4 Powerful Reasons to Write Your Family History Even If No One Else Cares
You want to craft fabulous stories about your ancestors’ lives. However, the vibe your getting from your relatives is that they’re not interested.
They either tune you out whenever you try to start a conversation about what you’ve discovered or tell you outright that family history is B-O-R-I-N-G. Words no family historian wants to hear (or would ever agree with). So, if no one is interested are there any other reasons to write your family history?
You know that writing a book is a time-consuming project. And to write stories about every ancestor that you’ve discovered is going to take you a while. Probably years. So why invest the time when the intended audience has already told you they won’t be reading a word?
Nope. You’ve not gonna do it. There is no point. You could use that time to do more research instead of writing something no one will look at. What a waste!
Yet you still worry that everything you’ve discovered will be forgotten. So, your descendants will know little or nothing about the generations who came before them. So many stories will be lost. All your years of work will gather dust before someone finally disposes of it all. It’s a devastating picture that you don’t want to think about. However, no one in your family could give a hoot about their history, so what other options are there?
Watch or listen to discover the four reasons to write your family history when no one seems interested.
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Reasons to Write Your Family History
Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but the truth is that historical records and all those vital stats are kinda boring. Sure, they’re critical in tracing our ancestors’ paths and helping us discover their stories. But bombarding others with them is more likely to trigger memories of hated school lessons than spark an interest in family history.
After all, humans don’t connect to facts but to the people behind them. So, for example, when sports fans are busy rattling off stats and achievements, it’s not the numbers they are in awe of; it’s the person responsible for them. This is why so many non-sports fans find these details dull. Because they need to hear the story behind the numbers to understand why they matter. After all, it’s stories that capture your attention and engage your interest.
How often have you watched a genealogy documentary with a celebrity and suddenly seen them in a different light? You probably learned a bunch of new details about them. However, that didn’t happen by bombarding you with facts but by telling you a story. You went on a journey with them.
It’s the same when you share your family history finds with others. Intriguing facts, no doubt, but they also don’t tell you everything — or sometimes anything — about your ancestor’s life. So they are just names, dates and numbers without any hint of the people behind them. But, unfortunately, we don’t connect to numbers but to stories, and it’s writing those anecdotes that will bring your family history to life.
Of course, stories are more time-consuming to create, but they’re worth the investment once you see the results.
I hear the protests starting, “But Prudence, my family aren’t interested at all”. I hear you. You aren’t alone with this issue. However, there are reasons why writing your ancestor’s story is still worth the work, even if your relatives won’t read it.
The good news is that you have several options here. You can write for:
- a community
- an ideal audience.
Or you can write a story for a specific audience to create engagement, connection and interest in the reader’s family history. I’ll go into detail about that shortly. But first, let’s talk about some non-audience-specific reasons to preserve your family history in story form.
Pivot your reasons to write your family history.
You’ve probably heard the advice to write with your audience in mind. That’s good advice, but sometimes it’s not always obvious who your reader will be. This can completely unravel why you were writing those stories in the first place.
For example, suppose your original plan was to write for your children, but they aren’t interested. In that case, there goes your reason to get started. Reason = motivation, leading to taking action, making plans and seeing your writing projects take shape. Without that initial push, it’s an idea that you won’t follow through on.
So you need to find at least one other reason to preserve your discoveries in story format. Here are some reasons to write your family history for help on your genealogy journey, even if no one else reads it.
To learn more about your ancestor’s life.
As a family history researcher, you’ve probably done deep diving into historical records looking for a mention of your ancestor. Taking the time to analyse what you found or didn’t find and where you discovered it is a critical step in piecing together your ancestor’s story. When you turn this analysis into a story, you have the opportunity to view your research from another perspective. This process can also help you see potential clues to investigate or places to look.
Gain a deeper understanding of history.
Your ancestor didn’t live in a bubble but was part of a family and a community. They existed in a societal framework. One that might have been quite different to the one you experience today. Writing your ancestor’s stories allows you to dive into the world they knew. Learning about the time’s cultural, political, and social justice landscape can help you contextualise their experiences and better understand what might have influenced their lives.
Improve your writing skills.
