Fifth Friday Focus: Write Your Story (Hallowe'en Edition)

Every Friday here at The Family Yarn, we encourage you to write about a specific person in your family history. Whenever a fifth Friday rolls around, the spotlight swings around to you, dear reader. It's time to put down that Census form and delve into the recesses of your cranium for tasty tidbits of memory from your life. Besides, who better than you to write about you?

Today is All Hallows' Eve, the beginning of a three-day observance known as Hallowtide, in which the dead are specifically remembered. Of course, we genealogists don't really need a formal holiday to remember our ancestors—it seems like they're with us every day!

Vintage postcard showing an owl in front of a full moon, with a short verse of Hallowe'en greeting
vintage halloween postcard by dave (CC BY-ND 2.0)

You may know the celebration better as Hallowe'en (or, if you're so inclined, Día de los Muertos, which I like because of the specific focus on the dearly departed in our families). In the United States, October 31st has become one of the most spendy holidays of the year. Much of that is spent on candy, but costumes and decorations get more elaborate every time I see them. I doubt the simple carved jack-o-lantern, bathrobe wizard's cape, and pillowcase bag even cross the minds of children when planning the night nowadays.

The prompt this week is to think back to the late Octobers of your youth. What types of costumes did you wear for Hallowe'en? Were they handmade at home, store-bought, or cobbled together from your family members' wardrobes? Did ever attend or host a Hallowe'en party? Who was there, what did you eat, and what sort of games did you play? How old were you when you stopped dressing up and begging for candy? Have you ever been through a staged haunted house? Did you ever participate in operating a haunted house? (I played a corpse one year, who sat up out of a coffin and reached out for the patrons, beseeching them to "sleep with me". Ah, the craziness of youth!)

Share your Hallowe'en memories in the comments below while you work on that full-size Snickers bar your mom would never let you keep—it's all yours now! Don't forget to save your work in your narrative file for later reference.

Image Credit: Dave on

Friday Focus: Mother Dearest

Today marks the inaugural Friday Focus writing prompt here on The Family Yarn. Friday Focus prompts are intended to assist you in the crafting of your own narrative family history, using individual scenes or vignettes as the building blocks of a larger story. Each week, we will provide some jumping-off questions to get your brain working so that you can spin a short tale about a specific person in your family tree. These scenes should be short (250 to 300 words), but still function as a stand-alone story, something you might share at a party or around a campfire.

This week, write about your mother.

First Things, Part Two

I have been working on my family history ever since grade school. We were assigned a family tree project, and I can remember drawing my own four-generation pedigree charts on sheets of quadrille paper. Most of my information was directly cribbed from some old copies of compiled charts that my father was given at some point - nothing more, really, than names, dates, and places. Regardless, I was hooked.

Twenty-five years later, I have moved from a handful of hand-drawn charts to boxes, binders, and megabytes of data, some analyzed but most still raw facts of births, marriages, and deaths. I can trace my lineage back to colonial Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, but much of the information has no story to it; it's just names, dates, and places. You could say that my family tree stretches for a long way back into history and is fairly wide with cousins and collateral branches, but it's just two-dimensional - there's no depth to it.

A couple years ago, I started to question the worth of genealogy all together. I only worked on it sporadically, and when I did it totally consumed me for a couple weeks at a time. And what did I have to show for it? All of the birthplaces and death dates for every generation since the Battle of Hastings couldn't even answer the most basic of questions for me: who was my grandfather?

First Things

Whether we realize it or not, our lives revolve around stories. "How was school today?" "What did you do over the holidays?" "Did you see that play in the fourth quarter?" We watch the news and read the paper to find out who did what where when, how, and (if we're lucky) why.

In a different time and a different culture, the stories of a people passed down through the generations orally. Here in twenty-first century America, the written word reigns supreme, whether on paper on in pixels. Much of our family history, however, exists only in memory, tradition, and speculation.