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Connect with Family History

photoHow are you coming with your book about your family? I started in January with the goal of writing a book about my parents and grandparents in one year. I busily researched each one and wrote time-lines of the important events in their lives (see my blog 6-15-15). I visited the places where some of them lived; Minnesota, Indiana and Sweden (see blog 9-1-15).

Now I want to write about their lives, to make them real – more than just names and old photos. I want to help my grown children and grandchildren relate to the lives lived by their ancestors. Where to start?

  1. The first step is to make a list of the stories I remember or that I have learned from my research about each of my parents, my four grandparents and some of my great-grandparents. My sister has researched our family tree and has extended it back several centuries. Her 15-year project is an incredibly valuable addition to our knowledge and appreciation of the family. So now the names and the dates are confirmed, but the accomplishments and experiences of most of these ancestors have been lost in time. I know that if I don’t write about the lives of the family members I do know about, their life stories will be lost too. I am starting with a list of what I know.
  2. Next, I plan to write as much as I can about each of the story topics in my list. My stories may be short – just a few paragraphs, or several pages. I will add photos to the stories when possible and if not, I will find illustrations on the internet. For example, I found a drawing of a horse and buggy from the 1880s to illustrate a story about how my maternal grandparents from different European countries met at a train station in North Dakota (my grandfather offered a ride to a young woman who stepped off a train and later became my grandmother). A photo of a telegraph machine will accompany a story of my paternal grandfather’s successful career as a railroad telegrapher back when telegraphy was cutting-edge technology. These stories will be the core of my book. They will give flesh to some of the many names on my family tree.
  3. In addition, I will plan some activities to help my children and grandchildren connect with their ancestors, and then I will write about those. Janet Hovorka has created a delightful website to help grandparents with the clever title: “Zap the Grandma Gap” She suggests that if we have a greater awareness of the traits that helped our ancestors navigate life successfully, we will be inspired and empowered to use the traits that have been handed down to us. In other words, knowing you come from a long line of good cooks or good writers or good athletes can give you confidence to succeed at those things yourself.

Hovorka presents a variety of ways to connect grandchildren with the family’s past. One of her many ideas that I have used with my granddaughters involved introducing them to my mother and grandmother through their possessions that I now have, such as their dishes. My grandchildren will inherit them someday, so I decided to use them to build memories with me now. When the “Grandgirls” visited us last summer, I planned a tea party with those Depressions-ware blue plates and we talked about how my grandfather bought them as a surprise for my mother at a time in history when they and other people had little money. I wrote this story for my book and illustrated it with a photo of the girls using their great-grandmother’s dishes.

A Sense of Place

DSC06861-1Last month my husband and I took a driving trip through the Midwest in search of my family history. Before we left, we had researched genealogy records to find the names of towns and churches where the census records say my relatives lived. We had obtained birth, baptism, marriage and death records to help pinpoint their exact locations.

Easter Island: The Essential Guide

easter islandFor this blog I’ve decided to take a break from my 2015 theme of writing about our families, so that I can tell you about a new book I’ve written: Easter Island: The Essential Guide.

Most people have heard of this fabled island, with its gigantic stone statues (moai), palm-lined beaches and intriguing archaeological sites. Yet there is much misunderstanding about the island and its people. Who made the moai? How did they do it? Who lives on the island now? What can I see and do if I go there?

A Grandmother’s Dramatic Story

IMG_1947My husband, Tom Sanger, has recently written a fascinating book about the SS Athenia, a passenger liner that was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat on the first day of World War II. His inspiration for writing the book was his grandmother, Rhoda Thomas. She was on that ship on the evening of September 3, 1939, when the torpedo struck and she survived to be reunited with her family several weeks later in New York. She wrote an account of the ordeal that stirred Tom’s interest in writing about it.


picAs we continue through this year of writing about our families, I hope you have been inspired to write some insightful and entertaining stories about your parents. In this blog space, I have reviewed books written about mothers and fathers and have suggested a number of ways for you to approach writing about them.

Now it’s time to move on – to the subject of grandparents. Writing their stories may be more difficult than writing about your parents. Fewer and fewer of us have lived near our grandparents or seen them on a regular basis. Sadly, by the time we are truly interested in their lives, they may already have passed on.

New Ways To Write About Your Mother

photoThe day after Mother’s Day, I led my book group in a discussion of the New York Times bestseller, Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. It’s a memoir about Corrigan’s experience as a nanny to two children in Australia who had recently lost their mother to cancer. While the author served as a surrogate mother to the children, she heard her mother’s voice in her brain, giving practical advice and admonitions as she had when Kelly was a child. Over time, Corrigan grew to appreciate her mother and began to contemplate the universal mother-daughter relationship. Readers of the book inevitably reflect on their own experiences with their mothers.

Best Mother Memoirs for 2015

Just in time for Mother’s Day, four authors recently have written poignant and endearing books about their mothers. One year ago I suggested five Mother Memoirs (see my blog, May 1, 2014). Since then, a new crop has been published to inspire you as you write about your own mother and the relationship you shared.

Mom – Twenty Questions to help you Write Her Story

FullSizeRenderBefore you write about your mother, you need to do some research. One of the best ways to find out more about her is to ask some targeted questions – ones that require a thoughtful answer, not just “yes” or “no.” If your mother is still alive and able to respond to your questions, you are very lucky indeed. Create a list of questions and find some time to sit down with her. Ask each question, then listen and don’t interrupt. You can take notes and/or record her answers with audio or video. Show her you are interested, and she may be willing to talk on and on.

MOM – How to write her story

photo1Where to begin? Most of us have more memories of our mothers than we can ever write down. The challenge for you, as a family memoir writer, is to choose those stories that will best describe your mother as you want her to be remembered.   How do you choose those stories?

Learn from Authors — How to Write about Dad

In my last blog, I suggested that a good way to learn how to write about your father is to read what other authors have written about their dads. How do other writers make their fathers come alive on the page? What can you learn about how to authentically describe your relationship with your father?
Here are four bestselling Dad Memoirs to give you inspiration: