Listen to Your Ancestors: What Story do they want you to Write?

When I was thinking about my great grandmother’s diary, A Soprano’s Aria: Lulu’s Diary, I really struggled with the title. And if you read my piece Writing Stories: Writing Begins With a Title you will know that the title sets the stage for the story you will tell. It really got me to reflect on what story Lulu would want me to write. I could have chosen a title “The Diary of an Abused Woman” or “Abused,” but that would have emphasized her victim hood. I am sure she would not have wanted that. I thought about what she cared about most and what got her through the rough times? Family, faith, friends, literature? And then I heard her voice in the pages. She was a soprano who loved music and the title materialized. She may have thought it too lofty, but it speaks of her specifically and metaphorically.

I never met Lulu in life. It is a bittersweet journey having to learn who she is, through her writing. And although she suffered greatly, she was a strong woman who eventually grasps her power, and finds her voice. It is Lulu’s story, but it is also the story of countless woman at the turn of the 20th century, even as it is today. She lived through the suffrage movement and gained the right to vote. She lived through massive changes in how women were treated and how they saw themselves.

Although Lulu may have wanted this painful part of her past destroyed when she died, I know she would appreciate the inspiration it can be for others. She would likely cringe at the parts about the abuse she endured, but she would want us to know about her joys and the history she was a part of.

When we write stories about our ancestors we can keep some points in mind.

  • Listen, honor their voices
  • Think about your subjects as REAL, breathing people that are responsible for your being alive
  • Dig deeper into the circumstances, find out the why, not just the hows and whens
  • If they are a close ancestor we may have things in common, how can that inform what we know about them?
  • Whenever we write, we become a part of the story, how can we keep “their” story the primary focus? We may be the narrator, how can we stay out of their way
  • Illuminate, but do not exploit
  • We all need heroes, and we need to show ordinary people can be our heroes too

So if you are writing a story be mindful of whose story it is. I cannot emphasize that enough. Listen to Your Ancestors! What Story do they want you to Write?

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved.

5 Comments on “Listen to Your Ancestors: What Story do they want you to Write?”

  1. To sit and listen, really be still has been the answer to either a lot of questions I had but mainly, time and again during a should I moment I’ll get my answer. I’ve got all of my father’s letters home to my grandmother when he was in Agra India. I’ll read a few, put them away knowing I have to tell his story. He was a very private person, even though he was the best friend to many, never met a stranger and had a knack for putting a person at ease. One day I was refiling the letters and one particular letter kept slipping to the floor. I bent down a couple of times and it would almost look like an act of determination. When I put the others away I picked it back up and it caught my eye. The letter was dated 76 years earlier on the exact same day. I felt immediately he was giving me permission. I call the collection my love letters.

  2. I’ve been writing quite a bit recently, answering questions about my life that will be bound in a book for my family. (A gift from my daughter…furnished by a company specializing in these kinds of books).
    Reading Lulu’s comments about FM (our great grandfather) makes me so proud of her!
    I suffered some of the same abuse that she did, even the promised ‘I’ve changed’ that never materialized.
    Controlling narcissistic men don’t change!
    Poor Lulu!!!!
    She had to have suffered PTSD from that man!
    “Nothing will make me take him back.”❤️💥🍷

    • So true Bonnie. I thought of my Mother and many other of the enablers of my narcissist Moser men. When I started studying the facts and undeniable traits and found what modus operandi was in a nutshell, for my guys anyway. They all worked very hard and chose their wives similarly. Beauty, youth, very naive and some with sad childhoods. None had the high taste afforded to them like our boys had or were bound and determined to have. So this smothering of affection, the louder side of life and generous nature inherent in our genes was too hard to resist. Just a few years into the whirlwind the strings that were attached started surfacing. My brothers follow the same patterns, in the age of this new millenium. Unbelievable. They all picked much younger girls to marry, repeatedly. There is also another stone cold fact I learned while studying the disease. (yep it’s a disease). Narcissistic Personality Disorder is incurable.

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