Have you wanted to write a family member’s history but run into challenges? Perhaps they don’t want to talk about the past or you don’t know how to broach a difficult subject. We know that learning how our ancestors worked through the challenges of their lives can benefit the next generation, but how exactly do we discover the stories and then write them.
Finding True Connections: How to Learn and Write about a Family Member’s History by Gareth St John Thomas can help. The introduction explains:
You are about to embark on a very privileged journey. Discovering a person’s life story is a rare honour and must be treated with the utmost respect, dignity and confidentiality.
While there are many excellent resources to help you find the facts about somebody’s origins and circumstances, here we set out to help you learn about the individual and document their personal story. Doing this will help you make the connections between the subject and members of their family. You will be writing what will probably be the single most important record of that person’s life, values, thoughts, and wishes.
I received a copy of the book in return for this review and I was pleased with the look, feel, and format. The introduction gives good advice for getting started in an interview such as ascertaining names, places, and dates. Preparing an outline of the chronology of a person’s life gives a backbone for the interview and sections for the history naturally follow.
– Childhood and Teenage years
-Marriage and Parenthood
-Retirement Years – Or the Wisdom Years
-Reflections on Self
-The Culture World
What makes this book unique from the many available about writing a personal history? I reached out to the author with this question. Gareth replied,
One of the main reasons that I wrote this book is that we discovered that though writing a family member’s history is high on many a wish list, it is often a job that is not completed. So I looked for reasons why and they fall into two main areas both of which the book attempts to address.
Attempting too much.
The book provides a structure with enough balance in the areas that people are happy talking about – you will notice that working life gets much less attention than childhood and family life. By covering the ground -and doing some trial runs we learned what should be included and what shouldn’t. Of course there is lots of flexibility which is why each question has some follow ups should the interview and interviewee want to go further.
The process the book follows has a separateness to the interviewer and interviewee. It’s a process that’s been proven to work and the fact that it comes from a third party gives it a degree of objectivity and authority that a family member interviewing another cannot have.
So these are the two main reasons for the book; another factor is that the interviewer’s confidence needs to be built up which is why I have given background notes and material around every question.
Conversely, the interviewer needs to keep themselves out of the picture which is why following the [order of the] questions is important so its not his/ or her take on the family member- it’s the whole story.
Finding True Connections contains the interviewing technique used by the Emotional Inheritance life storytelling service. Once the interview is conducted, a writer weaves a narrative that captures the individuals’ life story and Exisle Publishing creates the book.
The website gives additional information:
An interviewing technique has been devised in-house by a group of psychologists and historians to ensure that your special memories, thoughts and messages are recorded in an efficient and empathetic way that helps you to define your emotional and intellectual legacy.
Each of the 100 questions is highlighted on the left with considerations for the interviewer on the right. For example the page below has the question “In what ways are your children like you?” as well as these thoughts for the interviewer:
Happiness, hugs and love are among the normal joys – what did the interviewee enjoy most? Did they enjoy being like a kid themselves when playing with them? Do they remember the first smiles/ What did having children teach them, the parents?
How did the interviewee cope if they felt that they had almost no time for other things, and lack of sleep and restrictions on social life and holidays? Did everything feel incredibly quiet when the kids left?
What about all the emotions perhaps awoken in the interviewee – depths of love and price, and feelings of guilt when away from children?
Are there things that the interviewee would like to say to their children now?
If you’re looking for a book to help you delve deeper into a family member’s life, Finding True Connections offers a wealth of thought provoking questions and instructions to help you as the interviewer to discover more information.
Finding True Connections is available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers. This is an affiliate link. Thank you!
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!