Writing personal family stories is such a vast emotional experience and it often is very therapeutic. It becomes a reunion with memory and works to keep the stories of our ancestors alive. Not every project produces a book, but each story recharges a memory. The process of recording family stories, however, can also be super charged within a family.
People can love it or hate. Love that you are recording stories, but hate that they may be part of it. They may disagree with your point of view, your memory, use of photos or video, or the fact you’re talking about family at all.
When there is family drama involved in the story process, that is when members’ buy-in on your work may become contentious. They may not want it discussed or their names mentioned. They may not want the drama to be tied to their legacy or reputation. They may disagree with you, just to disagree with you, because they don’t embrace the project. They may not believe you are qualified to be the storyteller. They may believe they have more authority or control over the storytelling process, as it pertains to your family stories, especially regarding extended family or ancestors.
Face the pushback and, at least, listen to their point of view. Family objections have been an issue with nearly every project I’ve worked on. If relatives aren’t disapproving of the storyteller, they are disapproving of the fact they are telling me such deep personal stories in lengthy detail. Often they’re hearing stories for the first time. This is my job: I’m an expert at cracking open the attack of your memories and telling your personal stories.
This point was brought up to me recently and I thought it would be a good time to share my advice on privacy policies and family engagement.
- Explain to family and friends that you are trying to keep memory alive of people who are no longer here. Their influence on your life is a part of your life story. You are not trying to injure past hurts. Every storyteller has a right to their memories and opinions.
- Ask yourself: Is there a way to incorporate the thoughts and memories of the person who is objecting to your life story writing? There is nothing wrong with producing sidebars, or opposing opinion? Is there a way to do another project with that person(s)? They may not have the fortitude to complete a project, but would willingly participate in one. Sometimes the reasons family members object to a family life story project is because they didn’t know it was happening and, actually, would like to be a part of the process. Be sure to set deadlines so your work doesn’t become inert.
- In general, when you’re writing about family stories – whether you publish them, create quick copies, or produce web-based projects, try not to use photos of family members who are still living unless you have their permission. People have different comfort levels with images of themselves. When in doubt, follow standard genealogy guidelines in your storytelling.
Have you been thinking about recording family stories, but aren’t sure where to begin or how much you’d like to do? Take a look at How We Work. Check out the Heirloom Documentation samples and think about how your possessions may be used embrace memories. Need a dedicated set of questions to bring out those stories, treat yourself to one of our life story lists. Each packet is loaded with self-guided questions and advice on producing your own life story project.