The popular TV show Who Do You Think You Are? provides some valuable storytelling insight that we can apply to the narratives of our ancestors. Despite the professional genealogists, unlimited travel budget and celebrities, the show also has some practical storytelling wisdom for memory and family history writers.
How do you gather momentum for the new year in the bleak mid-winter?
Remember riding your bike when you were young? Starting out downhill, pedaling like mad to gather speed and momentum for the hill ahead? You don’t have to dust your bike off (though if you’re able, it’s a great idea) to approach the new year with passion. There are other ways to store up emotional energy and keep a healthy cadence rather than a half-hearted slog during the coming months.
Try the following in addition to the tried-and-true procrastination busters.
Many times, taking a step back from stories allows us to truly understand them. Until we separate ourselves from events, we see them only through our own eyes. We know what happened, but we don’t know what it really means. We don’t realize all the implications.
Taking a step back can also help us see how our stories connect to each other and how they continue to influence our lives.
If you didn’t read Do Memoir and Research Belong Together? you might wonder why’d I compile a list of genealogy resources for memoirists and memory writers. Before you yell, “BAHHHH Research” and run (or click) away, stay with me. This list of genealogy resources for memoirists will help you incorporate historical details that bring your memories to life. The facts you gleam make a great way to “show, not tell” the settings of your stories, increasing your readers’ understanding of your past.
Do research and memoir belong together? Counter intuitive as it sounds, the answer is yes. Though it is true that memoir involves writing about the episodes of your past that already exist in your memory, research can enhance your story. Adding researched details from the past can bring your story alive for your readers.
Working with family historians writing their ancestor’s stories brings this home. They not only provide the meticulously researched (and cited) facts for readers. When they write about their ancestors, they often include a rich background of historical and social context. They don’t do this to fill in the gaps between facts. They use their research to help their readers visualize the events of the past.
Do beauty and family stories go together? Should they? When we leave a photographic record for prosperity, we’re all smiles. Why not do the same for our legacy of family stories?
Most of us want to present ourselves in a positive light. Maybe not quite perfect, but normal. We want to cover the blemishes. We may not be the Cleaver family, but we keep mute about the family disfigurements, the bad times.
Remember the excitement of back-to-school? Getting your teacher assignments, supplies, figuring out if your best buddies were in the same class as you? Wondering if you’d like the teacher? Years (decades) later, we remember a few of those teachers who made a difference. For good or for bad.
That’s a universal experience. It bonds us—just like the memory of the smell of mimeograph paper and the feel of the paper-bag book covers for those of us that went to school in the 60s and 70s.
Culture Clashes. They happen among nations, ethnic groups, and generations. Sadly, culture clashes also occur among families. Heritages or upbringings collide. Differing values splinter relationships.
Personal memory collectors, memoirists, and family storytellers all struggle with whether or not to tell the unhappy, unflattering, or embarrassing tales.
Understanding the fears our ancestors faced can help us understand their lives. That, in turn, can help us tell their stories. Although it’s hard to know from the meager records we unearth whether an ancestor was an introvert or adventurer, we can form some theories based on historical context. We can also get a better grasp on their everyday lives.
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.