How To Write A Family History

All of us have been reading the story of everyone else all the time. Maybe we need to give a thought about writing our own history now, focusing on the past generations of our family. A serious exercise towards this objective can provide us with invaluable insights in understanding ourselves in addition of the mere fun and excitement of it.
How to Write a Family History
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChandrumana_brham_samaj_family.17.jpg)

Writing family history amounts to living all those years that preceded your existence, streaming through those unknown waters which your ancestors cleared before they landed in the world to which you owe your existence. What you are likely to find out is not just a story, it is YOUR STORY that you may never had known had you not endeavoured into this adventurous experiment. You cannot possibly deny that this story of your family, and your own self, is less interesting or less important to you than HIS-STORY of a Prince or Princess that lived at some other space or

time that is not shared with you.

However, before you proceed on this emotional enterprise, it may be worthwhile to know a few tricks of the trade.

Family History - Traditions of Preserving & Writing

GENEALOGY is the science of preserving one's family history. Most ancient societies place a great significance on traditions of remembering the details of family tree. This tradition of genealogy has existed in different parts of the world in different forms.

Africa has a great tradition of people who have expertise in learning and remembering the ancestry of local people. Many of them claim to know about genealogies for many hundred years, and many can actually recite much of it. They are called GRIOTS, and are considered very authentic and professional. Alex Haley, an American writer, in his book, 'The saga of an American family', described his meeting with a griot in 1966, who could recite the entire story of his ancestral village of Juffure for the last two centuries up to the point his ancestor was enslaved. This is how Haley described his experience,

"The old griot had talked for nearly two hours up to then . . . the oldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from his village and he was never seen again . . . I sat as if I were carved of stone. My blood seemed to have congealed. This man whose lifetime had been in this back-country African village had no way in the world to know that he had just echoed what I had heard all through my boyhood years on my grandma's front porch in Henning, Tennessee."

(-Alex Haley, The Saga of an American Family, Dell, 1976. Page 719.)

Pandas of Varanasi in India

Similar traditions exist in other parts of the world. In India, certain priests, referred to as 'PANDAS' in the cities of Varanasi and Allahabad claim to have a record of every person's family history. They may not be fully true in their claims, but they do have an enormous record with them scribbled on old papers or cloth in a manner only they themselves can decipher.

In modern times, writers have been more interested in family histories of aristocrats and royals. To a large extent, it was because of the historical perspective, as well as the interesting insights that came from such research. However, now, the advent of internet and on-line publishing

offers one a new opportunity to publish one's own family history and share it with the rest of family that may be spread across the globe.

Tips for Writing Family History

In nuclear families of our times, it is not always possible to go very far back into family history. This is because of migration, family separations, divorces and remarriages, and often a lack of old records because of paucity of home space and interest in preserving those details. Thus you need to be sure of the resources available as well as of your resolve and constraints before you indulge in such an assignment.

Make sure as to how long back do you intend to go, as well as how wide and elaborate you want to make your research.

As you proceed on your fact finding mission into the past of your family, you will find information coming in bits and pieces, and a lot of it will come through old surviving relatives. Since many of them may not have a lot of time left, make sure to visit them and record your conversation with them. Do not forget to collect whatever old documents or other artefacts they may have for you.

Drawing the family tree is only one part of writing family history. Unless of course, by purpose, you wish to limit to that, you should try to find a lot more, especially if you wish to convert your finding in some form of an interesting writing that a third person would be interested in as a reader.

Once you have all the facts, start writing. While you may choose any format, try not to mix fiction with facts. There is no need to make your findings drab with a 'matter of fact' flair, but making it too dramatic will also defeat the very purpose of your efforts - it will compromise authenticity of your narration.

Publishing Your Work

In today's world, publishing can be done with paper or publisher. Now, it can be done on the Internet. You may choose to have a family website, on which you may post your work as an e-book, or you may add it as downloadable files. Either way, those interested in going through your work can access it.

If you wish to make it a literary work, or a commercial venture, you need to be pro-active in estimating its marketability and finding ways to improve its accessibility by adding links and even advertising on the Internet. Lastly, you may also decide to have a version printed in paperback or hard bound form.



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