The biggest obstacle to writing family history can be getting started. Try one of these prompts to jump-start past the opening paragraph – then join me for my workshop!

Have you ever started to write a family history narrative, only to get stuck on the opening paragraph? “Charles John Andrews was born on….” You rattle off dates and parents’ names. Then you realize you’ve bored yourself in the very first paragraph. You give up.

(Note from Lisa: Don’t give up! Keep reading and then sign up for Sunny’s incredible new workshop which starts this week!)

One trick to writing a compelling family history is to find the storylines in our ancestors’ lives. A life isn’t a single story from birth to death. It’s many stories. The steamboat explosion the child survived. Teen years on the farm, attending school part-time. The Civil War skirmish that raged through town and wiped out the family farm.

The following series of writing prompts can help you identify and sketch out the stories you want to tell. Scan through the list of questions and see who or what story comes to mind. Then take 10-15 minutes and just start writing or typing the story. Don’t worry about grammar. Don’t go back and look up historical details. Just write:

1. The course of _____’s  life totally changed when….

2. A big mystery in my family history is….

3. If I could meet _____, I would ask him/her _____ and this is why….

4. I am fascinated by my “black sheep” ancestor, who….

5. My ancestor lived through a (frightening, important, rapidly-changing) time in history. Here’s what was going on, and here’s his/her story.

6. A great love story in my family is the story about _____ and _____. This is how it goes.

7. I often wonder whether the life of _____ was as (sad/exciting/lonely/boring) as I imagine. Here’s what I know….

The real purpose of these writing prompts is to help you identify the stories you most want to tell–and to get you excited about telling them! But you should also find a use for these brainstorming paragraphs. Copy them into a blog post. Expand on them for a short biographical sketch you can share with your family. Expand even more, and you’ve got an article for your local genealogical society’s newsletter.

Come Learn with Me in this Week’s Writing Workshop!

Now is the time to write some your family history, and I’m here to help and support you. THIS WEEK I am leading the fun and productive Genealogist’s Essential Writing Workshop at Family Tree University. It starts October 19. You can do this and I’m here to help!

Click to Read These Gems to Help You Write Your Family History:

How to Start a Genealogy Blog podcast series. Episodes 38-42 of the FREE Family History Made Easy podcast will get you blogging your family history right away!

Easy Project to Write Your Family History: Publish a Q&A

7 Reasons to Start a Family History Blog


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