Family Tree 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge

By Ashlee Peck

Inspired by November’s National Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo online), the editors of Family Tree hosted a 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.

Each day in November, we shared a writing prompt on the front page of encouraging our readers to use your research in a new, creative way. We had so much fun reading your replies that you shared via Facebook and Twitter, we decided to revisit some of our favorite responses. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Day 30: Imagine you are one of your descendants, far in the future, writing about your present self. Write about an event from your own history from that perspective

Day 29: Imagine you are a newspaper reporter and write an article about an event in your family history based on your research. Remember to include the who, what, when, where and why if you can!

Day 28: Imagine your family represented as a literal “tree.” What kind of tree best represents your family’s story? What does it look like and why?

Day 27: Did you grow up with any family traditions? What is the history behind the tradition? Do you practice any family traditions now?

Day 26: Choose an event from your family’s history and write an alternative ending to it. Perhaps someone made a different choice or didn’t survive something; how would the course of your family’s history have changed?

Day 25: Pick two ancestors from your family’s history who didn’t know each other, then imagine a scene where the two meet. What would they talk about, and what would their first impressions be of each other?

Day 24: Imagine a holiday celebration your ancestor participated in. Narrate it as accurately as possible.

Day 23: Write a thank-you-note to an ancestor. Who are you thanking? What did they contribute that you are thankful for?

Day 22: What types of meals did your ancestor eat? Describe a mealtime scene from your family’s history.

Day 21: Choose a favorite couple from your family’s history (or imagine one) and write a love note or poem they might have shared, taking the historical period into consideration!

Day 20: Channel your inner Hemingway and write one or more “six word stories” about your family’s history.

Day 19: Write about surname origins. Do your findings lineup or conflict with what you know or believe about your ancestors’ homeland? If not, highlight the puzzle and try to piece together a plausible answer to it.

Day 18: What’s the whackiest or most interesting story you’ve heard passed down in your family or discovered in your research?

Day 17: What types of clothes did your ancestors wear? Pick and ancestor and describe them in detail; what are they wearing and why?

Day 16: Are there any naming traditions in your family? Write the story of how that tradition started (or the stories of the people with the names…?)

Day 15: Imagine your ancestor encountering something for the first time (new place, new food, new invention, etc.) Describe their first impression in detail.

Day 14: Write a letter as if you are one of your ancestors. Who is the letter for and what does it say?

Day 13: Imagine your ancestor making a big decision and narrate how they arrived at their conclusion.

Day 12: Ask a child, grandchild or sibling what one thing they would like to know or learn about their family history and why they want to know that piece of information. Do you have the answers in your family history research? Are their questions based on facts? Or are they looking for the motives behind their ancestor’s actions? Now write an essay based on their questions? And how you would answer their questions based on your research and speculation.

Day 11: Looking at your family history, write down five life lessons you feel you’ve learned from your ancestors. Write an essay for the benefit of sharing with your children, grandchildren, and future descendants.

Day 10: If you were to write a book about your family history or an ancestor’s history, what genre would it be and why?

Day 9: Do you have a favorite quote or family saying from your history? Write the story of how that quote or saying came to be.

Day 8: Imagine your ancestor had social media during their lifetime, and write a Facebook post or series of tweets describing something they’re witnessing in real-time.

Day 7: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative from its perspective. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?

Day 6: Imagine a typical day for a female ancestor. What time did she wake up, and what did she do throughout the day?

Day 5: Select two ancestors who lived in different time periods, and describe a scene of the two interacting with each other over dinner. What do they talk about? What do they have in common?

Day 4: Imagine and describe an event in your family’s history from an outsider/observer’s perspective. What was it like to be there? How did the event make them feel?

Day 3: If your family history/ancestor’s story was a novel, what would the theme be?

Day 2: Imagine a route your ancestor took frequently in his or her daily life. Describe that route in detail. What did they see? What noises could they hear? Where were they going?

Day 1: Think of your ancestor as a character in a story; describe them as an author would. Go into as much detail as possible – what do they look like, how does their voice sound, what are their strongest personality traits?

Want even more prompts? Check out our past writing challenges and get your free download of family history writing prompts.