google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html Turn Family Lines into Story Lines! | The Armchair Genealogist

Turn Family Lines into Story Lines!

There was a lot of talk last week coming out of Rootstech 2013 with regards to  the importance of story and enlisting its assistance in sharing our family history.

I was thrilled that the theme of the conference was storytelling.  Great emphasis was placed on moving beyond the dates, names and places in our family history to create these stories. Here at the Armchair Genealogist we’ve been drinking that Kool-Aid for years. However, I’m not here to declare an 'I told you so.'  I’m here to say let’s get to work and offer you some help.

We’ve all have been nodding our heads in agreement for these past few days about how we need to focus on the stories to engage our family and draw others into our passion. This translates into finding a way to turn our dry family history data into engaging stories and for many that is indeed a very overwhelming challenge.

Some may think that dropping documents and photos into a book or video will culminate into a family history story.

The documents and photos of your family history are not a story! 

Let me elaborate. They support the story and they help reveal the story, but they are not the whole story. The facts contained within those pictures and documents are central to shaping your stories. However, your family history tales will begin to emerge when you can paint a picture of the time and place where your ancestors lived. Your story will materialize when your ancestor’s character is brought to life through their dress, mannerisms and personality. The account of your ancestor's life will emerge when you present a struggle and a resolution wrapped up in emotion and a universal truth that relates to your audience. Then you will have a story.

We are seeing many wonderful new tech apps that are going to make it easier for you to present and share those tales. Reel Genie, Treelines, Saving Memories Forever and StoryPress are but a few. They will all give you the ability to drop your family history data, photos and documents into a shareable format along with your narrative. They are all wonderful options for preserving and presenting your family history. However, they will not write the story for you. They place you in the unique position of being a storyteller. Now we need to learn how to tell a great story.

At Rootstech, we were given front row seats to some master storytellers.  I encourage you to watch, Syd Lieberman in Thursday’s keynote address. Also, enjoy Kim Wietkamp from the live streaming lecture Tell It Again

Regardless of whether you are writing a family history book or a family history blog, whether you wish to make a video or audio recording for future generations, you first must understand how to identify, arrange and present your family history data in a story format. This is at the essence of what we encourage here at The Armchair Genealogist. Our Family History Blog to Book Project, Our Guide to Writing Family History and The Family History Writing Challenge are all vehicles to help you to become a better storyteller regardless of how you intend to deliver that story. We provide tools, education and motivation to help you find and shape those facts into a shareable and engaging plan. 

If you are interested in learning more about turning your family lines into story lines, and creating  emotional stories your family can relate to then I encourage you to sign up for our newsletter. 

 Storylines is monthly newsletter  dedicated to helping you skillfully tell your stories. Regardless of whether you plan to write or record, this e-zine will offer you opportunities to learn how to caress those dates, names and places into a creative account of your ancestor’s lives. 

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Mariann Regan said...

Dear Lynn, You are absolutely right. Of course. You have expressed very well some methods for bringing a character to life and building a plot of struggle and resolution "wrapped up in emotion and a universal truth." Wisely said.

It would be wonderful if genealogists and family historians could expand the discussion within the area of storytelling. I'd like to help in my own way . . .

Lynn Palermo said...

Thanks Mariann, I know you and I share a love of storytelling. And I agree this conversation needs to continue to beyond the conference. The conference suggested how storytelling can help you to reach out to your family but one important element was not addressed. The power it has to move the storyteller closer to their own family history. Learning to tell our ancestors stories also expands our own connection with our ancestors and ourselves.

Linda Gartz said...

Hi Lynn,
I sent your link to Syd. He and I have been friends for more than 40 years, and I watched him morph from a highly respected Evanston High School English teacher (Golden Apple Winner too) into a master storyteller. I was walking with his wife just yesterday and she told me he had presented at Rootstech. So glad you liked his address. He has also presented to my writing group. Anyone wanting to write a family story should check out his website where you can download his stories free of charge. Many have to do with his family and growing up in Chicago! Readers can see how he creates story out of family anecdotes -- not the same thing!

Jane Rollins said...


I'm so sorry that I missed meeting you at Rootstech. I am a Family History challenge participant who wore the black and white geneablogger beads while there, but still we missed each other. Will you be attending NGS in Vegas or Jamboree in Burbank? If so, let's be sure to chat then.

Lynn Palermo said...

Hi Linda, thanks for sharing the post with Syd. I have been to his website and I'm slowly making my way through his videos. They are great inspiration! Linda, your lucky to have such a great writing group that can have such a wonderful presenter. I'm envious.

Lynn Palermo said...

Jane, I only attended Rootstech virtually this year. So no worries you didn't miss me. I have not made any plans as of yet for NGS or Jamboree, lots going on with the family this year so everything is up in the air. If I do go I'll be sure to seek you out.

Jana Last said...


I watched the live-streaming sessions of RootsTech and was so happy with the story theme this year. Syd and Kim were captivating to watch. What amazing storytellers! The art of storytelling and family history go hand-in-hand. They are a perfect, and powerful, match.

Thank you for your Storylines newsletter. I've signed up and look forward to receiving it.

I also want to let you know that this post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Carol Rice said...

Bravo Lynn! I couldn't agree more. Story@Home was so proud to have the opportunity to sponsor both Syd and Kim as part of the conference. I was blessed to be raised in a home where my very avid-genealogist mother understood the power of story. She brought my ancestors to life and made the research she did all the more meaningful for our family. Along with your newsletter, readers might enjoy Syd's Story Starter, "Historically Speaking" as a useful tool to help them actually craft a story - not just compile documents and photos. I loved your post - couldn't agree with you more, we are indeed kindred spirits :-) Here's the link if anyone wants to download a copy of Syd's Story Starter: as a companion to your newsletter.

Lynn Palermo said...

Thank you Jana for signing up to Storylines and for the mention in your Fab Finds, I always look forward to checking out some the finds on your list.

Lynn Palermo said...

Carol, thank you for stopping by, I really appreciate it. When I first learned of Story@Home last year I felt the same way; a kindred spirit. I was thrilled you were able to bring the Story platform to the Rootstech venue this year, so many benefited from this fantastic opportunity. Thank you for the links to Syd's Story Starter, I'll be sure to check it out.

L. Hedgecock said...

I didn't attend the conference, but I couldn't agree with you more. We definitely need to be leaving stories behind.

Laura Hedgecock
Share a memory; share a treasure!