If you’ve been thinking about writing the story of your life or what you’ve experienced, the word “memoir” is probably familiar to you. If you’re focusing more on writing about all of that in relation to your family and your past, you may be venturing into another territory called “family history.” While both kinds of writing tell part of the story of your life, they each have different structures and goals. 

A Family History is Informative

While both memoirs and histories will include stories about you and your family, a memoir is more about you. Anything about your family is secondary, focusing on how the family affected you. Family history is a straightforward telling of the family’s story involving multiple generations of the family.  It could concentrate on generational connections, the history of an heirloom, or establishing a dynasty, but the point is the group, or family, as a whole. 

A Memoir is Personal

In a memoir, it’s all about you. Rather than covering several generations of the family’s past, a memoir is often about a single portion of your life. It might focus on a trauma you experienced or, like Eat, Pray, Love,  be a journal of self-discovery. While the focus in a memoir is tight and focused, the timeline can jump around, and emotions are key to the main story. A family history relates facts that may be fascinating but aren’t personal or revelatory.

Why Family Histories are Popular

While memoirs are the darlings of the bestseller list, particularly if the writer is famous, family histories (unless your family is also notable) often appeal primarily to the individuals within the family. Many people lose a loved one and think, “I wish I had known more about when Grandpa was a child,” or “I never knew my ancestors traveled across the country in a wagon.” This is when many people realize that if they don’t record their family history, it will be lost to their children and grandchildren. If the story is compelling enough and written well, the people who will treasure it the most will be the ones who recognize the characters.

Family history can bring families closer and give us a sense of who we are. It explains why we’re in a particular place and time. These connections are so crucial in today’s world, where the future seems uncertain and precarious. A family history that relates tales of survival and ingenuity can be empowering.

Whether you write a memoir or your family history, working with someone to guide you and provide focus and encouragement is essential. You may find halfway through a family history that your perceptions and feelings are evolving. Perhaps your next project will be a more focused, personal memoir. One often leads to the other. 

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a contemporary publishing company, we help thoughtful people write and publish books for all sorts of reasons. For more information about our Developmental Editing, Coaching, Consulting and Professional Self-Publishing options, please reach us at +1-520-329-2729 or Info@DudleyCourtPress.com.

We’ve recently launched our latest program, Memoir Writing for Non-Writers. This comprehensive ten-week course helps you turn your memories into a compelling memoir.

– Gail Woodard