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    Write A Story Inspired by Your Heritage

    As we research our family history, we'll often become fascinated by the lives of our ancestors and even with those of our parents. Write these stories down so they will be preserved for future generations. Also consider turning them or parts of them into stories for publication.

    Until I began researching story ideas for fiction and non-fiction work, I didn't realize what an impression my mom had made with the tales of her life...her childhood, her days as a young school teacher, her life as a farmwife raising four children, then still later her experiences as a country storekeeper.

    • In one of my childrenís stories, I use the situation of two girls falling through the ice and being rescued by one girlís sister. In my momís childhood, she and a friend fell through the ice on a pond near their school. The students slid and skated there during recess.

      The pond wasn't very deep, but Mother and her classmate couldn't get out because the ice kept breaking. The youngsters on skates were too heavy to get near them. However, Motherís sister, Esther, eased her way out onto the ice, then lay down and threw her scarf to them. Slowly she eased the girls out as other youngsters pulled her backward.

      This incident formed the basis for one scene in my story, "A Surprise for Christmas."


    • The house where my mom grew up is the setting for a story tentatively titled, "The Secret in the Wall." My characters are purely fictional, but as I write, I visualize the setting as the farmhouse where my mom once lived.


      My ancestor, William Mathewson, is the main character in the picture book-in-progress, "The Original Buffalo Bill." As I researched this ancestor, I discovered he was more than a picture in my grandmotherís photo album. He'd been a hero in Kansas Territory, operating trading posts on the Santa Fe Trail and at Fort Sill, acting as a peacemaker for the Indians, and helping found Wichita.

      My poem, The Cookie Lady, in "Tales of Adventure & Discovery" evolved from memories of my aunt. As I drew the illustration for the poem and for an accompanying coloring book, I realized thoughts of my aunt had inspired it.


    Delving into Your Heritage

    Your can delve into your heritage and write stories of the immediate past or long ago.

    • ASK parents and grandparents to tell of incidents they recall, particularly their lives as children. What were their favorite pets? The games they liked to play? Did they take family trips? Were there memorable holiday celebrations?

      For instance, my mother-in-law has told of her favorite pet....a rooster called Big Toe, because he got his foot caught in a door and lost a toe. He was gentle and followed them around the yard. I've not written a story about him yet, but it gives me an idea.

      Also in "A Surprise for Christmas" the children and their parents ride to the woods on a horse drawn sleigh to get the Christmas tree, something my family did when I was a child. I drew upon these memories and incorporated them into the action of the story of this fictional family.


    • RESEARCH some of your ancestors as I've done with my great, great Uncle William "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson. I'm also researching the Civil War era and my ancestorsí experiences in that period of history for "Papa Goes to War."


    • EXPLORE other countries and regions of our country where their families lived and worked. As I learn about Uncle Buffalo Bill, I'm also discovering the Santa Fe Trail and have begun writing articles on it for our family archives and to send to magazines. I also give talks on my great great uncle and the Trail.

      Germany of the Palatine Period fascinates me. During the late 1600s and early 1700s, many people left that war torn country for Holland, England, and eventually the New World of North America. Some of my maternal ancestors experienced this exodus. Learning about this time in history and the country where they originated has translated itself into my writing.


    These are just a few ideas for writing stories inspired by the past as shown by oneís heritage. Brainstorm your familyís bygone days and see what you come up with.

    (If you're incorporating incidents about living people into your stories, let them know and generally get their permission, unless they're so fictionalized as to be totally unrecognizable. Even those about ancestors, unless you're writing a non-fiction piece, often are best when incorporated into the story in a general way and without the actual name of the person.)

    Copyright © 2004 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen writes for children and adults and teaches writing workshops for both groups. She enjoys delving into her family heritage for story ideas and encourages others to do the same. Visit her web site: http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetent/mea; E-mail: me.allen@juno.com

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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