A New Yorker is approached by a stranger on the street, who asks “Pardon me, sir, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Back comes the New Yorker’s reply, “Practice, practice, practice.” It’s a joke that still makes a worthwhile point; writing your family history – like getting to Carnegie Hall – becomes easier with practice.

John Markham's sermon notes and obit copy

So, how do you go about writing your family history in a way that sparkles? How can you turn a list of dates and names into an engaging historical narrative?

  • Give-it-a-go writing activities: We nudge and cajole you into trying out a variety of writing activities. Some are very directly related to family history, others are more playful, all will help you try out, practise and hone a range of styles. Start with our ‘Glimpses’ writing activities; give them a go, see where they take you, choose the ones that move you forward.
  • Enriching your research: Sometimes we ask you to reconsider a personal family item – such as a photograph, census return, heirloom or newspaper clipping. Other times we use local and social history resources to help you capture a sense of time and place. Like an artist dabbing at his palette, you choose what mix of colours to add to your family history.

As the accomplished biographer Blake Morrison says, “The history of someone else’s family is as tedious as a holiday slide show – unless it is well told”. Putting some words, any words, on the page can feel arduous at times, but if you experiment with the approaches and techniques we suggest, and work on it over time, you’ll have a collection of family stories ready to publish and share before you know it.