By Laura Roselle
We often hear from people who want to share their family stories. Sometimes they say something like, “I want to write a book” or “I want to write a memoir.”
And while those are wonderful goals, for many people writing a book or memoir is a bit overwhelming. It’s easy to get stuck because these are long pieces and take a long time to put together.
I want to give you another idea for sharing your family stories.
Short pieces can be a really important and effective way to share your family stories.
Many of the stories we tell, especially in families, are short stories - just a brief remembrance of a person, a place, and the action or events that took place. As Elizabeth Stone has written, these snippets qualify “as stories in the way haiku qualify as poems.”*
You can learn a lot about your ancestors and history by putting together the short pieces that are easiest to tell and remember. This fact is important because one of the best ways to keep memories and tell stories is to do it in small pieces.
Below are 5 ideas for you. You can do one or all of these.
You can even give stories for presents!
Five Short Story Ideas
Character sketches that go with photos
A story that goes with an object
A Facebook post
A blog post
A recipe storybook
1. Character sketches that go with photos
Look at a photograph of a person you want others to remember. Sit with the photograph for a bit, looking at the person there. Note any details.
Then sit and free write about this person for a short time. It could be 5 minutes. It could be 20 minutes. You decide. Just write without stopping. Forget about grammar and spelling. Allow your feelings and thoughts to flow onto the paper. Don’t edit or judge. Just write.
When you’ve come to the end of your time, find a time to read what you have written. Now you can edit or change things if you want.
Write out what you have and place it with the photograph. You can place the photo and the story in a plastic (archivally sound) sheet, for example. Writing by hand is a nice touch, but you can do this on the computer as well.
Now you have a photo and story that go together.
2. A story that goes with an object
Another short story you can write is one about an object that has a story. Use the same technique as in #1. Just write the story without worrying about the spelling, the grammar, the writing. Then go back and read what you have written and edit.
This is especially important if the story that goes with the object is not evident. Kim at the Family Narrative Project wrote a blog post which sets out the short story of a bench in her house.
Sharing the stories of photographs or objects may make it more likely that those items are passed down and the stories remembered. People who come after you will know why the object is important.
If you need help with this project, we have an online course that you can do at your own pace. Click here for more information.
3. A Facebook post
Some people create or join a private Facebook group for sharing stories and photos. A post to a FB page is one way to share your story with more people.
If you have a FB page for family, then stories and photographs can be shared among the family. One branch of the family may not have a picture of great grandfather, but another branch may have it and share.
This allows there to be a conversation about stories because not everyone is going to remember the story. Or people may remember stories in different ways. And that is ok. The key here is to be generous and kind, to listen to others, and to share remembrances.
If you don't have a family FB page (or even if you do), you can join a writing group that will help you write and share your stories.
Dr. Dar at the Family Narrative Project has such a (free) writing group and you are invited to join. For more information click here.
4. A blog post
If you have a blog, you can post about your family stories there. You can even create a blog for just family stories.
This will help you by allowing you to post stories in one spot. This gives more people access to them, and if you make your blog public, you may even find long-lost relatives who are searching for family stories.
To see some of our family stories on our blog, click here.
5. A recipe storybook
One more way to share short stories is through a recipe storybook. You can take a few recipes and build your book around a theme. One example of a theme is: Grandma's Recipes. If you want a free list of other ideas for themes, click here.
Putting stories with recipes makes this book extra special. Not only will you share the recipes that people love, but you can share the stories of where the recipe came from, who made it, who loved it ….
You can put the book together, with short stories for each recipe, with something like Mixbook or Shutterfly or other sites that help you publish a book.
If you need help with this, we have an online course which will walk you through all the steps to create your own Recipe Storybook with Mixbook. Click here for more information! You can even give this course as a gift!
Short stories can be saved, and there are a number of ways you can share them. I’ve given you five ways here, but we could certainly expand on this.
Imagine completing one or more of these projects and sharing them with your family and friends. You will feel great when you save these stories.
Pick a project and enjoy the process.
And if you need help, please let us know.
We offer writing prompt books, online courses, workshops, and coaching to help you or your loved ones save your stories. These are great gifts too!
References: Stone, Elizabeth. Black sheep and kissing cousins: How our family stories shape us. Transaction Publishers, 1988.