Genealogist Asks Godges for Advice on Family Memoirs, Family MembersLauding the family memoir "Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century” as a “wonderful illustration for all family historians grappling with writing their family history,” Lynn Palermo, also known as The Armchair Genealogist, asked author John Paul Godges for tips about writing and publishing a family memoir and also about involving family members.
Godges stressed the importance of establishing a theme and building a complementary outline very early in the process. “I played with the theme and outline ideas for nearly a year before committing pen to paper.”
Palermo asked Godges about how he handled transitions, reconstructed dialogue from decades earlier, edited passages, and managed the sensitivities of family members who might have been reluctant to share their stories with the world.
“The whole process was like group therapy for all of us,” said Godges. “Because everyone was brave enough to take the risk of baring their souls, we came to know one another a lot better through this sort of organized process of collective introspection, and I think we love each other more than ever because of it.”
He then became introspective himself. “I learned two big lessons while writing this book,” Godges told Palermo. “The first lesson is that the most important stories of our lives are often never shared simply because the questions are never asked. Young people don’t want to ‘bother’ old people with difficult questions about painful subjects; as a consequence, old people end up thinking that nobody cares about them or the most important parts of their lives. It’s a colossal waste of opportunity, and it’s very sad.
“The other big lesson is that the most important parts of our lives also happen to be the most painful parts of our lives. When we keep those stories of pain to ourselves, either intentionally or unintentionally, we deny ourselves a great deal of wisdom that we can also pass down to our children. I decided to share the greatest family pain so that we could impart the greatest family wisdom, mostly for the benefit of the generations to come. My parents and siblings approached the book in this same spirit. It couldn’t have happened otherwise.”
The complete interview can be found at The Armchair Genealogist blog.
Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century is a courageous family memoir about what it means to be American.
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