How to create a moving and inspiring family project in six weeks – without getting bogged down and overwhelmed
“How to tell your family story” sounds simple enough…
But when you start to think about it, the project feels overwhelming.
You know there’s a pile of unsorted old photos in a box somewhere.
(Where IS that box?)
Or SLIDES, which you can’t even view properly:
You sign up on a website for genealogists…
…start to build a family tree…
…and find you have amassed a lot of dusty facts that don’t interest even YOU – and would certainly never interest anybody else.
Depressing, isn’t it.
Enough to make you want to give up.
But you don’t want to give up, because time is short.
Your family is not getting any younger. Children are growing up…
… and older people, who know all the best stories, won’t be here forever.
A while ago, we interviewed the adventurer Joe Simpson.
You may have heard of him. He’s the man who was left for dead on a mountain in South America, but somehow survived.
He published his story as a book: Touching The Void.
It was a huge success. International best-seller. And it was turned into a movie.
We interviewed Joe online, and recorded it (with his permission).
Here’s a still image, showing the moment when Joe was talking about his father:
Joe’s father read Joe’s book. And he loved it – as he told Joe’s sister.
But he never told Joe.
And Joe never talked to his father about the war, in which he served in Burma. Endured incredible hardship. Watched people die.
Joe had access to all his father’s wartime diaries, maps and other materials.
Thought frequently about asking his dad…
To be clear: he had the intention, and a clear area of interest.
But he left it too late.
Introducing… The Family Project
As featured in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times (of London)
A word about facts
You may be familiar with this kind of situation if you watch the BBC series, Who Do You Think You Are?.
Each week, a well known person investigates their ancestors…
And some of the stories they find (with a huge amount of help from researchers) are remarkable.
But remarkable stories, even containing hard facts, aren’t enough.
The best family stories – even very short ones – are skilfully woven through with what the people involved were FEELING and THINKING at the time…
…and, more importantly, with what the storyteller thinks and feels about it too, looking back.
Often, the story of HOW we discover facts about our relatives is more interesting than the facts themselves.
The stories and events they contain are rarely unique.
On the contrary, they’re often quite ORDINARY.
Take Emilia Fox. She started researching her family history while heavily pregnant, and soon found two recent ancestors who had suffered miscarriage.
It was very upsetting.
But miscarriage was (regrettably) fairly common at the time.
The fact that somebody we don’t know had a miscarriage a long time ago is not the reason we’re gripped.
We watch, and we’re moved, because we get to see how it moved Fox.
THAT is what makes it compelling.
Similarly, JK Rowling was surprised and moved to learn that one of her ancestors had killed German soldiers.
It hardly needs saying that a LOT of people killed German soldiers in the First World War…
So it wasn’t the killing itself that was remarkable.
It was because this was HER relative.
And WE had the privilege of watching her find out.
That kind of revelation is priceless.
But here’s the best part: you don’t need to go back into ancient history to find out this kind of thing.
Because your own living relatives have had experiences that can move you just as much.
On the next page, we’ll give you an example.