google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html Writing Life Stories in 5 Easy Steps | The Armchair Genealogist

Writing Life Stories in 5 Easy Steps

(Today I liked to welcome Lisa Alzo, M.F.A., genealogist and freelance writer.  Lisa shared with our Family History Writing Challenge members last week this helpful post and video on writing our life stories. I hope you enjoy.) 

Most genealogists eventually want to write about their ancestors.  The final product could be a collection of family profiles, a book, or a Blog.  Perhaps you've even signed up for this Family History Writing Challenge to get a jump-start on that task.  But, when it comes to composing a narrative, few of us think about writing our own life story.

The truth is each of us has a story to tell; a rich past to explore. Don’t know where to begin?
Think it’s too difficult, or that you don’t have the time?  Perhaps, you may even feel that your life is simply not that interesting.  But, memoirs are not just for the rich and famous.  Anyone can write one, and trust me, one day your descendants (who may also be future genealogists) will be glad that you did. 

This video tutorial will walk you through five simple steps for getting started.

Step 1:  Download a Free Guide.  If you need some writing prompts, download my free Life Stories Writing Guide (available in PDF format) from Once you get to the Lulu site, search for “Life Stories Writing Guide.”

Step 2:  Choose a Writing Prompt.  From the Life Stories Writing Guide, select one of the writing prompts.  For example, in the tutorial, I chose, “What do you remember about your grandmother or grandfather?”

Step 3:  Establish Key Words. Jot down a few key words related to the writing prompt. Focus on details, such as sights, sounds, smells, etc. Be as specific as possible. For example, the sample key words I selected were:


Step 4:  Construct Sentences.  Now, from those key words, write three to four sentences. At this point, don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, word choice, etc. Just write!  Here are my sample sentences:

      Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times spent in my Grandma Figlar’s kitchen.
      She wore a blue and white housedress and babushka on her head.
      I can still smell the freshly baked bread and buns that came out of the oven.

Step 5:  Prepare a Paragraph.  From the three or four sentences, build a paragraph.  Then, read it out loud.  Also, whenever possible, ask another person for feedback.  This can be a family member, friend, or a fellow genealogist or writer.  Then, go back and revise your text as necessary. This is the time to fix the spelling errors, typos, sentence flow, and other issues. 

Below is my paragraph:

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times spent in my Grandma Figlar’s kitchen. I remember spending many Friday evenings in her two-story house on Hill Street in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dressed in her blue and white cotton housedress, quilted slippers, and a white babushka (scarf) covering her hair, my Slovak “Baba” stood over her stove for what seemed like hours, preparing chicken soup, mouthwatering golden buns dusted with flour, and lemon pie—all made without reference to a written recipe. Even today, I can recall the delightful aromas of fresh bread baking in the oven, the chicken soup slowly simmering in the large, "bottomless," white enamel pot on the stove, and browning butter in the old black iron skillet.

I now have one paragraph for my life story. 

Now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?  If you follow the other prompts you’ll soon be on your way to producing a longer narrative. 

Happy writing!

Watch for more writing tutorials coming soon on my website:

Many thanks to Lynn Palermo for inviting me to provide this guest post.

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and internationally recognized lecturer, specializing in Slovak/Eastern European genealogical research, writing your family history, and using the Internet to trace female and immigrant ancestors. She is the author of nine books and numerous magazine articles, and shares stories on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist