Enliven Family Histories With One Simple Trick

Conflict, villains, and plot twists make for fantastic drama in shows like Games of Thrones or Poldark, but does every family history have this much drama? No, or probably not. However, you can add dramatic elements to a story, even if you think your ancestor is a bit on the dull side.

I recently completed the draft of this book “Papa: The Life of Lewis Brown” to share with my family. The public will not see this book so I can write mind-numbing genealogical data I found while researching his life. Right?

NOT if I want my children and my Brown cousins to READ this book. So, I needed to make it enjoyable.

How do I make a bowling alley manager’s life exciting without turning the book into a fictional story? I decided to add a parallel storyline.

Parallel Story Times – A Simple Trick with Huge Impacts

Parallel storylines are used by screenwriters to make films more interesting. A screenwriter will have multiple characters storylines progress forward along on similar paths.

In genealogy, we can do the same thing, but we are not limited to choosing another relative. Instead, we can select places, building, technology, and the like. What was developing in tandem with your ancestor’s life that impacts or interacts with them in some way?

This is a near-transcript of my video on YouTube. If you’d rather watch than read, here is a link to the video.

For Papa, he was an Ohio State Buckeye fan and was born the year the stadium began to be built. As I told Papa’s story, I added the stage of development of the famous horseshoe stadium and how the football team did throughout his life.

Papa would have followed his team while he was overseas. The head football coach had led the team to success before Lew left for India but that coach became a coach for a military team. Papa also lived through the years of Woody Hayes who is a huge football legend. Papa died at the beginning of Woody’s final season for the Buckeyes. Papa would not live to see Woody’s decline.

So, I wove the highs and lows of the football team and the stadium into my grandfather’s story. Since my relatives all have Ohio ties and most like the Buckeyes, this adds a little spice to his storyline.

When you want to make your family history more interesting, look for ways to write about a parallel storyline and weave it into the narrative.

Here are some blog posts I found useful:

One trick to improve your family history writing #genealogy #writingtips
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Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

3 thoughts on “Enliven Family Histories With One Simple Trick

  1. This parallel story idea sounds great, but I long for an example to read before I try using this technique. Is there a way I could read Papa’s story? If not, could your refer me to an example from someone else? I love seeing your hubby and son in your posts. Thanks for considering my request.

    1. That is a great question. This particular story has to remain private because it includes living people. I can email you an outline so you can see what elements of the OSU stadium I used over time and which life events I discussed. If that will work, let me know.

  2. Thank you! I would appreciate the outline. Have you used this parallel story technique with another ancestor who is no longer living that you could share with me.

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