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Feb 2 13 6:01 AM

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Today in the newsletter we talked a lot about writing memoirs and life stories as a vehicle to telling your family history stories. Is this an approach you are taking? What scares you most about writing a memoir? Anyone out there who has written a memoir or life story or is in the process, would love to hear from you? 

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#1 [url]

Feb 2 13 7:59 AM

Well, my book - Faith and Silk - will be more a collection of life stories of ancestors from a paternal line who were involved with textiles: silk weavers, woolcombers, lace makers etc and were Protestant Dissenters and other nonconformist faiths.  Not exactly a memoir, because nobody is alive who remembers them (the first one is Robert, born 1687!).  So the life stories go:

  • Robert born 1687- wars, monarchs and revolutions
  • Gideon the weaver 1721 - all about weaving
  • Samuel the Dissenter 1755 - all about Congregationalism
  • Samuel the woolcomber 1778 - all about woolcombing
  • Samuel the silk factory worker 1806 - all about technology
  • Johanna 1844 (lacemaker) who died a young mother - all about Victorian health and hygiene
  • and/or her older sister, Emily, Court Dressmaker
Trouble is, getting the words down.  I am just too fascinated with making lists!


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#2 [url]

Feb 2 13 3:18 PM

What I'm working on I guess fits this description, Lynn.  I've halfway wrote a memoir, then switched to writing about my family, and some of it is in my lifetime. 

 I'm writing as narrator about myself coming to the point of wanting to write a family history, then narrating the research about the ancestors, things that happened while I was writing the book, good and bad, how I overcame the low points, my feelings about what I was learning about the ancestors, my trips to the cemeteries, etc., the new cousins I turned up who I now correspond with, and what I learned about myself and how I've changed.  

This has been so hard to figure out.  I tried so long to keep my personal story out of the book, but it won't work unless I'm honest about all I've lived through.  Plus I'm writing this book for some family members who really need to read my journey.  Straight fact finding is not going to make an impression on them.  Thanks for touching on this.  It's exactly what I needed.

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#3 [url]

Feb 2 13 8:28 PM

I have thought about writing a Memoir in the past, but not for this Writing Challenge.  Memoirs are powerful ways to express feelings.  My attempt was initiated in March 2009, when I found myself waking in the middle of the night thinking...  well following is partially what I wrote - basically a stream of consciousness:
"What is it about genealogy that drives the need to connect with family?   What are the stages in our sense, our need, to define our ancestry?  I ponder these thoughts as I lay awake tonight.  Is it: the challenge to learn more about our ancestry; the need to feel we made a difference; the race to record our family story before we are gone; the fond remembrances of who has made a difference in our lives; the pain of separation from our loved ones in distance and in death.   Perhaps it is all of these and gives one purpose in retirement.  I am reminded of what joy it brought my grandmother to go through her old picture albums in 1982, and the renewed family connection when showing these same albums to the nephew of my grandmother last year as he fought cancer, and I was visiting my birth city.

What drives me to do this?  Why does it compel me, while others are not so compelled?  For our family, my generation was the first to move to distant parts of the country instead of staying close to the geography of my ancestors.  Yet other families continue to stay in proximity of their youth.  Perhaps it is this separation from family and past that drives a need to reconnect, to remember, to pass on to my children and grandchildren.  What must my emigrating ancestors felt when they left friends and family to journey to the this country?

I am not a storyteller by nature.  I struggle to find the right words when corresponding - and often write verbosely versus concisely.  Yet in my younger days I would often be accused of giving a “quarter” answer to a “nickel” question.   Of course those were the days when you could buy something for a quarter or a nickel....  Am I a closet storyteller?

So I started writing this journal entry in my mind at 4 AM while tossing and turning in bed - finally getting up to record some of these thoughts."


Heavy stuff...which is probably why I decided to keep it more third person for the writing challengel.  But the desire is still there. For a period of a few months I would do this occasionally about one subject or another.  Oh, and my cousin once removed, did die from that cancer about six months before I wrote the above.  And I had a serious health issue about three months before I wrote this. Perhaps these were the impetus to start writing my thoughts.  And who would have thought that I would share this here... 


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#4 [url]

Feb 2 13 10:56 PM

Bettyann,  please don't leave your personal journey out. It will be the thing that gives it life. It's scary, I know, but for now write with abandon. Like no one is going to read it. You'll soon see how important your journey is to your ancestor's stories. It really is what this is all about. 

