Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All Memories Past and Present

Most of us are interested in writing about our childhood memories and family stories, bringing the past to the present. Most of those reading this are genealogists, after all.

We have been taught not to forget the past as remembering and understanding our history will help us not to repeat the parts we wish to ignore. It is very important to record what our ancestors did, how they lived, and what they thought. It is equally important, however, to record the present…that fleeting present that so quickly becomes the past.

Not only would your great-great-grandchildren wish to know what life is like now, but they would want to know more about the person who is preserving their family heritage…YOU. It is only fair that they understand you, your interests, and what your life is like currently.

It is often difficult to write about ourselves and about the present. We believe that the Internet will preserve every thought, every artifact, and every move our society makes. We often believe that our presence is of lesser importance than our past. To you that may be so, but you are not writing your memories for you, but for your descendants…and not just your children or grandchildren. You must consider a larger view and understand that your work will be passed along for many generations. Those who read about you and your family stories may not understand the terms we use today, or the specifics of our society. For these reasons, you must record the present while preserving the past.

And just how does one do that?

Many of you may already record snippets of the present and do not realize it. Those who keep a date book, write on a calendar, write letters or emails are recording the present. Gather all these into one place. That place could be a timeline which I have discussed in previous articles. Your Timeline can be used for your childhood memories, as well as a diary for more current activities. Using a computer and disciplining yourself to jot down the events of the week on a certain schedule will greatly help.

However, there are some very important topics that should be larger stories. Most of these are covered in more detail in my booklet, but for the one-line version of a few ideas, you could include writing about:

1. How and why you were given your name.
2. Your personality. (Just what do you know and understand about yourself?)
3. The role various organizations play in your life. (clubs, religion, social groups, etc.)
4. The people who have influenced your life.
5. The lessons you have learned within your life.
6. Your typical day or week.

Lastly, there are the events in society today. These are very important to record as headlines are being made daily. The following are just a few topics of great significance in recent times.

1. Where were you on 9/11, and how did if affect you and our society?
2. Rising gas prices over the last few years with a bit of relief in the present.
3. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. Our unique political race for President. (We will make history no matter the outcome.)
5. The financial turmoil we are experiencing.
6. The growth and direction of technology.

When you are writing about those ancestors or about your childhood, remember that you will be an ancestor to others, and they will wish to know more about you as an adult. You and the present climate are just as important as your past family members!

©aulicino, 29 Oct 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Writing Prompts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Writing prompts, like most things in life, come in a variety of packages. Basically, there are three types: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Rather than tell you about these different styles of prompts, the following is written as an experiment to show you how well each works.

To take those three types of prompts in reverse, I’ll start with…

The Ugly

Most of us do not consider all the previous topics I have posted on this blog when we begin to write our family stories and childhood memories. Frankly, knowing about Getting Started, Timelines, Writer’s Block, Organizing Your Stories, Revising, Point of View, etc. is not necessary for you to write a wonderful selection of stories for your descendants. You only need to begin with any memory that your recall.

SO…let’s begin with that memory….

Well? Have you written on that memory? Could you think of a memory or are you still deciding upon which one to write? Was that ugly or what? Imagine doing that for all your childhood stories. How quickly would you get discouraged?

The Bad

Ok, now, let’s try this experiment. For the remainder of this article, do each step as you read it. Do not look ahead as you will only cheat yourself. Try this little test, and allow me show you the differences between writing prompts and how they affect your stories.

First, take a couple sheets of paper, your favorite writing tool, and a clock or timer.

Next, set your timer for two minutes or watch a clock, if possible, while you write.

Write any and everything that comes to mind for the next two minutes on the prompt below. Write down whatever you are thinking, even if it is not on-topic. You may have to write that you cannot think of anything.

PROMPT: Write about a time when you were a child in your neighborhood.

Stop when you reach two minutes.

Were you able to choose a story quickly or did you spend much of the time thinking? How much did you write?

The Good

Read the following prompt and do the suggested drawing. Then proceed to write your story. After you have written, answer the questions below the prompt.

“Memoing” My Memories Topic 8: The Neighborhood

It is time to focus on your neighborhood as a child and the activities and the events surrounding it. No doubt this could result in countless stories, so we will start with a great brainstorming technique to give you the bases for future writings, as well.

If you lived in more than one home, pick one for now, but try this with all of them, if you can. A neighborhood could just be the block on which you lived or the few houses surrounding your rural home.

