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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Enliven Your Family Histories With One Simple Writing Trick

Woman writing story with title enliven family histories with one simple trick

Have you written a family history story,, and you find it dull and uninteresting? Today, you will learn how a simple method to tweak your family history quickly.

How Do I Write An Interesting Family History?

Before you can write an engaging family history, first,, you need to complete a rough draft. If your family legacy is trapped in your mind, you will not succeed in publishing your genealogy in a way that your relatives want to read it.

If you need help writing that first draft, check out my blog post on turning records into stories or writing a simple birth story.

Once you have your draft complete, then it's time to think about how to present your family history?

How to Present Your Family History

I'm not talking about book formats for this writing tip, which I've written about in Which Book Should You Create? Instead, I'm talking about the order in which you provide the content. Some storytelling styles are:

  • Chronological

  • Inverted Pyramid

  • Parallel Story Lines

  • Flashback and Continue

  • Journey (with small flashbacks intermixed)

You're likely familiar with the chronological style. You start your story with the birth of your ancestor and relate everything that happened until their death.

News reporters will often use an inverted pyramid style. They will start with the most important facts and then include details in decreasing order of importance.

The Flashback and Continue technique appears frequently in literature and movies. You start in the middle of a story, flashback to the beginning until that point. Once you have returned to the original opening scene, you continue the story.

Journey (with small flashbacks) is a method that works well if the author tells a migration or transformation story. As that story happens, the author will flashback to different points in the character's life. When the story ends, the author will have an epilogue that highlights what happens after the journey.

Keep reading to learn more about the parallel storyline technique.

↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps to Quickly Write Family Histories

Which Writing Style is Best?

When you look at the list above, most published family histories about an individual appear in chronological order. While it's the easiest to create, these books rarely excite our relatives!

The inverted pyramid is the next easiest to write. In fact, reporters used this for centuries. However, these family histories are only slightly more interesting than chronological stories.

Both flashback styles require a little more storytelling skills to pull off well,, but their readability factor is quite high.

That leaves parallel storylines that are simple to implement and quickly enhance family stories.

Use a Parallel Story Line to Improve Your Family Story

You may have seen screenwriters enlist the parallel storyline technique. The Holiday with Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet employs this technique well. The movie follows multiple characters' storylines as they progress forward along similar paths.

You can either follow the lives of two ancestors who marry, go into business together, or intersect in some way. However, you can also follow the parallel storyline with technological development or the construction of a building or business.

In genealogy, we can do the same thing, but we are not limited to choosing another relative. Instead, we can select places, buildings, technology, and the like. What was developing in tandem with your ancestor’s life that impacts or interacts with them in some way?

As I investigated social history sources for the book about my grandfather Lewis Brown, I discovered that the Ohio State University football stadium began being build when he was born. For my Buckeye loving grandpa, who eventually became an usher at that stadium, incorporating facts about the scarlet and gray football team made for an interesting read.

Thus, I added details about the famous horseshoe stadium's construction and how the football team did throughout his life.

One fun fact happened in the 1940s. Just before Lew left for India to serve during World War I, the head football coach led the team to succeed in the national championship. However, the coach received the call to coach a military football team, and he chose to serve his country in that fashion.

The coolest fact happened in 1978, the year Papa died. The career of the famous OSU head coach, Woody Hayes, came to an ignominious end. Oddly, I'm glad Papa died before he saw the fall of the football legend. When he died, Lew knew the Buckeyes and Woody Hayes were a top tier team.

VIDEO: How to Add Drama to Your Family History

Why Parallel Story Lines Enliven Your Family Histories

I've written before about the need to add historical context to your writing to help set the scene for the events in your ancestor's life. You can learn more about that in my book A Recipe for Writing Family Histories.

Parallel storylines work so well because you can either tell two stories at once about two ancestors. Or, when you can trace the development of a business, movement, or other entity along with your ancestor's life, you add a consistent story arch with your family history, tying all the social context together.

Go ahead and give this technique a try. For more tips on preparing your family history story for publishing, check out these blog posts

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