What do you get a family member who has everything? Your family history–vivid memories of special people, pets, places, and times–is the perfect, most meaningful gift you can give, crafted by your own hand. Genealogical research connects generations on paper, but a sterile report can’t match a well-told story in your own words.
You can easily turn your family history or memories into a “lifestory” you’ll be proud to give as a personalized gift, keepsake, and legacy to family members for birthdays, weddings, graduations, and holidays. You may want to pass on a life-transforming event, an ancestor’s story or portrait of a relative, the antics of a deceased pet, or a glimpse into your own childhood for your kids or grandkids.
The problem for most people is where and how to begin. In my writing classes, students hit a roadblock with the first sentence. Since there’s nothing more boring and snooze-inducing than a vague, listless first sentence, let’s start with one as an example:
My grandfather was born in 1925 in the great state of Montana on a frosty February morning.
Yawn. Did you hear that snore? That’s your reader slumped in his seat, sound asleep. Sure it sets the time and place, and introduces the main character. But writers should aim at grabbing their readers’ attention, weaving in facts as they go along.
One way is to start with dialogue:
“Look at the mop of red hair on that kid!” Elmer boomed as he leaned over his son’s cradle. “He’s a Lewis for sure.”
Sara shivered and snugged a shawl tightly around her shoulders. She sat up in bed, pen poised above the family Bible. She spoke softly as she wrote: “Edwin Albert Lewis. Born February 15, 1925. At Home. Rock Springs, Montana.”
My grandfather Edwin Lewis was born to a poor, uneducated family . . .
Another way to open is with a joyful or traumatic event:
Flames shot out of the apartment building’s upper windows. I heard sirens wailing, intermixed with the screams of folks trapped inside. Someone had pulled me to safety. Just a hand grabbing my nightgown, tugging me out into the warm night air.
I was 8 years old when that fire happened . . .
Or begin with details to delight the senses:
The aroma of fried peppers and onions set my mouth watering. Nana stood at the gas stove, stirring a pot of tomato sauce with one hand and occasionally shaking the fry pan with the other. Perry Como crooned a love song on the pantry radio.
“Are you hungry, sweetie?” Nana asked me over her shoulder. “Next Sunday we’ll go to an earlier Mass.”
Or maybe a funny incident:
Snowball leaped off the kitchen counter and plunged straight into her water bowl. She skittered across the tile floor with a yeowl, her black fur matted, her back arched. She’d been a clumsy cat from the first day we brought her home, on May 31, 1972.
Once you’ve passed the first crucial hurdle and crafted your snappy opening sentences, you’ll be on a roll. Keep writing and before long you’ll have an entertaining personal keepsake to share with all your family members.