The importance of writing your family history can never be over emphasized. Each of us has a story from our ancestors or even our very own story to tell. If these stories are unwritten, how are your children going to know of their ancestry, of their parentage, or even family traditions of the past? Are these stories and traditions going to be lost to your children simply because you failed to put them down on paper? It’s up to us to write these experiences.
You can turn your family history into a variety of fun stories. Remember, conflict is part of life. Don’t leave out what your grandparents suffered and why. You want your children to be proud of who they are. We must share these stories with them.
First, collect your thoughts. Write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. Do research of that time period and find out what the country was going through, and insert it in the history of your ancestor. The turmoil of a country helps you to understand what your family went through and why they suffered. Did they live during the depression? If so, how did it affect them? What the country went through has to do with the circumstances of your ancestors. If they lived during World War II, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times, why they barely made ends meet, or why they had to flee a certain country.
Find out everything you can about the area, to both educate your readers and to make the setting feel real. If possible, go to the area you want to write about and walk around. Find out where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there, then do research and find pictures of that area. Study books at the library or search the Internet.
The time period is another important part of research. During the roaring twenties, bobbed hair was the rage. If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it. If he or she loved reading books in the evening before retiring, it would be interesting to add what kind of light he used. Little details like this warms a story up and can bring your ancestor to life. Did he use electricity, candlelight, or an oil lantern? It sounds more interesting to say, “Grandfather sat in his overstuffed chair and read for hours with an oil lantern at his side.” Rather than just saying, “Grandfather read extensively before retiring.”
For those writing your own autobiography, don’t forget the importance of description. Remember, emotion is part of life and is an essential part of your story. Use it! Show, don’t tell! If you had been faced with a grizzly bear in the wild, did your face turn pale and your hands tremble? Describe your feelings when you fell in love. I asked my mother what it was like when she first met my father, and she said, “When our eyes met, my heart leapt within me and a warm glow filled my soul.”
Example of writing your family legacy: Sarah Eckersley Robinson, my great grandmother, was a beautiful woman and an example of fortitude and courage. Since she was deaf, Sarah relied on the Lord and followed the promptings given her. After returning from town, she sensed the presence of someone in the house. Acting quickly, she grabbed her broom and began searching her home. She had a feeling to check her bedroom, but when she entered the room, no one was in sight. She quietly stepped to her bed and looked under it. There she found an evil and lustful man crouched and waiting for Sarah, but he was not prepared for a strong and determined woman with a weapon in her hands.
With all the strength she had, she whacked him out from under the bed with the broom. She then hit him over the head again and again. Chasing him from the house, she continued beating him as he ran down the street. Sarah had spirit. This wicked man thought he could take advantage of her since she was deaf, but he did not expect such courage and fled.
Here’s another example. Frances Davies Clark, my great grandmother, noticed a band of marauders picking her grapes, stripping the vineyard of all its fruit. It upset Frances as she watched them filling their bags full of ripe grapes. She had babied those vines and this was her first crop. An idea popped into her mind. She quickly donned her husband’s military suit, hat, and cape. Grasping his sword with one hand, she strode out onto the porch, waving it in the air in a threatening manner and demanding in a loud voice, “Leave now or perish!” Terrified, the marauders dropped their bags and fled as fast as they could, in fear of their lives. When they had disappeared, she changed her clothes, gathered up the grapes and made grape jelly.
Another story of courage! When a mob stopped by at my great grandfather’s home, he was only twelve years old at the time. Gilbert Weaver described the leader as a “large, burly and murderous demon.” This was from the viewpoint of a young boy. When the leader ordered his mother to deny her religion or he would burn their home down, my great grandfather wrote: She stomped her foot with defiance and said, “You may burn it and be damned!”
What courage this must have taken for her to do this! Martha Raimer’s husband had died from pneumonia and she had seven children to care for. Yes. The mob threw a torch to the house and burned their home down. Did this affect her heritage? It certainly did. As a result, one of her grandchildren wrote this poem in her honor.
What do we think of when we read of her?
With head held high, asserting staunchest faith;
Stripped of the haven that she held so dear,
Facing the hardships, ever true ‘til death.
Thanks, grandmother dear, for your ever-trusting heart.
Faith such as yours will bless us our lives thru—
Helping us chart our wavering steps with firmer tread,
Lifting us up to climb to your stature, too.
--Sarah Weaver Hulse
It’s important to write your family legacy. Your children will be grateful once they’re grown. They’ll want to know their heritage, what their ancestors stood for, and what they believed. Make your family legacy something your children will remember, something they will be proud of.