First, think back to what your neighborhood was like. Was it rural, urban, or suburban? Did you live in a large or small town, in the middle of the city or on the perimeter?

Who were the neighbors? Can you remember their names? Which houses were theirs?

Was there a unique member of your neighborhood...a kind person who asked you to do errands and tipped you enough for a candy bar or ice cream...a grouchy person whose yard often harbored your baseball or balsa wood airplane...the person whom no one knew well…? Was there a bully on the block? (Even if it was YOU!)

What games did you play in the street or yards with neighbor kids? What games differed from the summer through the winter? Where did you play—a vacant lot, the end of the street, a particular yard? Did everyone get along?

After thinking about these things, draw a map of your childhood street. Add some features unique to each house and the names of the people in the houses. Now choose an event centered on this area and write. Be certain to jot down other ideas on which to write later. There is no doubt many great stories to tell….
©Aulicino, 2003


1. For the last exercise were you able to start writing within two minutes of completing your neighborhood map?

2. Which prompt produced the most ideas for writing?

3. By drawing the map of your neighborhood did you recall more events than with the first prompt?

4. Was it more difficult to write a story with the second prompt as you may have had many ideas?

5. Which method do you feel would be more beneficial to you in writing your childhood stories for your descendants?


The ugly business of trying to write your memories as they pop into your head is quite difficult given the busy lives we conduct. Perhaps memories might be triggered by events in our daily activities, but by the time we sit down to write, they may be gone. Often, by waiting until story ideas occur to us, we are apt to tend to other needs in life.

There are many, many bad prompts in books and on the internet. Many of us have received books from our children or grandchildren with these types of prompts and a lined page on which to write. Few people start these books and even fewer complete them. This type of one-line prompt can be useful, but lacks enough stimuli to assist people in writing quickly. You waste precious time “thinking” about a prompt when you could be writing.

The good prompts are those which do not waste your time, which provide suggestions to stimulate your memory, and which give you more than one idea for a story. This often cannot be done with one-sentence prompts.

The above prompt, The Neighborhood, is from my booklet “Memoing” My Memories which is available for sale. This booklet has 130 prompts using this detailed style to assist you in recalling your family stories and childhood memories. Although there are only 130 prompts, they are written to provide you with many more story ideas for each topic. The booklet also contains organizational tips, information on how to write a timeline when you do not have time to write longer stories, ideas for improving verbs and sentence structure, and some general writing tips. The booklet is spiral bound with a heavy cardstock cover and 70 pound Vellum pages.

Contact me directly at to purchase this booklet.

©aulicino, 26 Oct 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Revising To Show, Not Tell

Journalists and other technical writers report information to their audiences. They convey information with enough details to get through the facts, fill the required space and appease their editors. Unless the story is “breaking news” for the journalist or the report is required reading by the boss, most of us hit the high spots and move on. Naturally, we do not want our descendants to treat our family stories and childhood memories in that manner.

Like the novelist, the family historian must engage their audience in such a way as to ensure the readers will continue reading the story. The key to all this is to provide enough descriptive detail to entice the reader into caring about the characters and the situation. Descriptive language is used to create images in the reader's mind and to enhance the story. Description must exist as part of the action and emotion of a character. Show how the characters behave and what they think through their actions and emotions. Do not just state (tell) an action or emotion.

And how does one do this?

For most people, the easiest way is to write the memory or family story focusing on the facts of the event, and then revise to add more detail, description, feelings, emotion, etc.

As you revise, it is important to be aware of your intended audience. Other than the facts of the situation, what would your audience like to know about their grandmother or a great-great uncle? Attach personality traits to your characters, but not by just stating that she was a strict person or he was the benevolent peacemaker. Do not tell, but show these traits through the character’s actions. What did great-grandmother do which indicated she was strict? How did others react to her behavior?

While you are revising your writing, notice the boring verbs and nouns. Replace those with exciting nouns and verbs to pull your reader into the story. For example, do not continue to say “my uncle Harry” or “he.” Describe Uncle Harry by referencing one of his traits. Begin a sentence with The old codger or As the peacemaker. These types of phrases not only reveal more about your character, but they alert the reader’s brain into thinking of Uncle Harry as more than just an uncle.

Besides showing what your characters are like, you must attend to the scenery with the same great care. It is easy to say She sat down with a cup of tea to write the letter, but it is much more interesting to describe the hiss of the kettle disrupting the silence and the evening shadows cast by the last light through the window, in order to set the mood of the letter writer in such terms that the reader sees a vivid picture of the scene and feels they are that preverbal “fly on the wall.”

