

7. How did the story turn out?
Of course you have to of the outcome. But that doesn’t have to be the way the story ends.  Instead, you can talk about silver linings, what you learned, any insight that might be applicable to the rest of your life.

8. How do you feel looking back?
We can often reconcile ourselves to events only after time has passed.  For instance, after my parents died, my sister and I were never able to locate my father’s wedding ring, which he kept on his key-chain.  It used to keep me up at night, wondering what clever hiding place he thought he’d found shortly before he took his trip. But over time, hope has diminished. After all, it was a material thing. I’ve made an uneasy peace with the loss.  What about you?

Your Turn:

What your lost and found story? How have you told it? How have you shared it?


May 042016

A time for change quote A time for change often hits us from behind. The change is either inevitable or beyond our control. I’ll confront such a time on Mother’s Day when I watch my eldest son walk across the stage at his college commencement ceremony. A lot of things will be commencing, including his job search and our wrapping our heads around the fact that he won’t be coming home to roost any longer.

Adjusting to change

Those times in which we adjust to a new normal are important to write about. Tell the story of what happened and whether or not you were prepared for the change.  Did you embrace your new role or did you grieve for the past?

Was it (or is it) a slow change that you saw coming from years away?  Aging, ravages of chronic disease, and kids growing up too fast all come to mine.  How did you try to prepare yourself? Did you put your head in the sand until you had no choice but face reality or did you obsessively research, read books, and consult friends?

Sometimes drastic life changes sneak up on us. We get a phone call and hear of the change—a fait accompli.  (I hope if this happened to you it was for winning a lottery.)

In Handbook of Stressful Transitions Across the Lifespan, T.W. Miller writes, “Life transitions can provide a productive time to introspectively understand ourselves.”  These transitions also bring an opportunity to explain ourselves to others.

Was life suddenly divided into a before and after as surely as if that date was tattooed upon your forehead?  How did you deal with the shock?  Looking back now, how do you feel about the before? What have you learned about moving forward?

Time for a change

Sometimes we come to a realization that it’s time to make a change. We’ve stagnated. Screwed up. We’re looking for a new beginning or have gathered up the gumption to pursue a dream.  Such changes don’t always come easily.  Pulling ourselves off of our current path and onto a new one can be excruciating. For instance, checking into rehab to begin a life of recovery often takes hitting rock bottom first. Other times, accepting change can mean voluntarily kissing a lot of things that you love goodbye, such as moving to a new place or starting a new career. Going back to being the new kid on the block.

Small Changes

A time for change doesn’t have to be huge to make a significant story. I love remembering how my Dad decided to stop smoking right after he met his grandson for the first time. Longevity suddenly mattered.

There are changes we all make for the better—learning to be more accepting of people, more forgiving. We mellow with age. That mellowing makes a great story.

Your Turn: A time for Change

When have you experienced a time for change in your life? Have you written about it?

Apr 222016
Make stories relevant show emotions

When you make your family stories relevant, they pull at the heart strings of your readers.

There’s a point to sharing ancestors’ stories—or at least there should be. Educate. Connect. Inspire.  That happens best when you’re able to make family stories relevant.

I could share a detailed tale about my grandmother, one that includes every bit of historical minutiae that I’ve been able to find. But why would you want to read that? She’s my grandmother, not yours. If I want you to read them—I need to make my family stories relevant to you, the reader. I need to make you care.

Making stories relevant has very little to do with spinning (or citing) an extraordinary tale. It has more to do with revealing the humanity within that narrative. Shauna Niequist writes:

I’m less and less interested in the ruminations of a scholar and more and more compelled by stories with grit and texture and blood and guts and humanity. I’m compelled by stories from everyday people whose lives sound a lot more like mine than the stories of superstars and high achievers…

How do you make your family stories relevant?

How do you make your characters pull at their descendants’(your readers) heart-strings?  How do you achieve that “there but for the grace of God, there go I” type of feeling?

The American Press Institute explains that we care most about those things that affect us. Just as we care more about the local forecast than the one across the country, our hearts are more likely to go out to a local family or a relative than a stranger several states away.

The article, Good Stories Prove their Relevance to the Audience, suggests making the ‘common ‘proximity’ of interests and emotions of the story clear. That works particularly well for those of us trying to make our family stories relevant.

The reader may identify with a range of life experiences, from the emotional shock of losing a job or worrying about a sick child to mundane tasks like the weekly trip to the grocery store or filling the car with gas…

How was your family member or ancestor relatable?  Was he in constant fear of not being able to provide for his children? Was she a mother that had buried children? Husbands? A reluctant matriarch?

Give your readers a passport into the past.

Help your readers understand why they would want visit the foreign soils of the past. Encourage them to use their imagination. What would it be like to live in that time period? What would family members be like if they lived in modern times? What would it have been like to have them as a friend? A grandparent? How would you have managed in their circumstances?

Write about decisions and circumstances.

Part of making a story relatable comes through promoting understanding through the setting. Not just that it was a sunny day in 1893, but by highlighting social context. What might the family dream for a little girl born that year? Today we dream that a daughter might be President. Back in 1893, many parents simply hoped that the child would survive past age five. Women didn’t have many rights. Perhaps they dreamed of a desirable spouse and a comfortable standard of living. Bring those universal human hopes into your story.

Often, we’re limit our stories to the dates of death and birth. What decisions did the person make? What choices did they have? What obstacles did they face? What resilience did they show throughout their lives?

Your connection matters

Let’s face it. If you have no personal connection to the person you’re writing about, you can’t really expect your readers to connect to him or her either. As you start your family story, think why did you like, love, or admire that person? Why did they matter to you? Why does their story matter?

Is there little something about them that makes them more relatable? More human?  (Read Sneaky Grandma.)

Your Turn

How have you made your family stories relevant to your readers?