Saturday, 11 October 2014

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part A

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part A
"Dr. Bill" Smith

Each of us come across great stories as we pursue our family history research, for ourselves, or for others. Sometimes we are able to share these stories in satisfying ways through our reports, our blog posts, or our family newsletters of various forms, perhaps. But, I have found that often my favorite stories of relationships among people turn out to be ones I find I cannot share in these traditional ways for one reason or another - often for privacy reasons, or other personal conflict or disclosure issue reasons.

As a story-teller, I do not want to lose these stories. I feel strongly that others can benefit from hearing about them, and perhaps understanding better, what is going on around them, in their families, among their friends, and in their neighborhood, village, or community. Fiction is one outlet for this perceived need. This is especially true when it is really the story, the relationships, that are of interest - and not just that it is your family. There is a difference here that is important. Do you agree?

Gossip is one thing, story-telling is another. Are you able to make the distinction? Do you want to? I hope so, and let's think about it a little bit more. We might be talking about romance, about criminal activity, or relationships among siblings, as possibilities. There are a very wide variety of situations that make great stories. If the story, and the elements of the story, are compelling enough, it will be the story of the relationships that will prevail, and not just the fact that it may have happened in your family. In that case, it can be the basis for good fiction that can be shared and enjoyed by many people, without harming relationships or putting the spotlight on any real individuals or groups of people.

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I got started writing my "The Homeplace Saga" stories, as an example, because of the stories I recognized from my own family history research and observations of family and friends in the small, rural community where I grew up. I wanted to write about my hometown and my community, my family and friends, but I feared what their reactions might be were they to read my stories. And, of course, I would want them to read my stories. Have you had that feeling? Many writers just go ahead and write and not concern themselves about that issue. I am not one of those. I do care, and I honestly don't want to upset anyone. Therefore, I turned to fiction.

In my case, and there are many other equally useful approaches, I created a fictional community in an adjoining state, where some things were different, but enough were the same that I could tell my stories and not have people draw one-to-one parallels with real folks they knew. There are a number of techniques for doing this, and I'll share a number of these in future posts here. This approach will work equally well anywhere in the world, so I felt this series of posts would be appropriate for this blog.

After five years of creative energy expended, this writing project now covers five books with a sixth upcoming, an in-depth website, collaborative wikis, and three separate but related online writing platform accounts where I am now sharing short stories of my several family saga, historical fiction story lines weekly. As we look at other aspects of keeping family history stories alive through fiction, in coming months, here, I will draw on these stories, and those of others, for examples to illustrate the several useful techniques I have discovered, borrowed, created and used.

If you have an active interest in what I have suggested, I would recommend that you consider reading the novel, "Back to the Homeplace," mentioned above. It is how I got started. All the rest of this family saga is built around it. For shorter reads, check out one or more of the several recent episodes of "The Kings of Oak Springs," <>.

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more.  Dr. Bill


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "The In-Depth Genealogist" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.


  1. I find this idea intriguing. I could see myself telling family stories in this way. I am following your blog now, and I look forward to learning more about this way of telling family stories.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Nancy. I certainly hope you do give it a try.


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