4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Writing Family Histories

Great questions to ask before writing.

Who Am I Writing This For?

If the target audience hasn't been defined, there is a smaller chance of connecting with the reader. Who is the story for? This could be the entire family, a specific relative, a client or for yourself. Be clear in who this target reader is. The reader could relate more to timelines and numbers than to pictures with emotional stories. Once the target reader is decided, then write to that person or group. This will keep the focus more on point and the story itself will likely be more interesting, resulting in a positive experience for both the writer and the reader.

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten; Either write things worthy of reading, or do things worthy of writing."Benjamin Franklin, May 1738

Why Am I Writing This Story?

The end result is the goal here. There are many reasons someone will write a story and there is no wrong answer, but it is a good idea to know this before getting started to reflect on this goal and keep yourself on track. The goal could be to educate the reader about the family's history of illness; a story about a homestead and how the Ancestor's lived; or a military history. It's quite easy to get pulled into sub-stories of the main story and this results in rambling. If you ramble, you'll lose the reader. Keep it straight to the point.

What Is The Focus Of The Project?

Project focus is different from the writing goal. The focus will change depending on the goal of the project. For example, maybe the goal is a military history and the focus is one individual described in a memoir or biography. It could be about a family name including all the members of the branch who were in the military. It could even be about family traditions or a personal event surrounding a military home lifestyle. Whatever the goal is, it can help to shape the focus of the story.

How Will My Family Feel?

This question is harder than it sounds. The answer will depend on the kind of family that is reading a specific story. If the story brings up past hurts, or hard memories there needs to be a level of compassion within the writing so that the reader is not left worse off than before they read the story. Accusations, judgements and negative emotional words are best left for a therapist. Keep them out of the story and just narrate the facts in a descriptive way that sounds appealing. Also, keep in mind, not all the facts are necessary to be written to understand a story. There are secrets that are not yours to tell. Maybe you need to get permission first. Talk to the family and find out their thoughts and how they feel about their stories being published for anyone else to read. Just because it is found in public documents, does not mean it's a good idea to share. Especially if persons involved are still living, or living members were connected to the subjects. Reflect on what is written and imagine if that was written about yourself, would you approve?