Are you wondering how to do it, how to recreate the family experience in a way others will want to read it?
One person who has mastered this challenge is Leslie Albrecht Huber. In her work, The Journey Takers, Huber describes the journeys her ancestors took to come to America. Among the four immigrant families, Huber follows Edmond and Eliza Harris who were living in Australia in 1855 when they decided to sail to San Francisco. Without sufficient funds for the family to travel together, Edmond put Eliza and their two children on the Julia Ann. Edmond would follow later.
I won’t spoil the story for you. I’ll just say it is a heart wrenching tale worth reading.
Huber is a master at weaving historical facts into a captivating drama because she brings her ancestors to life. The reader suffers when they suffer, struggles when they struggle, and rejoices when they rejoice. Huber also takes time out from the story to bring in her own first person experiences, questions and hypothesis. Then, she transitions back to the story by giving a clear statement such as, “I have envisioned it in my mind many times,” and then describes in third person her own vision of the events [p. 172]. It is a well-crafted, authentic family history.
What can you do to write a great family history?
- Do not make up, embellish, or enhance the facts. Keep true to the story. You are not writing historical fiction.
- Weave an overarching theme through the story. Did the family have to move a lot or did they stay in one place? Did they suffer from economic loss or the loss of family members time and again? If you’ve searched your family well enough, you should be able to find an overarching theme.
- Bring in the five senses so the reader can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell the things your ancestor experienced.
- Bring in the time period describing the clothing, food, furnishings, and political and economic periods.
- Make them human by showing the hardships and sufferings, but include how they overcame those obstacles.
Other works you should study include:
- Only a Few Bones: A True Account of the Rolling Fork Tragedy and Its Aftermath, by John Philip Colletta
- Isle of Canes, by Elizabeth Shown Mills
- A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
- Writings by the winners of the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Writing Contest. The winning articles are published each year in the December issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.
- Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History, by Katherine Scott Sturdevant.
- You Can Write Your Family History, by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.
Related Posts: Not Just a Name and a Date: Flesh on the Bones.
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