A Photo Essay Writing Example For SCGS Stars in My Family Tree


A Family History Photo Essay Example

If family history narratives and biographical sketches feel too formal for your style or your ancestor's stories, then give writing a photo essay a try. You can then submit this featurette for inclusion in the book The Stars in Your Family Tree that the Southern California Genealogical Society will publish in June 2021.


A family history photo essay uses one or more photos as the foundation for a story. The writer explains the story behind the photos striving to transport a reader to the time and place of the photo so they can see, feel, and experience that moment in time.


This writing style appeared in the South California Genealogical Society Webinar on January 9th. (For a link to the webinar, scroll to the bottom.)


Louise Sends a Fun Photo to Lewis


While stationed in India-Burma with the Engineering Construction Battalion in 1944, Lewis Brown received a letter from his wife of three years. Although he was surrounded by 29 officers, two warrant officers, and 869 enlisted men while working in the auto mechanic shop, his wife wanted to lift his spirits.


The letter that accompanied this photo no longer exists, but Lewis opened a sepia-colored photo of his wife being her good-natured self.


In her slanted handwriting on the back of the picture, Louise wrote, “This is your wife believe it or not. I have on Coys flying jacket and boots on boots or boats! I had my shoes on too.”


Lew was likely transported back to memories of Columbus and his independent wife. The woman who had cared for his invalid mother, Emma Townsend Brown, in the final years of her life, while he was in boot camp. The woman who was now carrying for their one-year-old daughter who he had sneaked off to visit after boot camp and before his ship sailed around the world.


Louise had purchased the home she stood in front of without his help. The 716 Hanford home located on the Southeast side of Columbus, was built in 1926. The 1,200 square foot home featured three bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a living room, kitchen, and sat on a 4,300 square foot lot.

The income for this home came from the sale of the home Louise inherited from her biological mother.


Following her death, Agnes Anderson’s home was cared for by Sarah Oetlinger until Louise came of age. As a married woman with a child, Louise was ready to settle down and she used the profit from the sale of the home to purchase the house.


Louise needed financial assistance with her husband away, so she took in boarders who stayed in the spare street-facing, second-floor bedroom. One of the borders was a man named Coy. Louise stood 5’5” inches and Coy was apparently much larger as Louise’s photo showed her nearly drowning in the flight jacket and stepping into Coy’s boots while wearing her own shoes. She apparently thought they should be called boats and not boots.


While Operation Cartwheel happened in the Solomon Islands about 6,000 miles southeast of India, Lewis was relatively safe in the motor pool. He likely laughed his charming chuckle as he looked at his wife with her shoulder-length brown hair with natural waves. He would study the face with her bangs clipped to the right side by her temple to keep the hair from falling into the way of her blue-gray eyes. He likely wished he could be there to raise and cuddle his young daughter who also had those same colored eyes.


All too soon, he would have to tuck the photo away and treasure it while on breaks. He carried that photo home in December 1945 at the end of the war. Though he wasn’t home for Christmas that year, a photo like this would take him there in his dreams.


Total Word Count: 510


FYI: This article falls under the 600-word limit. I can expand the story with more physical descriptions or historical context. See the links below for more articles that can help you add extra details to your story.


SCGS The Stars in Your Family Tree Family History Writing Challenge
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The photo essay above meets the requirements for The Stars in Your Family Tree book that the Southern California Genealogical Society will publish in June 2021 which I mentioned in this previous blog post. It's also a little more fun to write than a biographical sketch.


Watch this FREE webinar entitled, "Writing About The Stars in Your Family With Ease" to learn how to write one of the following stories styles


↪️ Are you new to family history writing?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

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Additional Family History Writing Articles


For more help with writing your family stories, read the following articles:


For even more writing tips and techniques, be sure to check out the new videos released soon on our Facebook page.



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