January 29, 2013
Be a Family History Time Traveler
Research the era that you're writing about
Get a feel for the world your ancestors' inhabited and use what you learn in your family history stories. Become familiar with the fashion, food, architecture—even the warfare of the time. All of this will add detail to your stories, bringing your readers into that time and place too. Last year, I wrote about 6 Sites to Enhance Your Family History Stories. Use these sites to immerse yourself in your ancestors' history. Charles Hale's wonderful post about Breathing an Ancestor's Space and Time will give you even more inspiration.
Build a Setting
Start by describing the landscape where your ancestor lived. Was it in the city, up in the mountains, in a different country, in the desert? What were the sounds and smells they lived with? What was their daily transport? Do an online search for historical maps to see where they lived. Add details from your research; street names, buildings, names of mountains, nearby towns—anything that will give readers a real feel for the place.
Give your characters life
Create an image of a very real person for each character in your family history. Use everything you know about your ancestor to give them life. What was their status, their lifestyle, their personality? You may have to imagine some of these things to breathe life into them, but the more you can use what you know from old family stories, from photographs, and from the information you've gathered in your research, the more your readers will connect with them.
Use language and accents
It really adds flavor to your characters when you use their own words and phrases. If you have family words or phrases that have been passed down, put them in your stories. If your family emigrated from another country, feel free to sprinkle your dialog with words from their native language.
Include family resources
What could be better than using "primary documents?" Nothing makes your stories more real than including family possessions that have survived the generations. Use everything—diary excerpts, quotes from wills, deeds, and letters, photographs, artwork, lines from poetry written by family members, items snipped and saved in scrapbooks, lines from favorite songs, recipes, oral history transcripts, photos and stories connected with heirlooms, and even account books.
photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg via photopin cc