Writing about your roots: family history and life writing

Writing and publishing my mother’s memoir, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, was perhaps the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had. Especially now that she’s gone, my sister and I really appreciate having a written record of her life story and knowing something about the grandparents, aunts, and uncle we’ve never met. All our elders have fascinating stories of their families and of living in near-history. I hope you are writing them down. I need to work with my dad to get the pieces of his family history and stories together – I think he’s stalled out. While it’s nice to audio- or videotape our parents, grandparents, or even ourselves telling the stories, stories are more easily preserved if written into a word-processing document file. Then when technology changes, and it will, the file can easily be converted to the next generation tech, and at no cost. Of course you’ll keep backup files.

Many people are interested in discovering the genealogy of their family. It’s surprising what might be out there in public records online or in obituaries or old news articles. Ancestry.com (free use at many libraries), familysearch.org, findagrave.com and usgenweb.org are a few sites to check. Many libraries have resources and helpful librarians or volunteers. There may be stories to glean to add life to the names.

Hopefully you or your elder relatives know a few (or many!) generations of ancestors and their stories. Don’t stop with parents and grandparents, ask the uncles and aunts, too. No need to make a fancy book, gather all you know and type it up, arrange lists and stories in some kind of order, insert photos, and make copies of the document at the local copyshop. Ask about the binding options. It’s even easy to make simple covers using an old family photo. If you want to create an actual paperback or hardcover book, read my post about using LuLu.com to make family-only books. If you want to fix up the document text to look more professional, see my Resources page about book design and layout in MS Word.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this month’s roots-themed posts. I’m stopping now and going back to posting once a week instead of daily. I need to concentrate on a Korean War memoir I’m putting together for a new friend, and he’s not getting any younger. Next Sunday I’ll post about a book that is an impressive re-creation of someone’s family history through the ages.

Cherry Blossoms Twilight


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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3 Responses to Writing about your roots: family history and life writing

  1. Someone from the town in Switzerland where my dad’s paternal family came from is interested in showing me around when I travel to Germany in September. They have emailed me a Kubler family tree dating back to 1700! Of course I need to ascertain it is my family, but the odds are pretty good. I plan to make a book on our branch of the Kubler tree at shutterfly.com to take with me as a gift since there are still Kublers in the town. The online book sites are a great way to share family history rather inexpensively.

  2. Wow, I hope it’s the right tree! I’d like to see that shutterfly book, so I’ll be watching your blog for a writeup about that. You definitely have to go to Switzerland sometime, too. I have stunning memories of that country, but then Germany is beautiful, too. Okay, ALL of Europe is beautiful!

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