Memoir Writing Prompts: Sharing With Your Family

by Matilda Butler on November 12, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #167 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

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Giving Life Stories to Your Family

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, as I watched families sort through ruined homes and water soaked belongings, I felt a terrible loss. Yes, I sensed the disruption in lives and the loss of “things,” but it was the loss of family photos and memory touchstones that weighed on me.

Photos are one way that we record family stories. Yet all too often they are lost or destroyed not only by major disasters but also by the passage of time and the dimming of recollections. I recall sitting with my mother one early fall day three years before she died. I sat with a composition book in front of me and my favorite fountain pen in my right hand. Slowly we looked through a stack of old family photos that had been stored in the attic while I made notes. When I asked about one, Mother said, “I don’t know who that is. I think his name was Bert but I’m not sure who’s son he was.” We finally tossed that photograph believing it didn’t add to our understanding or knowledge of the family.

And that was just a matter of trying to put a name with a photo. What about the stories of Bert? What made him laugh? What did he most love doing in the summer when he was 10 years old? What shaped his goals and dreams? What did he wish for his children, or did he even have children? His stories are lost forever. They cannot be found on a genealogy chart. They will not be whispered by the winter winds. They will not blow in on the icy tentacles of a blizzard. We’ll never read or hear his narrative.

So what can we do? The past is gone but we can look at the present and plan for the future. We need to write our stories and even help others write their stories. These stories are our gift to the next generation, the stuff that answers are made of — “What was great grandma like?” “Why did she work when you were small?” “Why did we end up living in California?” “Why do you make black-eyed peas on New Years Day?”

Memoir Writing and Saving Your Family Stories: A Case in Point

One of my favorite people is Betty Auchard. She has published two memoirs* and is at work on her third one. She’s one of those funny, energetic, happy, engaged individuals you are just bound to both like and admire. Betty has one of the stories that will appear in our Memories Sweet and Savory series of ebooks. Because we were emailing about some of the final photos and details, she also sent me two photos that she had just taken.

memoir-prompt-4-generations, memoir writingIn this photo, Betty shares the visual image of four generations of women. Betty as great-grandmother is on the right, her granddaughter is next, then her daughter, and finally her great granddaughter Jenna. Just imagine the stories that Jenna will want to know in the future.

Meanwhile, in this photo one gets the idea for a great family story to tell — a story that might even become the source for today’s writing prompt.

memoir-prompt, family shoe stories

Memoir Writing Prompt

In this photo, Jenna, celebrating her second birthday, has slipped out of her shoes to put on a pair, clearly much too big for her. For the moment, the story belongs to Jenna. But what does this make you think about? What story is brought forth? Did you like to walk around in your mother’s shoes? Was there one specific pair? What did they look like? Why do you think you liked to put on those shoes? Did you mother think it was previous or did she tell you to take them off and put them back where you found them? Did you become an Imelda Marcos with your love of shoes? Well, maybe you can’t match her 3000 pairs, but perhaps you have 100 or more.

As a teenager, I loved distinctive shoes. I had one pair covered with red bandana fabric and that sported navy patent heels. Another pair were white except for a one-inch high rose on the toe of each shoe. I remember having twelve pairs of shoes. That was considered a real extravagance. Each pair made me feel special and that’s probably why I remember them so well. Today my shoe buying behavior is quite different. I’m happy with three active pairs of black flats. If I find a pair that is particularly comfortable, I go back to the store and purchase a second pair, keeping them in reserve until the first pair wear out. My most recent pair are black Crocs and cost $14.95 on sale. I’ve worn them almost every day since September 8. Not exactly Imelda.

Do you have a shoe story? If not, don’t worry. Just find a family photo — it might be just taken, like the ones that Betty Auchard sent me, or it might be one you discover in an old shoe box. It doesn’t matter. Just look until you find one that inspires you to share a story with your family. Then write, write, write.

Make sure your family stories are not lost.

Home for the Friendless: Finding hope love and family is Betty’s second memoir. In the link to the left as well as the earlier link for Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood, I’ve chosen the Kindle versions to list. Both are available in print formats as well.

Thanks Betty for sharing your stories with all of us and for letting Women’s Memoirs use two of your most recent family pictures to help us get out the word that sharing family stories is the most important legacy we have to give to our families.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Betty Auchard November 12, 2012 at

Oh my goodness, this is so much fun seeing my family featured in an article. I carry my little camera in my purse all the time and take more photos than I ever used to. I use them for my face book author page at Betty Auchard Author as well as for the family photo albums that the girls in my family keep. My oldest daughter, Dodie, creates family photo montages for gifts, has them copied and laminated to use as a placemat or as a picture on the wall. We never get tired of poring over these images to see how much we’ve all changed.

Renee November 13, 2012 at

What a nice article! I just love the shoe photo. You should see her in size 8 heels! Scares us to death! She’s a high-heel shoe magnet!

Matilda Butler November 13, 2012 at


A big thanks for sharing these family photos with us. It’s hard to pick my favorite one. Seeing four generations of women in a close knit family is quite special. But of course, your great granddaughter seems determined to steal the show.

I love the idea of family photo montages laminated and used as placemats. Clever.


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