How to Share Your Family Story

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on January 17, 2013
Ideas for how to archive your family history.

QUESTION: Recently, I learned a great deal about my grandmother’s incredible history as a caregiver. When she died three months ago, I helped go through her belongings and found photographs and a diary describing her life years ago before she married my grandfather and settled down. She not only cared for family members and friends throughout her long life, she volunteered for search and rescue missions, and also served as a volunteer firefighter in our small town in Connecticut during her youth. Many of the mourners who attended her memorial service told wonderful stories highlighting her bravery and courage—much of which her family never knew or talked about. She was a woman before her time and I would like to immortalize her life. Unfortunately, I don’t know where to start. Do you have any ideas?—Jackie

DEAR JACKIE: I am so happy to hear you would like to share your grandmother’s history. She does indeed sound like a woman before her time. Not only was she brave and courageous, she was also humble. Unfortunately, so much of women’s history has been lost in this manner. But now you have the opportunity to collect the details of her story and put them into a sustainable form. First of all, I would suggest writing a book or journal about your grandmother. This process would involve a fair amount of research, but it seems as if you already have a number of resources including her diary and the people who attended her memorial service. There are many books written on the art of writing family histories such as How to Write and Publish Your Family Story by Noeline Kyle. If you don’t feel you write well enough to do her history justice, consider a ghost writer. You can locate a freelance writer via the Internet or ask the reference librarian at your local library. These professionals are a wonderful resource and are usually knowledgeable and tenacious in finding the information you need.

Once you’ve compiled your material, there are several ways of going about publishing and distributing it. You can certainly attempt to find a publisher, but self-publishing is so easy, economical, and consumes less editing time. Sites such as provide instruction and information on the self-publishing process. You might also consider creating an online book. Sites such as, and offer advice on both digital and hard-copy books and scrapbooks. Once your digital book is created, you can order additional copies at a reasonable price to give as gifts to other family members.

Or, if you are comfortable with technology, you could explore the possibility of recording an online oral history with you as the narrator.  This would involve collecting and organizing the details of your grandmother’s life, including any artifacts or photographs you may treasure. You will want to feature these items on the video (if you don’t already have a video camera or can’t borrow one, you can easily rent from a local video equipment company). While this may sound daunting it will be worth the time and effort. An oral history would be something cherished for years to come.

Whatever you decide, the most important thing is that you hold your grandmother’s life close to your heart. And this, in the end, is priceless.

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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (, the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at or