How do you write a family history that your family might actually read? Turning your pedigree chart into a sentence is a sure way to turn them off. Instead, think about writing a scene to enliven your story. I had heard my dad talk about “pickin’ cotton” as a boy. He didn’t leave a written record, but I created this scene from my memories of his stories. My dad passed away six and a half years ago and I still miss him. Writing his stories brings him closer again and gives me hope that my grandchildren will know him as well. Enjoy this little peek into his life.
The blazing hot sun beat down on the Texas cotton field, sending shimmering waves of heat up into the air. Bob lay flat on his belly in the shade of the full grown cotton bushes completely immersed in his novel, the latest western. The relentless sun had bleached his curly reddish blond hair and reddened his fair skin, making his freckles blend together. The family had been working since sunup to bring in the cotton and he was hot and thirsty. He knew he’d never beat his industrious siblings C.H. and Helen, in filling his large gunnysack, so he figured he might as well take a quick break and see what was going to happen next in his story.
“Bobby Gene” he heard his father call, and reluctantly slipped his book into the pocket of his overalls. He picked up his gunnysack and reached over to pick a piece of the fluffy white stuff while visions of cowboys and Indians raced through his head.
Writing the Scene
My inspiration for this scene came from the picture of my grandmother in the cotton field. My dad had talked of his siblings working harder than him in the cotton fields and I knew of his love of reading from never seeing him without a book. We share the same coloring so it was easy to imagine him as a young boy. This was my first attempt at writing a scene for a family history and it was easier than I thought it would be to put it all together.
If you’d like to try your hand at writing your family’s story, consider these things:
Places: What was the place like when your ancestor lived there? Are there landmarks nearby? What was the weather like?
Events: What important historical events happened at the time they were alive? What important events happened to the family?
Culture: What were the ordinary details of their life: what did they eat, wear, do for fun?
People: What did they look like? Use details to put flesh on the bones of your family. Study photographs, write with your senses. Describe voice, movement, manner, etc.
When you’re ready to write, think of your family members as “characters.” Put them in a setting, add dialogue and a plot and see what happens. Don’t worry about getting everything right the first time. Just put something down on paper and go from there.
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!