Christopher Booker postulates that all stories encompass only seven plots. It’s interesting reading and makes me wonder if the same is true of family stories. If you had to choose, how would you describe the plot of your family story? (Hint: You don’t have to choose just one, plotlines are like roots—they love getting tangled up.)
As the number of ancestors grows exponentially, so do the plots. One line of the family might embody a completely different narrative than the other. And, rather than intertwining, those plots might have collided in an epic crash.
Why do I ask? Should you try to shoehorn your family’s past into a common boot?
Of course not. But… As you chase down individual stories in your family tree, often a larger story of the family comes to light. An identity. For those just getting to know it, explaining the overarching plot of your family story can frame your family’s history eloquently.
What’s the Plot of Your Family Story?
Do any of the following narratives run through the pages of your pedigree chart? Have they played out during the last few generations?
Rags to Riches
Is your family story a narrative of rising out of the ashes of poverty, persecution, or just plain ole obscurity? This story often emerges as an immigrant story with a definitive protagonist. A family leader, who landed on a foreign shore with little more than the clothes on his or her back.
Riches to Rags
This story has a place in my heart. It runs throughout both lines in my family. Tom Dunaway likes to call it the Royalty to Rogues story. For instance, in the 1500s many of my maternal ancestors were living in England, hobnobbing with royalty. That lasted until an epic falling out with Cromwell. Exile and a new life in the colonies followed. Another came to the Colony of Virginia as an aristocrat, but due to his role as a patriot, was relieved of his lands and titles. Each successive generation became a little bit poorer.
Coming of Age Story
This narrative is similar to the rags to riches story, but doesn’t necessarily revolve around social status, power, or money. It’s the way the family discovered their identity. Often, this is the driving plot of the family pioneer story.
Rock of Ages Story
A story doesn’t have to make dramatic twists and turns to be poignant. Many family stories are comforting tales of steadfastness. In other families, alas, that narrative was an irritating, constraining glass bubble of “knowing your place.”
Power Barons and Under Trodden
These stories are particularly important to tell. As the narrative weaves its way through the generations, lines of the family take on socioeconomic
identities. Your family story might include industrialists, Senators, or Members of Parliament. On the other hand, perhaps your family fought tooth and nail for the most basic of human rights.
Genealogy of Faith
Is the plot of your family story one of faith? The Hedgecock story is, although the actual denomination sometimes changes. Through the generations, there is an unmistakable plotline of families choosing their home and lifestyle based on their faith. It’s also a story of living out life faithfully.
Trailblazing and Independence
Many American stories are ones of independence, self-reliance, and trail blazing. Often I look at family stories and shake my head at how they had the chutzpah to get up and go and the emotional grit and wherewithal to stick, much less to build a future.
These family story plots are off the cuff. I’m sure you can identify the ones that your family exemplifies. In fact, if you think of more, I’d love to hear from you. But more importantly, readers are waiting to hear from you. Start telling those stories.