Writing with descriptive evidence helps the reader make determinations about the character’s personality and behavior, thus, helping the reader evaluate that person. Getting the reader involved with the story in this manner entices the reader to move through the story with interest. They are not just reading words; they are getting involved and starting to understand the dynamics of their ancestors’ lives.

Just telling a story does not speak to the imagination of the reader. Every writer wants to be read and will be read if that imagination is sparked.

Remember to show through actions and emotions the characteristics of your ancestors and to paint a picture with your words that will be etched in your reader’s memory.

©aulicino, 23 Oct 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Capturing the Reader

The whole point of writing is for someone to read your story. Yes, writing is therapy for the author, but any author desires to have readers. However, many writers of family stories tend to focus on only reporting the facts of an event, thus boring those who attempt to read it. We do not realize the reader’s excitement about our story is equal to having a hair transplant.

You must capture that reader, making him or her excited about what is happening so that the reader will continue reading. But just how do you do that?

One of my writing students summarized the method of engaging the reader as: Write for yourself; Revise for others. These are very wise words. Write your story as you remember it. This will tend to be factually-perceived sentences in chronological order. Then take the time to revise your work by using any of the methods listed below:

1. Begin your story with an exciting opening paragraph. Do not give away the climax of the story, but start with an event that draws attention and makes the reader want to find out more.

2. Use foreshadowing. This technique allows the reader to guess what may come next. Do not give too many hints of what is to come, but enough to indicate there are more interesting times which will follow.

3. Use flashback. By starting with an event, you flash back to an earlier time that is related to the story you are writing. For example, if a woman left her family without notice one day, you might look in that woman’s past to see if the behavior had occurred previously. You may discover that as a child she ran away from home. Your story would then flash back to that earlier time and the events of her leaving as a child.

4. Add more details using the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) so the reader sees what you see in your mind and feels how you felt at the time of the event…or how the characters felt, if you were not there.

5. Write with feeling and emotion. Grab your reader and make him or her that cat in the corner. Make the reader feel they are involved in the story emotionally.

6. Make the reader care about your characters by showing their personality and their emotions. Do not report who they are or what they did. You want the reader to identify with your characters through their actions in the story.

7. Write with humor. Fresh new sentences that are humorous are best. No jokes or trite lines that are so common they are boring. Try comparing two items which are not always related. Look for links, connections, or relationships. For example: Life has taught me that in the A Plan/B Plan scenario, “A” really means “Almost works" and the “B” means “Backup.”

8. Use hyperbole. This term only means exaggeration. You must exaggerate enough that the reader realizes you are stretching the truth, but not so badly that your humor becomes boring or trite.

9. Use metaphors and similes. Both of these terms compare two unlike objects. With similes you use the words “like” and “as.” With metaphors, the comparison is enhanced by the verb.

EX: The ship cut through the waves like a plow (similie)
The ship plowed the sea. (metaphor)

You must be the Master of the Metaphor, however. That is, write your own and do not rely on those over-cooked lines, such as: He was as strong as a bull.

10. Use exciting verbs and unique phrases in your writing. Avoid redundancy.

There are many more ways to enhance your stories, and the more you read and write, you will discover ideas which will get your reader involved with your story and your characters. However, do not overuse any one method. Variety is best.

Below is an example of a paragraph which reports the facts and one which enhances the reader’s interest. Which would you rather read???

Just the Facts:
Driving east along the A-5 from Bangor Priscilla and I entered the Snowdonia mountain region of Northern Wales. As the roads were narrow and our car large, I’m sure Priscilla was a bit tense. The area was beautiful and we stopped several times so I could better see it. One stop was where a beautiful river flowed down a narrow canyon. Tourists were enjoying the view on the rock above it. We took a few photos.

We FINALLY found the A-5 and headed east from Bangor. No doubt Priscilla was white knuckling it for miles, but she maintained her wonderful demeanor as we climbed the northern mountain area of the Snowdonia region and ogled at the sites through the pass. Even though I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, they don't compare to the rugged beauty around every turn in Northern Wales. As the driver, I was unable to see the beauty as well as I liked, so several stops were made to inhale the wonders. One such stop was at a beautiful river which fell into a narrow canyon. Tourists were sitting on a rock above it, and we joined them for a picture or two.

