Lately I have been thinking about the meta-meaning of family stories. Pardon me for employing such a vague and voguish term, but no other phrase quite seems to express the concept I’m reaching for: some ultimate tier of abstraction that might help me articulate the irresistible (for me) appeal of those family stories I consume so eagerly. Continue reading
Several people who have ready my family history manuscript have told me that it would be helpful to have a family tree for reference. It’s a good idea, and I’m happy to oblige. This is a history of my extended family, and the work is crowded with characters—great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of various stripes. It’s hard to keep track of so many people. Continue reading
I went to Los Angeles recently on a family visit, and while I was there, I decided to do some research on an old family controversy. Around the time I was born, some of my forebears’ business affairs led them into a courtroom. I wanted to know more about this incident, so I requested the case file from the court system. Continue reading
I had a breakthrough recently in my genealogical research. I had been searching for information on my great-grandmother, Edith Letwin, and her children. Edith was my paternal grandmother’s mother. I’ve written previously about her and my great-grandfather, Joseph. My uncle, Jay Kubrin, vividly recalls her death and funeral, which happened when he was a child and touched off a bitter fight with his sister, my late Aunt Phyllis. Jay couldn’t remember exactly when Edith died. And nothing piques the mind so much as a mystery. So I became determined to uncover this one fact. Continue reading
I can find no rule stating that a memoir about family must focus on the writer’s immediate family, but the custom seems to be widely observed. Parents and siblings occupy the foreground. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents take up their positions in a dim and sketchy background. The family tableau appears in this configuration as if no other grouping were possible. But in writing and in life, anything is possible. So why does the genre adhere so rigidly to this form? Continue reading
For some time now, I have been working under the assumption that family history and memoir require some sort of framework to guide the writing. It’s fine to rummage in your store of memory and reflect on the life you have lived. It’s also fine to research your family tree and trace your line of descent from your earliest known ancestor.
But without a theoretical framework, how can you craft a powerful and memorable account? How can you support your idea of the human? How can you justify the words you set down? Continue reading
It’s been some time since I actively engaged in genealogical research. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in the topic. My family history project has simply entered another phase, and interviews, transcription, and planning take up most of my time nowadays.
This week, however, I decided to try out JewishGen.org, a site specializes in genealogy for people with Jewish ancestry. I’m glad I did. In just one day, the site cleared up a little mystery about my family that has lingered for generations. Continue reading
Writing about living people raises a host of legal, personal, and literary issues. If these complications escape your notice while you’re in the throes of writing, try flipping through a family album sometime. Resist the undertow of sentimentality and nostalgia and instead consider the people you see as changeable human beings, with relationships with each other and a relationship with you.
How do you write about your relatives while taking all this complexity fully into account? How do you write about them—truthfully and candidly—without disturbing these relationships? Continue reading
Any writer of family history will face many questions of protocol and style. The first and most basic is: Where should I begin? Continue reading