We all want our lives to be purposeful. But as technology grows and the world moves faster, our space can feel increasingly small. Exploring our family traditions and lineage can offer a sense of belonging, connectedness, and identity. When the rest of the world seems too busy to listen, we can tap into the voices of family past to realize we are not alone and begin to understand the influential people who made us who we are today.
Today, I’ve gathered ten tips to help you tell your family’s story.
Make a timeline of significant life events
Creating a timeline isn’t just for Type A personalities. It is a great way to get started telling your family’s story. Start by collecting major life events. Don’t worry if there are only a few on the timeline. There are tons of apps on the market for building timelines, but good old-fashioned pen and paper work great too! Remember, there is no right or wrong; this is a starting point.
Create a list of stories to tell
Now that you have your timeline in place, it’s time to keep collecting! Create a list of stories to tell. Don’t worry about remembering these stories chronologically. Just take a quick jog down memory lane and write what comes to mind. Create a bulleted list if you aren’t exactly sure when the events took place — you can always flush it out later. The important thing is to add to the list as a story comes to mind. You don’t want to let it slip away again!
Use keepsakes, objects, and photos to remember
Objects are a GREAT resource for remembering past events. Revisit a toy from your childhood or your old neighborhood to unlock stashed away memories. If your ability to travel is limited, visit a local antique shop or look at other people’s heirlooms online, odds are you will see something that sparks a memory you would not have accessed otherwise.
Don’t worry about perfection
One of the main obstacles people encounter when trying to write anything is trying to be perfect. Your first draft will not be in perfect final version form from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable! Your family’s story is continuously evolving, so don’t worry about being perfect. It’s an unattainable goal. Simply write the way you speak, and get the story out. Edit the rest later (or not).
Collecting a story as large as your family takes time, but it’s necessary to honor the time it took to collect those stories by being as specific as possible in your storytelling. Yes, you can say, “my grandpa often sat in a chair in his den,” but what did he wear, what was the chair like, how did the room smell? It is the details that make the experiences and people come to life.
Enjoy the tangents
Some of the most enjoyable conversations are filled with tangents. Maybe you asked your aunt about her new coat, and an hour and a half later, she’s telling you about the fabric that your grandmother used to make her clothing from at the turn of the century. Allow your mind to wander. Connecting stories by theme and not chronology can unlock stories that otherwise would go explored.
Give historical context
Offering historical context to your family’s story can create depth and dimension that the story on its own could not. Did your mother or grandmother work in a factory in the 1940s? Or was she a real-life “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II, stepping into a decimated workforce, breaking social norms, and facing discrimination bravely? Context matters when it comes to creating depth and scene. It’s the backdrop in which all our stories live.
When taking on a massive task like collecting your family’s story, it can be tough to stay motivated. Spend some time before you start to think about your “whys.” Why do you want to tell this story? Why is it important? The more connected you are with your “whys,” the easier it will be to stay connected and committed during those times when it feels like it’s all too much.
Another great way to stay motivated is to find a buddy willing to embark on this storytelling journey with you. Most things are better with company; a storytelling project is no different.
Every person has their own approach to organization. There isn’t a right way. The important part is to make sure there is some sort of structure happening. Whether you’re gathering your story using an online resource or handwriting them, the stories will soon start to pile up. Without some sort of organizational strategy in place, you might quickly find yourself drowning in your family’s history!
We are all busy, but the important part is to start! If you are waiting for the perfect time to start collecting your family’s story, you might never get there. There is no pressure to have it all done at once; just keep building story by story. Practice makes perfect, but it also creates a habit. If you’re busy, carry around a small notebook and jot stories down as they come to you during the day. The most important thing is to JUST START. It will take time, but there’s beauty in the journey. Just like life!
Telling your family story is a valuable tool in finding identity, connectedness, and purpose in today’s fast-paced world. Slowing down to learn and record your family’s origin story is a gift to yourself, a way to honor those who have passed and teach future generations.
I hope these ten tips empower you to begin the journey of telling your family’s story. Are you ready to start?