Writing family history narratives makes many people uncomfortable as they have little experience with it. One of the easiest ways to improve a skill is to practice. Writing for an audience creates pressures and anxiety because we’re concerned about brutal critiques. So when your traditional audience is vocal in their disinterest, you can use this as an opportunity to write not to entertain them but to master the craft of writing.
Preserve your genealogy journey.
One thing I should talk about more often is writing about your genealogy journey. I mean the process you used and the adventures you had while discovering your ancestor’s story. These details can hold as much value as the anecdotes about your ancestor do. Think about genealogy documentaries where they share the story of the celebrity’s journey intertwined tales of their ancestors. Changing the focus of your writing to be the “Memoir of a Family Historian” adds depth. It allows future generations to get to know you and their other ancestors.
It doesn’t matter if only one of these reasons appeals to you or if they all do. Because they all provide the motivation to preserve a significant part of your family history in writing along the way.
That wraps up the non-audience-specific reasons why you should write your family history. Next, it’s time to dive into the audience-based options I mentioned earlier, so you don’t have to rely on your relatives developing a sudden interest in your shared family history. Quick recap. Those options are that you can write for:
- a community
- an ideal audience.
More reasons to write your family history
Write for yourself
You might think that writing your ancestral stories for yourself is a waste of your time. That there is no point putting in the effort and energy required if you’re the only person who will read them. After all, you already know the stories.
I challenge that statement. You don’t spend time in the story while in the research phase of your genealogy journey. You’re looking at the facts, deciphering the next clue and heading off to track down the next tidbit about your ancestor. Absolutely a worthwhile pursuit.
However, so is crafting the story. I look at family history as a jigsaw puzzle. Research focuses on finding the pieces. Storytelling focuses on putting those pieces together so you can see the picture. You’ll see things from different perspectives and may learn new details about your ancestors once you start to put the picture together.
Making yourself the intended audience doesn’t restrict you from sharing this work with others. Nor should it be an encouragement to only make a half-hearted attempt. Instead, it’s a way to create focus and motivate yourself to write the stories.
Other benefits of writing these stories for yourself include the following:
- Writing allows you to process your feelings about your ancestors, creating a deeper understanding of your family history.
- It allows you to experiment with different styles and techniques to find your unique voice as a writer.
- You can indulge your interest and passion for your ancestors and delve deeply into the nuances of their lives to create more detailed and compelling stories.
- You’re creating a legacy keepsake for the future generations of your family — that’s all the ones you haven’t met yet — to provide them with a connection to their heritage.
Initially, writing your ancestral stories just for yourself may seem like a pointless endeavour, but it can be a valuable exercise. It allows you to explore, experiment and process your discoveries to delve deeper into your ancestors’ lives.
Write for a community.
Maybe you have a small family, or every one of your relatives has zero interest in anything historical. It happens. However, the good news is that your family history isn’t only for your relatives — current or future. So your reasons to write your family history don’t have to be only about them either.
It’s not only a record of your ancestor’s life. It’s also one of social and historical significance. The stories of how your ancestors lived, where they settled, and the communities they contributed to or helped build have value, so we mustn’t let those disappear.
Instead of focusing on your disinterested relatives, consider the inspiration and historical value your family stories hold for the broader community. After all, your ancestors were more than just individuals. They were also active participants in the communities where they lived and may have contributed significantly to the growth and development of those places.
Here are some roles that your ancestors may have had that contributed to the development of an area:
- Pioneer. They were among the first to arrive and be involved in founding a town or settlement.
- Entrepreneur. They saw an opportunity to establish a business or industry in the area.
- Politician. They helped implement infrastructure improvements and promoted economic growth.
- Educator. They were involved in establishing schools in the community or teaching others.
- Health Care Provider. They found medical care facilities or provided care to residents.
- Artist, writer, actor, or musician. They helped to shape the cultural landscape of their time.
- Activist. They promoted justice and change to create a more inclusive community for all.
Or maybe your ancestors were concerned citizens who signed petitions and turned up to help build local infrastructure such as schools and churches.
Whatever their contributions, the stories of our ancestors can provide valuable insights into the development of the communities where they lived. Because their stories are a part of the history and culture of those areas. By preserving and sharing these details as written stories, you can contribute to a deeper understanding of the shared past of a community.
Write for an ideal audience.
