The chronicler of family stories begins the writing and publishing journey with many years of research. I have found that research of many diverse records has been important for writing a memoir of my own childhood: some of the most interesting and useful are school records.
I have been able to trace some of the teachers who taught at the small bush schools I attended, I have collected inspector’s reports and have perused the enrolment books and administration records. I have learned much about a past that has long been dimmed by the years and have been able to sketch in the details of my childhood with greater accuracy and in richer detail. Local newspapers have provided a treasure trove of information as I have researched obituaries, birth notices, news stories, local activities and much more.
I have written at length about how historians are drawn to and begin to enjoy this research process. It is one of the most satisfying and personally rewarding tasks you can do. Who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect of finding out the fascinating and often intriguing data you find out about our family? How often have you had that skip of a heartbeat as you see for the first time your name, your family name, there in the records telling you so much about the past? But as much as you love the research it is not enough – at some time you will take up your pen and write, and the earlier you do that in the research process the easier the writing will be. Writing as you do your research is the way to go. It may be a truism to say that research and writing go together. However, you will write more easily if you begin your writing as early as possible.
Ah, yes, you might say but how to write, and in what way and how do I get started? Writing and publishing a family story or a memoir is a challenging, exhilarating and creative enterprise. It can also be a daunting task for the novice. Ask for help. Become a member of your local family history society or join a writing group. Search out local resources and study how others write and publish their books. Ask questions. How will you write? If you are writing for or about your family what do they expect to read in the finished family story? There are also questions around what to tell, and what to leave out. How will you write about your characters? Will you put yourself in the story? Do you have drama, conflict; a hook to hang your story on? Can you make it up? Can you use imagination when writing history? How can you write more fully the lives of women and children? Have you thought about how you will approach conflicting versions of the stories you collect? Will you hurt others with what you have to write? How far is too far when writing about other people’s lives? Consider the unreliability of memory. Examine your motives. Why do you want to write this story, this memoir? Asking questions is the best starting point for the writing enterprise so take out that pen, or put fingers to the keyboard, and write.
Noeline Kyle will be teaching Writing Family History Made Very Easy on Sunday 18 August.