One of the challenges of family history blogging and many other narrative forms of blogging is to decide what story to tell and how to tell it on your blog. The same applies to the life story or tale you wish to share on your site.
Let me take the example of one of my grandfathers, Howard W. West. Howard had an amazing life, living and experiencing more in the first 35 years of his life than most people will in several lifetimes.
His mother was an alcoholic and reportedly crazy. She abandoned her son (3) and daughter (6 months) in Portland, Oregon, and disappeared. Growing up in a Catholic orphanage, Howard’s half-sister was eventually rescued by her father. At age 14, Howard’s father finally found him and got him out. By the time he was 17, Howard was in the military, boarding the USS Arizona as a security guard and grunt by 1925. He was married a year later, and not much later was among the first in what was to become the United States Coast Guard, raising his children in a lighthouse in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Then his wife died and he was left to raise his 12 year old son (his older daughter was newly married with a couple kids) alone, even though his military career caused him to be gone from home more than home.
I could write books about this man. He wasn’t a great man. He was a simple man who lived a ripple in time that influenced people all over the world, including myself. The above paragraph is only what the family story is about his life. I’ve uncovered more facts, some different from the family story, and a phenomenal amount of details that makes sense and doesn’t all at the same time.
He was just a man trying to do the best he could with little education and headstrong children, and not much familial support or encouragement. How should I tell his story on my family history site?
Should I tell the story from the view of his son who believed him to be a selfish, angry man with no time for his only boy? Should I tell the story from his daughter’s perspective, a man who abandoned his family more than truly supported him, leaving them alone for months if not years at a time?
I could tell the story from his perspective, picking a period of time in which life from the photographs appeared to be exciting, traveling on the US Arizona in the 1920s through exciting foreign ports of call. I’m sure I could dig up stories somewhere of him learning to eat raw fish and crazy food in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, and Hawaii, falling in love with the Japanese geisha, and waking up many mornings with a hangover from something new he clearly drank too much of the night before, stumbling out of his bunk to make it to guard duty on time. Unfortunately, I have no stories only photographs of the adventures he had from that time, but they serve as great inspiration.
With the current culture so much in support of our military, maybe I should tell his story from the perspective of a soldier, one who grew up in the military and found a life and purpose, though a hard one. He only knew discipline and rules, making him appear harder as a parent than he might have been otherwise. It taught him how to be a part of a team, to endure life and hardship, not just time away from family. It taught him to not expect permanence and learn to adapt to whatever the military shoved in his direction.
Just as there is with ourselves, there are many sides, and stories, to an individual’s life. Which one do you share?
Your blog exercise is to blog about someone. Take some consideration as to which part of their story you wish to share with your readers.
As always, the person and the story you share should match your site’s purpose and goals. If you choose someone from within your industry, it is easy to tell their story inline with your site’s focus.
People all around us, now and in the past, influence us, and change the course of our life. Tell their story from the perspective of how your life was changed, finding a tie-in there.
If you are a personal blogger, someone who blogs about anything and everything, then this blog exercise should be easy. Find someone relevant to you and share their story. Tell their life story conscious of the perspective you have chosen. If a reader really feels like they understand the point-of-view you are taking, they tend to be more responsive and compelled to keep reading.
This doesn’t have to be a full biography of an individual. It may be a few paragraphs. Choose a point in their life and the lens through which you are viewing their life, and tell their story.
Like everything we do here, this is an exercise, an experiment with web writing and blogging, pushing you to work a little harder on your blog.