I have been meaning to start writing my family history stories for years and years! But the sheer magnitude of the project stopped me in my tracks and I’d put it aside for a time when I could devote more time – which miraculously never materialized. Then, I attended ’s family history writing class at UGA Family History Conference a few weeks ago and I was inspired! I could do this! Here is what I took from Eleanor C. Jensen’s class, who generously gave me permission to share it and how I am applying it.
1. “A family story that teaches a lesson becomes a guiding beacon for your family and binds generations together.” We all have learned life lessons in the school of hard knocks. Each of us has character traits that are important to our souls and very being. These are the values we wish to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Hint: If you want to your child to listen, do not start with “Well, when I was your age blah, blah, blah” begin with “Let me tell you a story.” Instant attention! If you don’t write the stories and their lessons down – they are lost forever.
2. “Today’s problems can be solved with yesterday’s stories. What is the difference between a story and a problem in life? In a story, we know the ending. In life, we will determine that ending by the choices we make.” Help your posterity see the end of the road, the consequence of choices made through someone they love’s eyes. So, how are we going to cherish our family? Tell them a story. Stories have POWER!
3. Decide who your audience is. This was a major breakthrough for me. Eleanor had family stories that were only one page long! These stories were geared to younger children, her family calls them ‘Grandma Stories’. The stories all followed this format:
a. Introduce the person the story is about and the subject.
b. Tell the story
c. Sum up the lesson with your personal witness, thoughts and feelings about the lesson in 2 or 3 sentences.
d. Stories for teens and above are written as “The Rest of the Story” and are a longer, more detailed or have a more mature lessons – but they still follow the same format.
4. Stories are finished but the book is not! Another light bulb moment for me. As each story is finished, it is printed for all the family members and put in a plastic sleeve and binder for each person. Eleanor writes stories to be added to the binder throughout the year and gives them as gifts each Christmas. You mean I don’t have to have it all done right now! WOW!
5. Make a template. I came home from the conference and made up a template and wrote 2 stories in one Sunday afternoon! Here is how mine looks:
If you want a copy of this template leave a comment and email address below and I will send it to you. I tried to save it in Google Docs to download but it lost the formatting.
6. Organize Your Stories. Eleanor suggests that you
- Determine who you want to tell a story about or
- Figure out the subject you want a story about. This will help you recall stories you want to share.
7. Create Story Indexes. Have an index by topic like “Courage” and another index by ancestors name. This makes it easy to find just the right story at just the right time.
As I collect stories I may have a professionally printed book down the road, but for now I am in love with the open ended freedom that comes with a binder.
The great news about this is it works! No longer am I waiting for that mysterious block of time to write my family history stories. I can produce a story in a hour or less! Then I am done…until I am ready to add another story, adding as I wish.
Thank you Eleanor C. Jensen, this in not only brilliant but it has been a life changer!