Life Writing no. 2 – Reflect on Your Family Tree

Do you have stories you want to tell? Studies have shown that life writing can help to lessen symptoms of stress and depression. In our new blog series, look for exercises and prompts to help facilitate your own life writing.

Reflect on your family tree

Knowing where your family comes from offers an insight into your own identity. Our family trees are filled with stories, rich enough to write books. In my own writing practice, I was inspired by the story of my great-great grandmother who survived a class 5 tornado in Saskatchewan. I wrote a suite of poems about her experience, filling in details with what I imagined happened. The process made me feel more connected to my roots.


How to start life writing from your family tree:  

  1. Sketch out a family tree using a pencil on a large piece of blank paper.
  2. Fill out the details of your immediate family and work your way out to more distant relatives. If there is a famous, distant relative,  put their name on the margins of the paper.
  3. As you start to recall the faces and names of your family, make a few notes about what comes to mind when you think of them. These notes could include their background, their jobs, quirky habits, or their claim to fame.
  4. Remember the times you met, visited, or connected with your family members. Sometimes, we see certain relatives only one or two times in our lifetime. What do you remember of the people you met and who you’ve lost touch?
  5. Reflect upon your relationship with the elders in your family. They heard their elder’s stories first-hand. Do you remember if they told you any tales?
  6. Once you feel the spark, don’t put your writing off or you’ll lose the drive. Set your family tree aside and start writing as you are now. Details can be filled in later if you can’t recall.
  7. Pull out your old photographs and albums if you feel like you want to dig deep into a story or a character from your family tree. (See our last life writing post on using old photographs as prompts!).

As you write your own stories based on your family tree, you can stick all to the facts or get creative and imagine what happened. If something really captures your interest, visit the local libraries on the North Shore to see what genealogy resources they have available. Who knows what you might find?




2 thoughts on “Life Writing no. 2 – Reflect on Your Family Tree

  1. Some of us have a more difficult time with our tree than others…and this has always been sorrowful for me. Ironically, my family has always been big on the story telling and tall tales. There’s plenty for me to dig into and be inspired by.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that this exercise can be more difficult for some than others, and we need to trust our feelings in regards to the subjects we tackle in our writing. The stories that you feel a spark of inspiration will be the ones that are the easiest to write. I find the storytelling and tall tales to be as interesting as factual accounts because we all have our own version of what happened and the “truth”. Happy writing!

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