AND, of course, the Monster Mercedes... not liking the lack of attention... started bleating for its mother (Hey, we are in sheep country here!). We had been having a time trying to find the source of its occasional beeps as we drove, but now, the beeps were replaced by rude screams, heard by all. You would think I was torturing the poor thing! At first I thought it was parked so close to the highway that the passing cars were setting off the alarm. The parking area was narrow. I finally discovered the source of its cries, but don't recall now whether a door wasn't completely shut, the trunk was ajar, the break wasn't on, the lights were aglow (MY car is much less than a Mercedes and turns off the lights automatically, but NO...NOT THIS THING! All I know is if that car didn't get its way, I heard about it. What an embarrassment! I could hear EVERYONE mumbling from each mountain top "those dumb Americans!" The beeping was still a mystery as we continued on our way.

©Aulicino, 11 Oct 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Organizing Stories into a Book or Booklet

If you have written some of your memories, it may be time to look at organization from this point forward, providing you have not done so already. Organizing your collection of stories into book form can be daunting and can vary greatly as there are several options.

The first step, however, would be to determine your audience. If you desire just to record the many stories of your life rather than writing them into one cohesive book, your approach would be entirely different as, perhaps, would be your audience. There are people who have taken their life’s story or sections of their lives and turned them into autobiographies or novels. Most of us, however, strive to gather our family history in some readable form for future preservation. If the latter is your choice, you have many avenues which are less daunting than writing that “Great American Novel.”

You may choose to write your childhood memories and family stories as a timeline. This acts more like a lengthy diary, but would always be greatly appreciated by your descendants. However, it would probably lack the details to make the events of your life interesting. A timeline, nevertheless, makes a good outline for story ideas and does record the stories and events you may not have time to write. This timeline along with your more expanded stories is the ideal situation.

There are several choices in organizing your collection, and the most common is to put your stories in chronological order. You could also use a theme for each chapter or section of your finished product and include several stories under that theme. For example, you could write about the game of Chess over the four generations it was played in your family, putting it into one story. You could include all your family vacations and related stories into one chapter. You may choose to put all your school years into a section. There are many possibilities and below are just a few choices:

1. Order chronologically.

2. Begin with the present and use flashback to relive all the stories.

3. Order your stories by topic around a central theme or event.

4. Order the stories by groups of time (i.e., teen years; mid-life).

5. Organize vignettes.

For some writers, it is easier to write all your stories and then decide the order and format. Review what you have written, putting copies in piles that are related either in time or subject matter. Shift the stories around until you have everything organized in the best way possible. If it is difficult to recall all your stories, you may choose to use note cards and write one sentence describing each story, then shift those around to your liking. Understand that you may have to do some rewriting to find a perfect fit for all of them.

Once you have tried a particular order for your stories, ask yourself:

· Can the information be displayed in a more logical manner?

· Does it clarify in what areas you need to concentrate more?

· Does the order show the holes in your life or timeline so you are not neglecting a section of time?

· Is it clear where you have been and where you are going in your format?

· Are ideas for more stories indicated?

Adapted from:

Organizational Options for Publishing:

Besides including the obvious (Title Page, Table of Contents and perhaps even an Index), the following sections are the most important in organizing your book.

Body of the text


Your book title should reflect the essence of its contents, but you need an introduction that explains the format of the book. By doing this you can simply use your individual stories in a logical order as a group of vignettes, hopefully around a central theme. If you can not carry a theme all the way through all your stories, then group them into sections. The chapters within those sections are your individual stories. The theme of that section (or of your book) is your transition tying the chapters together under a particular section, if you use sections.


Discuss the goal or focus of your book. Why are you writing your family’s story?

Explain the format of your book. Is it vignettes of your life and family or highlights that have influenced your life?

NOTE: Write the title of your story last. You can have a “working” title which may end up being your finished product, but reanalyze your title at the end. The title must reflect the content of the book. Subtitles can explain what the book is really; for example, Running Through Life: The Stories and Memories of …(YOU)……..

Body of the Text

Each of your chapters (i.e. stories) needs to have a clever, but useful title and the opening paragraphs should be exciting so the reader is pulled into the story and will continue reading. The text must be written in a manner to entice your reader to care about the characters. Your last paragraph is the transitional one that binds the chapters together. (For transitional information see pager 42.)

