Do we expect our lives to turn out like the stories we’ve heard?


My family’s central story is about a grandmother who brought an entire railroad to a standstill for love. I don’t know how much of the story is true, but I often explain my marriage with “the Porsche story” because, in my family, a good love story is expected, so I have to have one even though mine is based on more of an incident than a life-changing event.

In what other ways has my family and their stories shaped me? That’s the central question that sends me out looking for my family’s stories.

 Deep Dirt: Adventures in Digging Up Family Stories is structured around my adventure searching for my stories—a journey that takes me from a ranch in Idaho to an island off the coast of Denmark with other stops along the way. I discover pirates, more love stories, and who tends the family ghosts. I interview experts, like the head of the Association of Personal Historians, visits historical sites, and dig around in libraries and closets. What do I discover and share on the pages of Deep Dirt?

  • Most families have a central narrative—a theme that shapes their stories.
  • One generation’s secrets can become the next generation’s permission.
  • Wars and negotiations turn on story points not facts.
  • We worry about the family photos but shrug off the stories—not a good strategy because a picture without a story gets tossed.
  • A liar gets his story straight, a family tells a different version every time. That’s what keeps the stories true and the families vital.
  • Stories of the old country are like lost luggage. Almost none survive immigration.
  • Life review is a recognized, healthy psychological process.
  • It’s hard to tell our mother’s stories.

The manuscript is complete, approximately 70,000 words. The style is essay/creative-nonfiction. It includes a few photographs, two recipes and lots and lots of stories. Like Buzzy Jackson’s Shaking The Family Tree (Simon and Schuster, 2010) the subject matter is social science. Jackson calls herself an “accidental genealogist” and shares her journey into family records. Pay Attention adds a complimentary journey into family stories, which are sometimes overlooked by genealogists, who like stories but prefer proofs. Pay Attention argues that, on a different level, stories are as important as proofs.



To my writer friends — I just listened to the BEST workshop with Jerrie Hurd talking about the power of the family stories we tell and retell over generations. Not only has it already helped me personally, I can use the ideas in the novel I’m working on. No exaggeration when I say this workshop was exceptional! See for more info about the “why to” not “how to” book she just finished on this important subject. The workshop was made possible via The Avocado Sisterhood created by Marj Hahne.

Check and for more info and a link to the recorded seminar.