Need some help getting started with your family history writing. The topics below are meant to help you begin writing. Choose one prompt a week or day and sit down for 15-30 minutes and just write. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation, just write your thoughts, what you see or remember depending on the prompt. Writing prompts will help you to develop your writing voice, attention to detail and description and writing showing versus telling.
- Pick an event from your childhood that you wish would have gone differently. Write about it as though it had happened ideally. If it had gone ideally how would that have made a difference in your life today?
- Recall a memory from your childhood where you witnessed a romantic moment between your parents or grandparents and write away. Keep in mind the setting that was around them. What was happening around them? What did they say to each other? What was their body language?
What gesture did they make? What provoked the gesture? How did the interlude end?
How did it make you feel at the time? How do you feel about it now?
- Write down a list of subjects in your family history you would never write about. What silences or secrets in your family history are taboo subjects that can never be spoken? Start with “I would never write about…”and then see if you can back into the writing about such off-limit subjects. Examine why they are off limits, why you feel strongly about not writing about them, under what circumstances would you write about them.
- It’s often said we learn from our history, and we can’t look forward until we’ve looked back.
Our family history is filled with lessons, small and large. Looking at your family history, write down five life lessons you feel you’ve learned from your ancestors. Write an essay for the benefit of sharing with your children, grandchildren, and future descendants. Write about these five life lessons that you have identified in your family history research.
- Choose a location, whether it is a family homestead, or a room, or an open field, a place where your ancestor has walked. Go there in person or by way of a picture and make the setting your primary focus of your writing today. Relay to the reader where you are through sight, and smell and sound and touch. Don’t forget to convey to us the time period, how did it look in the time of your ancestor? What are they doing in this space?
- For dinner tonight cook a favourite family recipe. Write about your memories of the earliest time you remember eating this dish. What ancestor does it remind you of the most and why? Describe the smell, taste, how did it look? Do you recall the room you ate it, the dish, the fork, who was at the table and what did you talk about? Write about any and all memories associated with this favourite dish?
- The central room in most family homes is the kitchen. Recall your mother’s kitchen, your grandmother’s kitchen or even your great-grandmother’s if it still a vivid memory. Describe it in great detail. Write about the events that occurred in that kitchen or choose one particular event and write about it. What emotion and feeling does this kitchen hold for you? Now think about your kitchen. How is your kitchen alike or different?
- From your collection of family, history pictures select a picture of an ancestor or group of ancestors where you get a strong sense of emotion. For this writing prompt, focus on what may have been the emotions of the subjects in your photo at the time of the picture. What may have happened to evoke these emotions? What may have happened before the picture was snapped? Perhaps this will be speculative on your part. If that is the case, state that to be speculation. But maybe you have more insight into the picture and your ancestor and can elaborate on the emotions behind the persona in the picture.
- Ask a child, grandchild or sibling what one thing they would like to know or learn about their family history and why they want to know that piece of information. Do you have the answers in your family history research? Are their questions based on facts? Or are they looking for the motives behind their ancestor’s actions? Now write an essay based on their questions? And how you would answer their questions based on your research and speculation.
- Choose an ancestor from your family history, one that you have researched in-depth. Write an essay about how your research and discoveries of that person have shaped or changed your outlook of them or of how those discoveries have changed how you look at the world.