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.