How to tell your family storyA simple guide to motivate for discovering your family's history
Imagine going up the attic at your grandparents’ house to take a look around. You make your way between the old furniture, the dusty boxes and the plastic bags that hide some old clothes that probably no one will ever wear again. After some time, when you’re about to leave the place disappointed (and dirty), you suddenly notice an old crate standing in the corner of the attic. It is full of dust but you decide to open it anyway because right now your curiosity is stronger than everything else. In the crate, you find some old clothes, a couple of books, some old silverware and… a pile of letters. Pretty soon, you realize that you are holding in your hands letters that were written many years ago, by one of your ancestors.
What are you going to do with these letters?
Writing a family story based on these letters is one option. Not everyone is so lucky to find any kind of family documents so if you find letters, diaries or any other documents - you already have the basis of the story.
So how do you tell your family story?
First step: Go to the origins.
Find any family documentation, photos or other material that can tell your family story. First destination – your grandparents. Any piece of paper they have at home can add to your family story (don’t waste your time on bills unless they are very old). Look for letters, photos, notebooks (you’ll be surprised how many people write or wrote diaries), and any other documents, such as birth or wedding certificates.
Second destination – your parents. Don’t give up if they tell you they don’t have anything. Keep searching for the same stuff you’ve been searching for at your grandparents’ place. When was the last time you sat with your parents and listened to their stories? You might learn some things you never knew about.
After that, go to your uncles and aunts (they share the same parents as your parents), and to your cousins (you share the same grandparents, maybe they already found something). If you don’t find anything there – go to the attic (mentioned above). On second thought, if there is an attic somewhere in your family, you should really just go there first.
Second step: Do a little research.
Talk to your family members, ask them questions, try to see who is the most interesting person in the family, who has the best stories, who wants to tell his story and who doesn’t. If you want to write your family story, it is important to locate the most valuable person for the mission and stick with them. Writing your family story without someone who actually lived the story is possible but it is much less fun and much more work.
Third step: Decide who you are going to write about.
After searching for documents all around your family and talking to family members, you probably have a clear idea of who has the strongest story – is it the grandmother who survived Hitler’s atrocities? Or the other granny who made her way to Israel from Iraq in the 20s? Is it the grandfather who is seventh generation in Israel? Or the one who was in the British Brigade? In many cases, both grandparents are ideal to tell the family story because they tell the story from different angles.
If it’s not one of your grandparents, maybe it’s one of your parents who has a great story and maybe he or she is going to celebrate a birthday soon- a double reason to write a story.
All of these people are probably great people but one of them is the most appropriate for your mission.
Fourth step: Write the story.
This step is the trickiest one so I will write about it next time.
In the meantime, here is a short story with a lesson on the side: A few weeks ago, I went to interview a 90-year-old woman for the family book her children decided to write. She was a beautiful and noble woman who lived just across the street of the famous writer S.Y. Agnon. After talking to her for a few hours, I noticed an old photo album standing on a table at the corner of her living room. I asked her if I can take a look at the album. She agreed but asked me to be careful because it was very old. The album amazed me. It was full of old beautiful portraits of men, women and children, the kind you only see in museums or movies.
“Who are all these people?” I asked her.
“I have no idea,” she answered, “I know for sure they are my family but I don’t know who they are. I never had anyone to ask.”
The photos were from the middle and end of the 19th century but no one knew who the people were. Just imagine the stories these people could tell.
Written by Amira Keidar, CEO & Founder of Amira - Get Your Stories Published