What to Include for the Body

1. Your family and personal stories.

2. Graphics, photos, recipes, memorabilia, maps, sketches, illustrations, etc. Photos of a child’s drawings or something they made, recipes with the ancestor’s photo and a short biography of them or stories about their cooking, maps of your neighborhood, and art or craftwork of family members are just a few wonderful items to add.

3. If there are family members, friends, or events that played an important role in your life, you might want to consider devoting chapters or sections of your work to these people or focus your story around the events which were major influences.

4. There might be some historical background information that you wish to include in your family history. This would help the reader put the family into an historical context. Be careful when making grand generalizations and keep in mind that historical events might not have had any impact on your ancestors' lives. If there were historical events that caused your family to move or change in some manner, then you might want to mention these items. Keep in mind that the events should have logically impacted your family’s history and not be totally unrelated. Using historical events to place your family within the timeline of history may be a good idea to give your readers a frame of reference.

5. Anecdotes could be added in sidebars as stories that you wish to include, but which do not totally fit your chapter. Perhaps these are related stories about a particular person in your chapter.

Ordering the Body—Many Choices

1. Make an outline of what you have written or intend to write. Change the outline as your progress, if needed.

2. Write all the stories first. Place them in a desired order either by moving the complete story from place to place or by summarizing it in a sentence or less on a 3" x 5″ card and shuffle the cards until you like the format.

3. Begin with your current life and flash back to how you reached your present status focusing on how all these events have shaped your life.

4. Place your stories in chronological order.

5. Order your stories according to large chunks of time, such as Childhood Years, Teen Years, etc.

6. Organize by themes: Family; Vacations; Holidays, etc.

7. Look at what you have learned in your lifetime and base your journey on a lesson or two from your experiences. That is, have a common theme or thread for all your stories that reflects what your life has taught you or what messages you wish to convey to your descendants.

8. Group your stories into sections. Each section could be titled such as: "Little Glimpses of Life on the Farm" or "Miniatures of My Life in the 1940s" or whatever seems suitable. Order your vignettes so they carry a thread through the whole section, maybe having a short explanatory or transitional paragraph every once in a while to gather the bits together in each subsection or an introductory paragraph at the beginning of each section to explain the grouping.


Types of Illustrations—Anything That Can be Photographed or Scanned.

1. Photos of people, houses, buildings, artifacts (heirlooms),

2. Maps of cities, neighborhoods, vacations,

3. Letters and their envelopes,

4. Signatures from letters, old petitions or the World War I Draft Registrations as found on line at Remember that old deeds do not bear the signature of your ancestor, but of the clerk writing their name.

5. Journals, transcribed if possible, and who has possession,

6. Certificates, including birth, baptismal, marriage, graduation, death, and other awards,

7. Ephemera (dance cards, pressed flowers, membership cards, postcards, concert tickets, etc.),

8. Historic illustrations (transportation, locations, furniture, etc.),

9. Clip art of textiles (quilts, clothing, needlework,

10. Recipes including a photo of the ancestor,

11. Photos of any items you or your ancestors collected.

Organization of Illustrations

1. Order the illustrations complimentary to the content of the book. Interspersing them within the text is best. It is most important to place the illustrations for maximum effect.

2. Label each clearly and place it near the text that refers to it.

3. Additional items could be placed in the Appendix.

NOTE: Without photos, graphics, illustrations, maps, sketches, and other types of images, your book may be informative with regard to the material, but it can also be made more interesting.

Graphics add life to a family history. Photos give your reader a chance to see what your ancestors looked like. Maps show towns and homes in relationship to other localities of importance. Scanned images such as signatures give interest to the details about people's lives. Pictures of towns, locations, houses, etc. enhance the experience of immersing the reader in your ancestors’ lives.

Writing a more current family history, you will have access to photographs, records, certificates, and hopefully personal items which give interest to the individual.

Just about anything you can either photograph or scan can be included!

Be creative. If you do not have a lot of items for an ancestor, consult historical books, the Internet, and other references for sketches or photos of clothing, furniture, houses, etc. which your ancestor might have encountered in his or her everyday life. Make certain these illustrations are copyright free.


1. Summarize your life from the aspect of the lessons you have learned and the people who have guided you or influenced you.

2. Reflect on how these events and stories have impcted you.

3. Reread your Introduction, reflecting upon it to help you write your Conclusion.

4. Look to the future and leave a message for your descendants with regard to your desires for them, the book, and your family’s history.


