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Think Outside The Book: Publish a Newspaper to Tell Your Family History Stories

Extra, extra, read all about your ancestors! Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? If you just had to pick up a single newspaper to discover all of the highlights of your ancestor’s lives? Well, you can, but you have to write it first.

So, let’s jump into another way to ‘Think Outside The Book (TOTB)’ when it comes to telling your ancestors’ stories. This month, I’m exploring the idea of writing a family history newspaper where you are the star reporter!

When I was about 11, I wanted to publish a newspaper. Obviously, I’d read about some similarly aged children doing just that, so I wanted in. Armed with my sister’s trusty typewriter, as well as my older brother’s input I gave it a shot. We created one copy of the first issue, and the sale price was 1 cent. After all, it was 1983 and an unknown newspaper at the time. Also, two copies would have been pushing my limited typing skills! We ended up making 3 or 4 issues, but the limited run meant we could only ‘hire out’ our one copy. Everyone felt that 1 cent was a steep price to ‘borrow’ a paper that heavily focussed on Mum’s gardening skills. Needless to say, that venture didn’t work out.

Undaunted by this early failure in the newspaper world, I’m back to try again. I love the idea of creating a family history newspaper. It offers a lot of flexibility for storytelling and would make a fantastic keepsake for your relatives.

Why a family history newspaper?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a newspaper as “a printed publication consisting of folded unstapled sheets and containing news, articles, advertisements, and correspondence.” While Wikipedia has summarised newspapers as “can cover a wide variety of fields such as politics, business, sports and art, and often include materials such as opinion columns, weather forecasts, reviews of local services, obituaries, birth notices, crosswords, editorial cartoons, comic strips, and advice columns.”

Both of those descriptions sound just like a written family history to me. Well maybe not the editorial cartoons but it could if you are feeling artistic!

As you can see from the definitions, there is a lot of flexibility about what to include in a family history newspaper. And keep in mind that newspapers have changed a lot over the last century. Compare a 1918 paper like this one at Google News, with a recent copy of your local newspaper.

It’s not just that the format is different, but also distribution. So don’t feel that you have to create a broadsheet. You could produce a traditional printed document in any size, or a PDF to email to your relatives. And, as with the family history diary idea, you could create a blog. Or you might want to do all of these options to reach a broader audience.

Another thing to consider is that you don’t have to write it all yourself. Or even publish a paper that is just articles. It’s the perfect format for a collaboration where you can get your relatives to submit pieces as well. Start handing out those by-lines! Particularly if it’s something you are creating for a family reunion.

How practical is a family history newspaper?

Before we get too excited about the content, let’s get practical and talk format. Newspapers have typesetters and giant printing presses, while we have Microsoft Word and our Inkjet printer. Is this something that is even feasible?

Remember that we are challenging ourselves to think differently about our written family histories. So, let’s include how we see newspapers in that challenge as well. If people can publish news on the internet, then we can absolutely produce our paper as folded 11 x 17” page. Or even a folded A4 sheet. And don’t forget that you can take the digital path of a PDF or blog if you prefer.

Fuzzy Ink Stationery two-page family history newspaper template for Google Slides
Example of a family history newspaper u

Content brainstorming for your family history newspaper

The only limit to the ideas for content is your imagination. There is so much scope to get creative, even when you don’t know very much about your ancestors. Let’s go back to that Wikipedia summary and use it for inspiration. Grab a pen and piece of paper, set a timer for 10 minutes and see what you can come up.

When I did the brainstorming exercise, my ideas included:

  • ‘news’ articles about the main events of an ancestor’s life
  • gossip column to include unverified family stories
  • a games page for word puzzles, crosswords, jokes, help Grandpa through the maze, etc. about that ancestral line
  • social pages which could be a family tree of a specific family line (with photos where possible)
  • a travel column that covers the A to Z and in-between of places an ancestor spent time
  • a ‘from the kitchen’ column of either known family recipes or what would have been popular at the time
  • editorial to include my unproven theories
  • a fashion page to help narrow down the time of undated photos
  • obituaries, birth and wedding notices

… and the list goes on but you can see where I am going. The ideas for content are endless; it’s all about the approach.

Fun for the whole family

What I love most about this idea is that it isn’t just for adults. It’s a great way to include the younger members of your family, even if they aren’t writers. Allocate each person a few relatives and see what they can contribute. It might be a drawing, a poem, or even a joke. Or start them with their grandparents, aunts or uncles so they have the opportunity to interview the subject. Most importantly, have fun with the idea.

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