Top tips for writing your family history story


28 April 2016
Writing-tips-69266.jpg writing
Do you want to write your family history?

Do you want to write your family history? Many, many family historians do hope to do this one day – to put all the research and wonderful stories of their ancestors into a tangible document that can be shared and read and passed down the generations. But, sometimes this is easier said than done. In Family Tree’s May issue, Cherry Gilchrist has put together the know-how you need to get started. Read her top tips for the actual writing process here, then go grab a copy of the issue to get the full lowdown:

  1. Try setting a regular writing time, of a particular length: anything from one to three hours can work well. Don’t shirk it, but don’t go on over time either.
  2. Writing in the past tense is usually best. Writing entirely in the ‘historic present’ (‘It’s 1692 and the mood is dark in the Smith household…’) can become tiresome for the reader.
  3. Make sure that something happens, and that you describe events, as well as listing information.
  4. It can be very effective to start your narrative with a dramatic event or striking occasion. Give a ‘close-up’ of the scene. Then you can backtrack to fill in the story that led up to it.
  5. Leave your writing for at least a day before editing it. It can be helpful to glance back over yesterday’s writing before starting today’s, but assume you will also need to come back and do a complete final edit later on. Check for good rhythm and flow, and delete repetitions.
  6. Make sure that all names, relationships etc are as clear as you can make them to an outside reader. Long strings of names are very hard to digest. Introduce your ‘characters’ no more than two or three at a time.
  7. Keep your own counsel. Complete a good chunk of your writing before you even consider asking anyone else to read it, and then only someone who you really trust to give you constructive feedback.
  8. By all means ask other relatives for specific information, but don’t let them vet your work unless absolutely essential. Treat your writing as your creation, a story told in your own way.

To read the full article get the May 2016 issue of Family Tree from or subscribe and save. Family Tree May is in the shops until 11 May 2016.

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