July 3


Number Two: Stories

“Once upon a time there was … “ Life story family history films and books are basically just stories combined with images. Having genealogical information like dates of birth and dates of death and places is nice, perhaps even important but the main ingredient of any interesting and inspiring family keepsake is stories. Each of the characters in your book or film has a story and it's based on the challenges and triumphs of their life. They grew up somewhere and perhaps moved somewhere else. There were certain things going on in their town or city. Their lives and choices were influenced by world events. They had interactions, partnerships, conflicts and love affairs with other people. And everybody has accomplishments, big and small. Stories don't have to be earth-shattering or epic, but there does need to be a story.

The nice thing in storytelling about people who have passed on already like your ancestors is that there's very few people around who can dispute the stories that you tell about them. So the invitation is to gather what you can about each person and then make some assumptions, draw some conclusions, maybe even give yourself a little artistic license to add a touch of fiction to round out the story. You see this all the time: “Based on a true story”. The point is to honour and celebrate that ancestor. A good story is a great way to do it.

When I was growing up, my uncle told me many amazing, inspiring big fish stories. As I look back (and after doing some some research) I would say about a third of those stories were actually true and the other two-thirds were brilliant make-believe! As a kid I loved those tales and learned lots about life. Allow yourself to nurture your family’s kids with nourishing, entertaining stories.

To help you with your storytelling we created the Life Story Questionnaire. Just by filling out this document for each of your characters you’ll be able to hone in on things like schools, careers, military service, places, historical events, achievements, and relationships so that you can surmise their story. It’s not a difficult process. And you’ll be surprised about how much you actually know about your ancestors.

Stories have a typical formula. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The most versatile storytelling metaphor is “The Hero’s Journey”. You can use it to sequence the happenings of an ancestor’s life into a compelling and meaningful adventure that makes your readers and viewers look forward to the next bit of the story and they’ll think you’re a master writer. Writing and editing is easy for some and more difficult for others. If you get stuck personal historian Cory Bretz can help you with this creative process so it becomes fun and rewarding. Or he can ghost-write it for you so you can take the credit without any of the frustrations!

To get started, download the Life Story Questionnaire for free. You can also schedule a free Family History Consult on Zoom with personal historian Cory Bretz to strategize your best storytelling approach.

Read Number Three: Interviews [COMING SOON]

In the meantime, check out some samples of life story family history films and books to get some ideas for your project. 

About the author

Cory Bretz is a filmmaker and personal historian. He specializes in interviewing elders and helping families inspire their next generation with their life stories, family history, wisdom, blessings, and old photos. He can help you create your own life story family history film or storybook. Cory also loves producing fundraising and profile videos for non-profits and conscious corporations that help them do their good works.


creative writing, memoirs, storytelling

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