Thoughts on writing Memoirs

When writing memoirs I may have to consider the feelings of certain living relatives. I feel with some memories it may be a good idea to fictionalize a bit, for instance, change names and perhaps places and dates. But on the other hand this may be a bit confusing for my descendants if they want to find out about the life of their actual forbears.

I am also in doubt how much I am allowed to tell about my friends or about people who briefly crossed my path. I went as far as changing names slightly of people I remember from the 1940s! This concerns of course my childhood memories. When I reblogged some of these memories I reconsidered and changed my friends’ names back to their real names.

In reading once more some of my old blogs, I kept coming across the name ‘Aunty Elsa’. Well, ‘Elsa’ was really ‘Ilse’. It’s only an insignificant alteration of the name. I guess anybody who would seriously study our family history later on would be able to figure out who this aunt was.

If it comes to surnames it gets even more difficult. There are some rather unusual surnames belonging to the people from the past that I am writing about. I must say I am a bit reluctant to disclose all these surnames.

However if it comes to my family tree I feel it is quite all right to mention all the proper surnames. From this follows that it is really okay to use all the relevant first names too, doesn’t it? I have to remember this next time I publish a bit more family history!

16 thoughts on “Thoughts on writing Memoirs

  1. I have great trouble writing about my mother. She was a good person but, I think, not a good mother to me. Writing about her would allow to sneak in some critical comments and I don’t want to do that. I loved her and still do now, but it did make no difference. She did not hate me, but she tolerated me as a nuisance. She never bonded to me as a was taken away for the first six month of my life. So if I write something about my early life there is something missing – my mother. I grew up like an orphan , looked after by my Great aunt who made a tremendous impression on me. If you want to learn more about this remarkable person you can do here

    1. I did get to know your beautiful Great Aunt. She made a tremendous impression on me too!

      I also liked your Mama very much. She was such a gentle, peace loving person. It is very sad that your childhood wasn’t as good as it could have been. How very unfortunate that your mum became so very ill after having you so that she couldn’t take you home. And besides there were two more toddler siblings to look after. It must have been terribly exhausting for your mum.

      The good thing is that your great aunt could help out. I can understand that she has a special place in your heart.

      1. I think I have to clarify something. When I said she was not a good mother to me I meant to say in a emotional sense. Of course she looked after us, including me, in all other ways as best as she could. She always worked at a job and was short of time. She fed and clothed us properly. She watched her money. She was a good cook and without any doubt the best cake maker ever in the history of man kind :-). There was always a cake on Sundays. Always! Even in the worst of times. She told us how to live prudently. She send us to the cinema every Sunday afternoon.

  2. I have come across that problem a few times as well Auntyuta, seems some things are best fictionalized to a certain degree as it can taint the family history with bitterness, I think a balance between honesty and being forthright has to be achieved.

    1. Thanks for this comment, dear Emu. To achieve a balance between honesty and being forthright . . . . yes, I think this is what I have to keep in mind.

  3. This can be a dilemma, and it depends on who is going to read the memoirs. I think that we shouldn’t fictionalise events, but we can change names. I would then leave a key showing the real names so that after everyone concerned has gone and nobody will be hurt, your descendants can identify them on the family tree or on photos etc. All families have a few skeletons rattling around the cupboards, and one of my cousins caused an almighty row in the family by naming names and disclosing events that didn’t need to be made public at the time.People were badly hurt and relationships ruined. Nobody wants that on their conscience.

    1. This is great how you explain how you can deal with some difficult writing about family history. Yes, I hope I can follow some of this. Thanks very much, Cat. for telling me how you manage all this.

  4. Boy, this is a really difficult subject. I have fictionalized the memoir about my mother because doing so freed me to write more honestly. But then, how can honesty matter if it is fiction? But I keep hearing horror stories about defamation of character and personal liability issues when writers use a person’s name or even the name of a dead person who can be recognized by their living kin. It’s just darned confusing.

    1. It’s definitely confusing, Linda. Another confusing thing is that sometimes it’s difficult to know whether a picture of a certain person can be published or not.

      1. I think you must get permission to publish photos of living people. I know that in photographing strangers, I should get releases from every individual in the frame. Since I don’t make money off my images, I have ignored this rule, but I don’t think I’m safe, just lucky. And then, adding family issues into the muddle, phew. Good luck!

  5. Thanks, Linda. Well, I do know of some family members and friends who do not want their photos published. Of course I respect their wishes. However with some people it is unclear whether they object or not. If in doubt I rather not publish. Some people I know you can often see in Facebook. I don’t do Facebook myself but Peter is involved with it on a daily basis and often shows me pictures in Facebook that I might be interested in. But then in Facebook presumably only your friends can see what you put in there. It’s different when you blog something, isn’t it?

  6. I t is certainly difficult writing about people who you know who are still alive or whose relatives are still alive……. of course depending on whether the comments would be positive or negative towards that person

    1. That’s an interesting question, Elizabeth, whether the comments would be positive or negative. I have to think about this a bit more. For instance I once wrote about a teacher I had when I was a nine year old. Thinking back to this teacher in a country school where he was the only teacher for the whole school, I think his way of teaching made a very positive impression on me. When I mentioned him I did so with his full name and the name of the school. I also mentioned his children by their names. I’d like to feel free to mention anybody by their real name who happened to have some kind of influence in my upbringing.
      The writing about teachers in itself is an interesting subject. Everyone has to tell something interesting or maybe something funny about certain teachers. But are we allowed to identify them?

      1. I have read that for someone to actually sue you for slander, there has to be an actual financial loss. In other words whatever you say must ruin their reputation so much that it causes a financial loss in their business or stressed them so much they could not work etc. It would be very hard for them to prove. As for moral obligations of not hurting anyone and causing emotional distress …. that is another issue.

  7. This makes sense, Elizabeth, what you say. I wished I could be sure I had it in me to tell ‘truthful’ stories without hurting anyone. For instance the way I see my mother is probably not the way some other people might see her. I want to write truthfully but not blaming or accusing. Just trying to understand why people are the way they are. Thanks for commenting on this subject. Moral obligations can at times be rather confusing, right?

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