You may wish to include the following:

1. A family history section and include a pedigree chart to show relationships among your ancestors.

2. Copies of news articles that relate to the family.

3. Copies of family documents.

4. Any information you wish to share, but which may not easily fit within the format of your book.


A sidebar is a short companion story that is a part of a longer story. It is often boxed or in a different typeface to set it apart. The sidebar may appear to the side of the original article, within it, or at the end. Side bars are optional and should not be overused.

In general, sidebars…

· provide additional information that can be easily used or digested.

· give helpful information that can clarify a part of the story.

· allow authors to break up an otherwise lengthy story into a manageable piece by some of the story in a couple of smaller sidebars.

· allow the writer to include the extra or background information for a story.

· can allow the author to add lineage information in a family history to clarify an ancestor’s position in the family.

· allow authors to give readers places to find more information on the subject. This could include organizations and their addresses, website addresses (known as URLs), books, festivals or events that relate to this topic.

· can include information that is fun, informative, or interesting as you know the readers will enjoy it. Add humor where possible.

· are loved by editors and may make the difference between a sale or not, that little extra oomph that pushes your piece into the acceptance pile.

Adapted from:

How to Write a Sidebar:

· Write the sidebar before you write the main article. Doing this often allows you to focus your main article around the points that are in the sidebar. The sidebar communicates the small tidbits of information that you expand upon in the article or story.

· Use extra information from your main story. As you research the main story, you will generate more information than you can use. Put this information in a sidebar. You can use bullets to show quick statistical facts.

· Note resources. Your article may link to other topics of interest. Rather than putting this information in the main article or story you can write it in a sidebar. This makes the resource more noticeable and gives you the content you need for your sidebar.

· Follow the guidelines for writing a sidebar if you are having your work published. Check with your publisher on their criteria, but generally you must double-space the text, write the sidebar on a separate piece of paper, making sure that the information in the sidebar is correct and that your contact information and word count are at the top of the page.

Adapted from:


Create an index if your finished product is substantial. There are computer programs that automatically index your writing or you can make categories that are important to your family and keep track of the pages on which the information is found. For example, you would want to include all names of people and locations, at least.


Without transitions your writing will not progress smoothly and your reader will be lost. Transitions help guide your reader and help you emphasize the important ideas you wish to convey.

Transitions can be tricky, and if you find they are extra difficult either within your story or between stories, look at your organization. The flaw could be there.
For transitioning between stories for a book the following steps can help.

1. Determine your audience.

2. Write all the stories you wish to write.

3. Put a sentence about each story on a 3" X 5" card as if each story was a scene in a play.

4. Organize the “scenes” (stories).

5. Find an underlying thread that can tie the stories together by reading the last part of one and the first part of the next. Find a “hook” or theme that ties all the stories together.

6. Determine if stories fall into groups or flow nicely together.

7. Determine what is missing to tie together some of the stories and edit accordingly.

8. Rearrange stories as needed.
9. Write and rewrite your stories with the hook and audience in mind.

10. Write your first chapter and the final chapter with the “hook” and your audience in mind.


Copyright laws prohibit the unauthorized use of materials without consent from the creator, unless that material is in the public domain.

That means you cannot lift a chapter from a family history book, copy pictures or illustrations from an encyclopedia, or use a graphic found on a web site unless you receive permission from the author or person who created the item. The exception to this rule is if the item is so old that it is not longer copyrighted and is in the public domain. Works created before 1978 are considered to be out of copyright when they are 75 years old. So any book published in 1923 or before (which has not had the copyright renewed) is in the public domain. Public domain items are fair game for use. You can copy the materials and use it as you see fit. Reputable authors will always credit a source, regardless of the copyright status!

Any writing, drawing, web page, or other "work of authorship" is copyrighted the minute it comes into being. For instance, as soon as I wrote this lesson, it was immediately copyrighted to me. No one else can reproduce it without my consent. Although some items such as e-mails may appear to belong to you, always ask the creator before you include an object which may be copyrighted.

That said, there is a way someone could use a small portion of an article if desired. The Fair Use exemption allows individuals to include copies of copyrighted materials for criticism, commentary, education, research, and news reporting. Fair Use relies heavily upon intent of the person using the material. If you are reproducing material from another family history book simply because you are too lazy to research the material yourself, the use of the material would not qualify as Fair Use. If you used the same material to dispute or make comments about the author's conclusions, that would be Fair Use. When invoking the Fair Use exemption, you must be sure to use only a small amount of material (some people say 45 words or less), give credit to the source of the material, and make sure your use of that work will not harm the value of the original work. There are many excellent online sites dealing with copyright issues and the forms you need to complete to obtain your own copyright.