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#5 [url]

Feb 2 13 11:03 PM

Thank you Tom for sharing. You most definitely are a storyteller. Yup deep stuff, put the best stuff  always is, it's that emotional bond you just made with the reader because you leave it all on the page. By taking a page out of your journal and sharing it with us, a fantastic step to being a very brave storyteller, one that's willing to take a risk. BRAVO! 

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#6 [url]

Feb 3 13 5:08 AM

I, too, and writing a memoir. I had some struggles with the idea of voice and POV last year, but have decided that the only way to get the whole story out there is to write it from my perspective, on a journey. I have thought of it for so long, that the "getting it out on paper" in its raw form is the most important part for me. I must control the urge to go back and revise; and Lynn, you have been very helpful with dealing with that.My husband came by last night to use the computer and read the letter his Cousin Hattie had written to me in 2005. He had never read it before. And in light of how time has played out (don't want a spoiler here), it has become poignant for him. Perhaps now is the right time (for both of us) to write this memoir. But the heart of the story (the middle third) is "our" story...the one I promised Hattie I would write. Over the years I have learned that during the times when so much was impacting "my" life, it was also impacting the lives of those around me in a different way. I have learned some from my Mom about what my parents' story was during these events, and that impacted me greatly in the aftermath. It caused me to reexamine some things...but surely, when life is happening to us, we are often helpless to reach beyond our own pain and into someone else's in the moment. So, with that said, the memoir is the tool that I feel will give me the most opportunity to explore those angles within the journey.

Because of its sensitive nature, I believe that I will have each person mentioned in the memoir read their portion before attempting to send it to a publisher for their approval. What are your feelings on that?

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#7 [url]

Feb 3 13 7:06 AM

Deb, sometimes we dance around a story for so long trying to figure out why it doesn't feel right and inevitably it is because we haven't given anything of ourselves to the story. Deb, my suggestion to you is to write the story openly and honestly. Then let others read it. You might be surprised how your family will react. Sometimes we create those scenarios in our head when in fact they may have no objections. 

Some writers, not necessarily you Deb, use the possibility of objection by others as an excuse not to write it. It's scary peeling away the layers and reveal something personal. But those stories usually find the biggest audience because your readers will connect to your story on a much deeper level, and remember the story long after they finished reading. 

Let it play out first before you start worrying about how to adjust it to keep everyone happy. 


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#9 [url]

Feb 3 13 1:47 PM

Ros this sounds fascinating. Respect if you have traced dissenting ancestors back to the 17th century. Mine are all baptists so information from child baptisms is somwhat lacking.

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#10 [url]

Feb 4 13 7:46 AM

Before my dad passed away, I was putting together a book of stories about me and my childhood.  The writing is done- just needs editing and clean up and photos added.  When Dad died and tasked me with writing HIS story, I realized that about 90% of the stories I'd already written in my own book were either mostly about him, too, or could easily be tied to a story about him.  So the story about my Dad will also include my own memoir.  Two birds.  One stone!


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#11 [url]

Feb 5 13 12:31 AM

I don't know if this makes me weird but I tend to have several things going at once.  I have been researching our family history for years but have also wanted to write my own life story for future generations.   I chose to write about my Pioneer Women ancestors for the writing challenge and am doing so. 

However, doing so has truly motivated me and so I started a second book about my own life and am calling it:  If My House Could Talk.   I started out with my earliest memory and the house we lived in at the time.  The outline is to follow the years of my life as I moved from house to house.  I was moved around a lot as a child and married at 15 and 3 weeks later moved clear across the country away from everyone I new except my husband..  In the first 10 years of our marriage we moved 17 times.  Needless to say, it was hard to put down roots.  Maybe that is why it is so important for me to sink my roots deep via the written word.  Anyway, I have begun the task of writing my memoir.  I don't have it on my daily schedule for this forum for i am afraid i couldn't succeed with both.   So on good days when the juices are flowing I write in both but make sure Women Pioneers of the Appalachians gets done first.


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#12 [url]

Feb 5 13 5:34 AM

Louise, wow, that is a lot of moving and clearly would have greatly affected your outlook on the world. Rather than try to write two books at once may I suggest concentrate on your Pioneer Women book which is also a great idea and in the meantime keep a journal. Perhaps each night spend 15-30 minutes just writing your thoughts and memories of your life. It will be very raw. But by the time your first book is done you'll have accumulated some great data to get you started. 

