Friday, February 1, 2013

The Family History Writing Challenge: Day 1-Hattie's Call

This morning I awoke, made my morning coffee, and immediately looked for the my e-Newsletter. As I read it, I jotted some notes in my journal, which is more like a To Do List in rough outline format.

Number one on the list was "Gather up some pictures and choose one to write about." My goal after work was to search through the rest of the moving boxes in my office closet and find the reunion photos of Cousin Hattie.

Then, I read Lisa Alzo's article, "Writing One Ancestor at a Time." Suddenly, I wondered,
How does one go from being a cousin to becoming an ancestor?
This is one of the questions my memoir will answer. 

Week 1 Assignment: Outline Story
  • "Write a paragraph summary on Day 1." 
As I read this, I was reminded of a blog post I had read during the past year about how to write a dust jacket blurb. Hmmm...I think I'll be in search of another item soon...
  • Create an outline & expand it into chapters and scenes.
  • Looking at the pictures of Hattie, answer the questions Who, What, When, Where, Why & How? Tell as much about the ancestor as possible, as much as you know based on the picture in front of you, your memories and any genealogy data you've collected.

Hattie's Call

In the early evening just a couple months before the family reunion, I was sitting at my desk, working on a family history assignment for the committee when the unexpected ring of the telephone startled me.

"Hello, Debra? This is Hattie."
"Hattie? I'm so glad you called! I've been trying to get in touch with you."
" Yes, I know. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. I've been ill. They found a spot on my lung and I've been getting treatments."
"Oh, no."
"The doctor said it looks good. I'm just so tired all the time. I'm having some problems with my blood pressure."
"Will you be going to the reunion?"
"I'd like to...but I'm not sure if I'll be able to go."

In that moment of silence, a wave of fear seized me. Hattie had been the chairperson of the first George Family Reunion committee in 1989, and as family historians, we share a special bond. 

"I want to meet with you after the reunion at my house to show you family documents...but only if all the siblings come."

All the siblings. That would be difficult. My husband's oldest brother remains in his hometown in western Pennsylvania on Lake Erie. His next brother was in the process of moving his family from Georgia to Florida; and, his sister, the youngest and only daughter, lived in Chicago. How could I get them all to come together in North Harlowe? 

"But what if some can't attend?"
"Only if they all come! I have seen too many times one try to grab the land from the others, and I have gone to court too many times, and I will not do it again. This is heir land. And your husband is an heir. And so are his siblings."

Heir land. I had never heard of that before....

Word Count: 315

I have learned several things on Day 1:
  1. Not having all your information readily on hand slows down the process.
  2. Trying to recall the nuances of tone and emotion from an event experienced several years prior can be difficult.
  3. Working late at night after a full day's work makes my eyes and mind excessively tired.
  4. If I am not able to change my writing routine on a regular basis, I may have to alter my word count goal.
We'll see...


  1. First off welcome to GeneaBloggers. Next, your writing skills are fantastic! Your first day at the writing challenge amazed me. I will be back to read future installments. I'm starting to think I shouldn't have participated in the challenge. I am not prepared. I think I should have waited until next year, I just thought it would keep me motivated to post something.


    1. Betty, thank you so much! While I have been writing for many years, I am an "unpublished" author. I have yet to get something to the completion point, and the challenge is exactly what I need to get me motivated. Believe it or not, we writers and family historians sometimes live in a vacuum. No one seems interested enough to give feedback, unless we reach out in a forum such as this. I hope you will NOT get discouraged, and keep at it. This is my second year doing the challenge. Last year I didn't finish the book...but I did get over a big hurdle for the first chapter. As Mom always said, never put off for tomorrow what can be done today! Give it your best shot, learn from it, and keep on going! You will not regret it! Best wishes!

  2. Debra, it looks like you are off to a good start--and including several helpful resources in your posts, too.

    Welcome to GeneaBloggers. I just saw the mention of your blog there this morning, though I've already been reading for the last couple days. Best wishes on your blogging experience, and also on the writing challenge!

    1. Thank you, Jacqi! Grant Davis says you're "a super writer." I will definitely be by your blog to check it out!

  3. Welcome to Geneabloggers. I get into the research more than the writing, but I'm trying to write more. If I don't write about the research, nobody will know about it. I've been a member of Geneabloggers for about four months. This has helped me to write more. Jacqi Stevens, who just left a comment, is a super writer.

    Regards, Grant

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, all! I appreciate your input! I have been a member of GeneaBloggers since October 2010; however, this is my third blog. They are all connected, but I have them registered separately since they each include all different aspects of family history research & writing.

  5. I am so glad you are doing the family writing challenge. I am late, however, I think I will do it too. I have enjoyed both of your days of writing and look forward to more. However, now looking at it being 28 days...I am not so sure. ;-)