Unique Books for Family Stories

Personal historians have found innovative ways to share memories with their families by choosing a theme. You may wish to write smaller books for your family stories with the focus on a topic instead of trying to put all your memories into one volume. Two possible ideas are the Culinary Biography and the Legacy Letter. See the list below for other such topics which can be a compilation of stories for your family.

To create a culinary history, families compile favorite recipes along with stories about special dishes or mealtime traditions. Food is often the center of a culture and bears great importance within a family. It gives us life and sustains our being; it is steeped in tradition, both in the foods we eat and the reasons for sharing them. The dinner table has traditionally been a place to gather and share the day’s activities while nourishing the body. Holidays or certain days of the week require certain foods for some families. Recipes have been handed down for generations while some have been recent creations between mother and child. Some dishes are newly adopted into the family tradition, especially as marriages occur and families blend. There are many memories of food in our lives, from smelling the coffee in the morning to the wonderful bread baking or meat frying in the pan. We all have food stories to tell and recipes to share.

Stories about food can take many directions and may include tales of learning to cook, details of holiday celebrations or even reminiscences of long-ago fishing or camping trips. The culinary biography is typically shorter than most family histories and allows many relatives to share their stories. Do not forget to add stories, biographies and photographs of the persons who made the recipe for your family as well as pictures of the food.

Another idea is to write family stories in the form of a letter to the future descendents or to compile as many personal letters as you can locate in your family’s attics. These would, of course, include those popular Christmas letters. Your booklet with all these letters would also focus on biographical stories of those who wrote, along with memories of them and photographs. Many people may choose to end this booklet with a Legacy Letter either written by you, the author, or by all the family members who wish to contribute.

In a Legacy Letter, a person sets out values or advice for children or other family members. These letters are always emotionally charged, particularly while paying tribute to those who shaped his or her life in a positive way. These letters may be shared while the author is still alive, included in your book on family letters, or they may be passed along in a will. For some people, a legacy letter offers the chance to speak directly to a loved one; others write such letters to correct misperceptions about their lives or to give insight about the family or advice to future generations.

Other possibilities for smaller books or even for chapters in a larger work could include the following:

1. Use a vacation or road trip as your underlying theme to tell about the lives of those with you. With this you can easily flashback to other stories and memories related to the individuals and then return to the trip to include all those wonderful stories.

2. Focus on family holidays throughout the years. What threads are common and what events happen to be unique that time? Again, the use of Flashback can allow you to return to memories prior to the holiday and give you opportunity to clarify the uniqueness of each family member.

3. A book on your school days memories and how you have changed over this time from a child to an adult. Of course, add stories of all those who influenced you along your path, including those favorite teachers.

4. Stories from the neighborhood. Use a map of your neighborhood or draw your own and recall all the people and stories involved. Perhaps your family moved, so multiple neighborhoods could become an entire book or chapter. Do not forget to add photos and your map as these will enhance the stories you write.

5. Write about your life in a particular house from the house’s point of view. How curious was the house with little ones running around on its beautiful floors and how sad when they grew up and left for their own homes?

6. Chronicle a major family move. Include the reason for moving, all the preparation, the route taken, finding a new home, and how it changed the family’s life. Perhaps your family moved often. This theme could be the backbone of a complete work.

7. Hobbies, talents, or crafts of family members. Some families tend to be musical in nature or artistic while others have some unique hobbies.

8. Writing a family history which focuses on specific individuals, usually a particular ancestor can be the basis of your book with the rest of the family and their stories connecting to that particular ancestor.

Adapted from Storyzon:

Miscellaneous Resources

Note: These sources are provided for your convenience and are
not personally endorsed by the authors of this booklet.

Citing Sources: Focuses on genealogy, so consult professional manuals if needed.

Copyright Laws: Explains Fair Use and what is protected by the law.

Who Owns Genealogy? Gives additional information on Copyright Laws.

Cyndi’s List: Focuses on genealogy resources, but offers many links for writing and researching.

Getting Organized

How to Donate Published Genealogies to the Library of Congress

Adding Detail to Your Narrative
Although this focuses on more distant ancestors, the ideas work for any story.

Although I altered the information from may sites, I have given credit to the authors. Do ivist their wonderful sites listed above for more information.

©aulicino, 2008