Writing Memoirs: Start With a Christmas Memory!

One of the best ways to get started writing your genealogy memoirs is to start with a Christmas memory, a few memorable moments from the past. Choose a Christmas Day from your youth; allow your mind to freely wander, recapturing the sweet sounds of carols, bright colors of the season, and gifts of peace, love and hope from the era.

Make a few notes including the year, the place, the people in the memory, and anything else you can remember. Then use your notes to turn your memory into a short story.

The following short story is an example of a Christmas memory I jotted down a few years ago, long before I knew I would one day be a published writer.

Christmas 1953…Perry Como croons, “Oh Holy Night,” right in our very own living room. Mom and Dad, not completely convinced the newfangled invention called television is here to stay, have moved the trusty old radio only as far as the dining room. “Truly a miracle,” Mom murmurs, enchanted with the black and white snowy screen.

“Where do you want it?” Dad, stomping snow off his boots and hanging onto a freshly cut, sweet-scented, green spruce, hollers from the kitchen.

As Mom shows him the selected spot for this year’s Christmas tree, I whip on my snowsuit, speedily lace my figure skates, and flee—sailing down the street to the Dober Mining Location ice rink next to Trebilcock’s house—making my getaway until the strands of lights have all been unsnarled, sorted, and clipped to the tree.

Dad grapples, gripes, and grumbles, untangling the mess from the previous year, while I, skidding safely along the ice, hum, “Joy to the World,” and calculate the minutes until I’m sure the lights are strung in perfect symmetry. Only then, do I venture back to smooth the silver icicles with my little sister Connie, hang the old pink and lavender swirled balls, and watch while Dad plugs in the cord.

The lights flash on, flicker, and fade. Breathless, anxious, the family waits while Dad—grinding his teeth—screws a “good” bulb into each socket until at last the little tree is full-blown with multi-colored light. It is a masterpiece; its shining stars sparkle in celebration, illuminating, reflecting Dad’s grin which spreads from ear to ear.

Christmas 2008…It is recalling moments such as these and writing them down that has helped me turn our family genealogy into a history filled not only with important facts but also with special stories. These stories, while simple moments in time, are the essence of who we are and, once recorded, will be long cherished with all the joys of the holiday season.

This article was written by guest author Coralie Johnson. Coralie is the award winning author of two books, The Wishing Years and A Tree Grows in Trout Creek. The books are collections of stories about growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other works by the author have appeared in various publications: Detroit News, Peninsula People Magazine, Porcupine Press, Above the Bridge Magazine, McCall’s, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Decorating and Crafts, American Legion Auxiliary, Love and Money Needlecrafters’ Magazine, and Workbasket.


  1. Linda K. McNeil Wilky says

    Thank you so much! I really loved reading this. Last year at Christmas time, I thought I’d help out my family with a suggestion/gift idea that I would dearly love to receive. As my days are normally completely filled with all things genealogical and family-historical, what I wanted most of all were stories – family history stories about our family or about our relatives. In working with family history, nothing is more boring than only having a bunch of dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. The guts – the stuff that really brings my hobby alive for me – are the colorful details – the stories about what life was like for the people and families behind all these dates. I want to record who these people are or were, what they are/were like, what makes them tick, what makes them special and unique, what holidays were like in their families, what traditions they followed, what their favorite foods or favorite pastimes were, etc. For the people in my files that I actually know, or have known, I try to write stories, or short little blurbs, describing these things, whenever I think of something I want people to know about them. It’s rather tough work, and it takes a lot of time, but is very worthwhile to me. However, I only know what I know about them. I also want to know what they meant to others. I want to hear the stories from someone’s viewpoint besides my own.

    So last year, that’s what I asked my family for for Christmas – my number one item on my wish list. I told them I had no preconceived notions about what forms their writings took, what they were about, or whom they were about. Apparently, I was too open-ended in explaining it all. The parameters were not well enough defined for anyone except for Daughter #2, who shuns well-defined parameters with all that she is. (We SO love that about her!) She wrote an incredibly beautiful poem after the death of her grandfather that she gave to me, which is right up there with the very best gifts I’ve ever received from anyone in my entire life, as well as my favorite poem I’ve ever read in my life.

    Again, this year, I had “family stories” as the number one item on my Christmas wish list. As the other, lower-priority, items on my list annoyed Son #1 and Daughter #1, they finally gave up and put their fingers to their computers.

    From Son #1, I received a three-page list, chock-full of one memory after the next from his childhood, all about his grandparents, his siblings, their homes, our homes, his thoughts, his likes and dislikes, etc., all told with his own particular brand of humorous conversational style. It is just a dream-come-true to have this from him, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with it. And there’s a promise at the end of his adding more items to the list as they pop into his head!

    I don’t know if Daughter #1 knew it or not, but one of the items on my genealogy to-do list for many months now is to write up the story of our annual family Christmas Eve/Christmas tradition for the genealogy files. Well Daughter #1, being the most holiday-loving one of our children, did just that for me. She wrote an essay incorporating memories about our Christmases then and now. The first part of the essay describes Christmas 1986, and the last part was written about the Christmas we would have Dec 2010. I absolutely love this story, and it, as well as Son #1’s memory list, and Daughter #2’s poem, has been added to my Best Christmas Gifts Ever list!

  2. says

    What a wonderful family gathering of memories, thoughts, and wishes! I love hearing that my writing has inspired someone else to initiate the writing of cherished family stories! Thanks so much for sharing this!

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