The blurb for Sue Krisman’s one-day workshop on Family History held at Shomrei Hadath shul in West Hampsted on behalf of Spiro Ark said that the course ‘is designed to inspire you, guide you and help you find a way to cut through the baffling jungle of material you have in your head and transform it into a beautiful book’ . This course description was very accurate and the day did exactly just that.
Sue was certainly very enthusiastic about her subject and gave lots of handy hints to those wanting to write a family history. ‘It doesn’t matter where you start,’ she said and ‘just let it all hang out’. On the tricky subject of how to write about a broyges she thoughtfully gave the advice that you shouldn’t show bitterness. She also suggested that a person’s relationship with Judaism be it with the culture or the more religious aspects could be very informative. Little things, she went on, such as the price of things can be very interesting and when writing about the inevitable crisis that someone has in their life it was important, she said, to give a little ‘light and shade’ – even serious moments have humour. As an example, Sue read out an excerpt of Bill Clinton’s memoir where he showed that when he negotiated the peace accord between Rabin and Arafat, Clinton used humour to lighten the mood.
Sue also suggested the usefulness of diaries as a source – she pointed to Anne Frank’s beautiful quote that ’Paper has more patience than people’. It illustrates the relationship that some people have with a diary to really express their view of their inner world.
However, even though her lecture on how to write a family history was very interesting and informative this was not the highlight of the day. The highlight, for me at least, was the various opportunities Sue gave participants to practice our writing skills, to read out our pieces to others and to get feedback.
For some people, and I sure Sue was aware of that, what holds them back from writing a family history, is the confidence to start, and then the motivation to keep on going and finish. Therefore, these opportunities to write were a way of getting us off our starting blocks to give us the momentum to continue. One exercise was to write about a funny incident. I was very nervous about this, because I don’t think of myself a comedian and I wasn’t sure that I could write about something that was humorous. Therefore, it was something of a relief for me that the other participants did actually laugh when I read my out story of how my grandma put a bouquet of flowers in the toilet to keep them hydrated because she couldn’t find a vase (it’s quite a long story!). I had got off my starting block, I had realised that actually I could write something that was engaging and interesting to others and I am hoping it will give me the momentum to continue.
I also liked the opportunity to hear about the other participants tales of their families lives and travels and to listen to other people’s writing styles which gave me food for thought as to what else I should include in my own .
All in all a very lovely day and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in writing their own family history!