I think that writing down your family history is one of the most important things you could ever do. We all know friends or even family members who have always told such fascinating stories, but nobody ever wrote them down, so when they pass on, the stories are gone forever. Sometimes it’s just because, when you’re young, you think “Oh, there goes Grandpa, telling that old story again…” And you fail to realize the importance of it.
Many times I looked at the old photo albums my dad had that my grandmother had put together, but never thought about how important that era was, or how important it might be to me, and how I turned out as a human being. But one little tidbit did stick in my mind all those years—and that was the fact that back in the 1920s in Montana, my tiny grandma—about 5’2 and maybe all of 102 pounds—had ridden steers in rodeos. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That certainly was not something I ever aspired to do—even as big as I am!
So, I started to delve into her life story. And I have found it utterly fascinating. I chose to write it as a novel, but there is so much fact in it, so much from my grandparents’ and my dad’s life. This has resulted in three novels and a non-fiction book about old-time cowgirls in Montana. And in the process, my dad started writing down some of his memories of growing up.
You must have some of those stories floating around. Whether you write them down—just notes or a timeline or a regular story—or if you tell them to another person or into a recorder, I encourage you to do it. Don’t let your family history be lost.
A memoir puts a frame onto life by limiting what is included. It may be a particular period in your life, for example, your childhood, your adolescence, or your fabulous fifties.
An autobiography covers an entire life from birth to the present.
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.