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#13 [url]

Feb 5 13 10:31 AM

Last year for the challenge I wrote about my mom's family. It is still a work in progress. For this year's challenge I decided to write my life story. I am finding it much easier to stick with my writing each day this year. First thing each morning I open up my iPad and write away before I even get out of bed. It has been interesting thinking back on the important things that have happened in my life so far. I like Betty's idea of merging her story into that of her ancestors, and perhaps I will do that as well at some point.

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#14 [url]

Feb 5 13 10:17 PM

    That is a great idea.  I have been concentrating on the Pioneer Women so thank you for your input.  I have only set up the outline for the second book and written 3 paragraphs.  So I will set it aside and do the journal as I have the time.  It did distract me and unfortunately I have gotten behind on my Pioneer Women story.  That is a bad trait I have, starting too many projects and finishing none. This forum hopefully will keep me on track.


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#15 [url]

Feb 6 13 1:58 PM

Kim, I can't believe how much more I'm writing since I decided to do that.  Yesterday I wrote over 2,000 words, realizing I have a story to tell about me as well as my ancestors.  Strangely enough, now that I'm including my own story, I'm more able to write about the ancestors.  Like I understand them more.  I'm glad I decided to do this.

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#16 [url]

Feb 7 13 6:38 AM

That is fantastic Betty! I am not struggling with the challenge this year like I was last. I think once I get my story out, then I will be able to address the ancestors more realistically.

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#17 [url]

Feb 7 13 7:40 AM

I am so impressed by the variety of ways in which all of you are pursuing your family stories, trying to find your way in. As Lynn knows I have thousands of pages of letters and diaries spanning the last century. When I started writing, I thought I'd be done in a year or two. Very wrong. Just getting through all the material was daunting. Then--what to make of it all? I made many enlightening discoveries about family life that I couldn't have known as a child. It's taken me literally years, writing first with one idea in mind, but then, as I learned more and made connections between my mother's childhood experiences (she started a diary at age 10) and her later behavior, between the difficulties my parents had, and each of their upbringings, my focus changed. Don't be discouraged if you feel you don't know what you want to write about or how to shape it. Keep writing--and pondering. I love this quote from a Cheryl Strayed (Wild) interview in Memoir Magazine:  "You really do have to keep the faith.The only way to do that is by taking one step at a time. You have to keep moving forward. Nobody's going to give you a ride."
I've written well over 100,000 words now -- and that's just in the latest iteration. Trimming and continuing to drill down to the focus is still ahead.

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#18 [url]

Feb 7 13 8:00 AM

This is the first time I have ever tried to write about my family history -- and I am definitely taking what you call a "family history memoir" approach.  I find I still haven't done enough research to write about anyone on their own merits.  

I am also still finding out what it is about my ancestors that intrigues me most.  I know that about my living family and the ancestor's they remember, but I recently discovered a family line that reaches back into the 1600s in Canada that nobody knew about.  I have a lot of new information to process. 

I find that writing up small bits of family history memoir for a blog keeps me processing -- and in time I will be able to review it for what my new family means to me.  Basically, the blog seems like a fun way to keep track of my thoughts -- and if you read it, family history memoir is what you get.  
:-)  Leslie

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#19 [url]

Feb 7 13 4:17 PM

Linda, I know what you mean.  I started doing a little research 13 years ago, then writing small stories, but I didn't know anything about any family earlier than my dad and his mother.  I just kept piddling at it, and then in 2010, it came to me what I wanted to do.  Now, 3 years later, I'm finally getting close.  

I hope this doesn't discourage anyone, how long I've been at this.  During this time, I became very sick, lost some loved ones, had big family upsets, and ended up in a hospital with a complete breakdown.  Climbed my way back, and went through another, worse depression trying to come off of the strong meds I was placed on.  Last year was my first year after all of that to actually start feeling good again and writing.  

Without all that stuff happening, I don't think it would have taken me this long, but who knows.  I just know that now I'm beginning to see this book happening for the first time.  It feels good.

Leslie, I also had a distinct curiosity and fixation on a certain part of the family.  My paternal grandfather went missing for many years.  He remarried and was known to us as a bigamist because my Catholic grandmother wouldn't get a divorce.  I searched for him for years and finally found him last year and the new family, who of course are my blood relatives!  I have a new aunt and cousins.  One reason I love family history!

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#20 [url]

Feb 13 13 10:40 AM


I have been ill and unable to participate for a few days but have written this memoir of my life (sort of) several years ago when my health caused an end to my newspaper career.  Thought I would upload here and on Group Critique to see what you all thought of it.  It is a short story.  This story was published in the Scleroderma Federation Magazine as a support to those with autoimmune diseases.

Click here to view the attachment
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