This may seem slightly out there, but keep an open mind because this idea could work well for you. And that is to create an imaginary audience for your family history. It’s not you. It’s not the broader community. Instead, it’s a specific person who represents what your ideal reader would be like. Except it’s not a real person.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. This technique has been used in marketing for eons because it works. When you create this imaginary perfect reader, you are giving yourself a focus for everything that you write. Then, instead of trying to please Cousin Johnny or Great Aunt Beryl and ending up in a tangle of words, you write for your imaginary audience.
Your ideal reader can be anyone you want it to be, such as a future grandchild or a historian who specialises in the time or location you’re writing about. Create a brief bio for them and give them a name. This will help bring them to life as you write your ancestral stories for them.
This method can also help you find your own voice as a writer.
Because you’ll know who you’re writing for, you can experiment with different styles and techniques until you find the ones that work best for you while still resonating with the reader.
Writing for an imaginary reader can also make the process more enjoyable. Instead of feeling like you’re writing into a void or struggling to find the right words, you have a clear purpose and goal for the project.
Finally, even if you end up sharing your stories with other family members or a broader audience, you can feel confident that your work will be well-crafted and engaging.
Creating an imaginary audience for your ancestral stories can provide focus and motivation to get you writing your family history without limiting the opportunities to share this work with others at a future date.
Write a story for a specific audience.
Now I want to loop back to writing these stories for your family. Even if there is apparent disinterest whenever the topic of your ancestors comes up in conversation. This is a process I use to create interest and engagement for the stories I write.
One quick thing first. Manage your expectations of the reaction you’ll get. I’m happy if my stories get read, and it’s a bonus if someone says, “oh, that’s interesting” or “eh, I didn’t know that”. I don’t expect anyone to match my passion and interest in family history. If they did, then they’d be researching alongside me.
Now let’s dive into this idea.
Traditionally your audience will be the people you’re related to — cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, plus your children and parents. Oh, and all your descendants who haven’t been born yet. Maybe that’s an extensive list for you, or perhaps it’s not. But the chances are that one or two people on it are conducting some form of family history research themselves. And others who would be willing to read your stories.
The bigger your family, the more likely this will be the case. Writing about someone they have a personal connection with increases the likelihood of your stories being read. This may be a grandparent, grandaunt, uncle, or even one of your parents.
For example, have you ever shown your relatives a family tree? I bet they automatically look for themselves, their siblings, their parents or their grandparents. Because that’s who they feel connected to, who they consider their family. Sure, they’re related to everyone on the tree, but they don’t feel connected to all of them. They are names and possibly faces of people they don’t know and probably won’t ever meet.
So one way to approach writing your ancestor’s stories is to start with a generation that is one or two removed from the reader.
If you want to preserve your stories for children, start with their grandparents as the primary focus. You can introduce other generations but will maintain the reader’s interest by focusing on someone they feel connected to.
While it may not generate interest among your family members, creating ancestral stories that engage and connect with your audience is worth the effort.
All reasons to write your family history lead back to preserving your research discoveries.
Writing your family history can be daunting, especially when your relatives show no interest. However, it is an essential step to preserving your family history. The truth is that many of us face the same challenge, disinterested relatives.
Therefore, pivoting your perspective and finding alternative reasons to write family history narratives is crucial. Writing stories about your ancestors can help you in the following ways:
- Learn more about your ancestors’ lives.
- Gain a deeper understanding of history.
- Improve your writing skills.
- Preserve your genealogy journey.
Although your relatives might not be interested in reading the stories, you can still write for yourself, a community, or an ideal audience. Writing anecdotes for a niche audience can also create engagement, connection, and interest in the reader’s family history.
Therefore, investing time in writing family history narratives is essential, as they bring the people behind the numbers to life and help preserve their stories for generations to come.
So go ahead, put pen to paper and tell the stories that will bring your ancestor’s history to life.
Ancestral Stories: more reasons to write your family history.
Do you know I have a course to help you convert your research into an engaging narrative? Meet Ancestral Stories — the non-writers writing program for family historians. You’ll learn to build your story outline in layers and then use that to start writing about your ancestors. I’ve specifically designed this program for first-time family history authors. The focus is on converting research to a character-driven narrative, so it’s perfect for people without much writing experience. You’ll build up confidence as a writer throughout the course as you go from outline to story in easy-to-follow steps.
Click the banner below to learn more and enrol in this self-paced training today.