Question of the Week: If you wrote a novel about your family history, what would the title of it be? [closed]

+29 votes

If your family history were a novel, what would it be called? Tell us below or on social media.

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)
closed by Chris Whitten
great titles!

Wow, sounds intriguing!

My ancestor was involved in the execution of King Richard I. He fled to America to escape arrest by King Richard II. Here he met and married his wife. She was hung during the Salem Witch Trials. Hence, the title,  The Executioner and The Witch!
I found an even better "legacy" to leave in my email this morning. I am a Christian and I get inspirational stories that encourage my faith daily. Today's story was about leaving a legacy that lasts throughout generations. I thought to myself, "That is what I'd title my family novel or at least a sequel to it". "Legacies That Last" would be about stories and heirlooms that have been handed down to us from generation to generation.

How many of us have wanted to go back and ask questions of our ancestors of why they did this or that? Have you inherited a piece of jewelry or furniture and wonder what did this mean to them and what made them pass it on to family members through the years?

This Bible chapter i read today is an example of that very thing of how the Israelites left a legacy for their descendants. When they crossed the Jordan River, they picked up stones and took them with them. When they settled in the Promised land, they stacked the stones and left them there for future generations. They did this so that they and future generations would never forget the story of of how they came out of slavery in Egypt. Of course my story is more faith-based, but for this forum, it suffices to say that these "stones of rememberance" were for future generations to know their ancestors story as well.   

Isn't that what heirlooms are for? They are not just some old thing...The family bible with all those names and dates, is a treasure because its about the lives of people. Heirlooms are a part of their stories, their "stones of remembrance" and if taken care of, they are "Legacies That Last" for generations to come. And their stories should be recorded so that all may know their family and pass that on to future generations.

"Heaven Or Valhalla"

Dad was Welsh descended, Mom's family came from Norway.

EDIT: I've changed my mind. I'd call it

Since I am Half Scottish and half Irish (well not exactly) my Family Story would be

Cheap Drunks - When Celctic Cultures Merge on Canadian Shores
I'm pretty sure my neighbors heard me lol at that one. Clever!
Lost in America !

My family generally disappears after around 3 or4 generations ,  on my mom's side , so I think , Lost In America would be a good title for my family history.
My, How the times have changed.
It is really to bad What a Long Steamy Trip it has been is already take .

70 Answers

+27 votes
Women Who Persevered Through Tragiedies
by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (711k points)

Or "They had THAT MANY children" surprise

I like that one Melanie lol. I've had this exact reaction many times when looking up my own ancestry (even as recent as discovering my great nana, who I personally knew as she lived to 106, had 9 siblings - was a big surprise!)
Melanie you are right about having the children. I have always wondered why my great grandmother Phoebe Long had twelve children after her mother died in childbirth with her seventh child.
Thomas, your great nana living to be 106 is certainly remarkable. Thank you for your comment.

It always comes to mind, ever since I learnt how many children my great-great-grands had - and how many of them died young.  Also, I read Sara Dane when I was still pretty young, and it made an indelible impression. 

Plus it's currently part of a discussion I've been having on another thread, where the one guy was (let me quote it) :

Protheroe Smith was born in 1809 in Bridgeland Street, Bideford, the son of a doctor, William Smith, and one of twenty children


I just go surprise surprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprise

Twenty children!    Oh what a bunch of work! 

Melanie most of my July 4ths were spent at relatives that had ten children around my age. One time my mother, who knew I was not enjoying daylight fireworks, told me to go in the kitchen and watch their mother Della Mae cook. It was amazing, all those pies, and flour everywhere. 

I would have loved to have had that many rellies!


Here's another possible title :

"I Would Have Loved to Have Known You"
Melanie, I love that title, I am sure that all of us that do genealogy have several ancestors that we wish we could have known.
Great title Melanie!

If you'r gonna have sex back in them days with NO BIRTH CONTROL  you're gonna get kids! Lots and lots of kids! And 'biology ' was no different then than today! (Anyone for abstinence????....thought not!) And no hospitals to take the sick ones to, or to have them in for that matter. No diapers, let alone disposable ones. No dishwashers to wash the non-existent plastic baby bottles. No 'How To' books.  Hand-me-down clothes, no M&S to buy them in. Grow your own food, no Asda's

We are incredibly unaware of how much we take for granted! I am amazed when I see that many of my ancestors had a dozen or more kids and lived into their 80's and even high 90's. I knew my paternal maternal GGM Nelson who came over from Sweden, age, c.16, alone, on a boat that sank on it's return journey. She had at least 10 living adult children and a few who didn't make it. She lived to nearly 100! What a woman!!!!Elizabeth Clyne

Elizabeth thank you for your great comment. So glad that you  were able to know your great grandmother; she must have had wonderful stories. Hope you will write more about her.
+18 votes
This is honestly a very difficult one to answer as so many different branches of my tree stand out for so many different reasons (and also I'm just not that good naming things).

I think it'd have to be a few different novels!

The title for my direct paternal line would probably link into the fact that my early Dowding ancestors (of the 1800s) lived in poverty (or so I believe - members of the family were consistently dying young, with most family members dying of diseases as children, and many adult people's occupations were listed as just "servant" in the censuses). The novel would also cover my great-grandfather Albert Sidney Dowding's coach driving career, the different marriages and children he had and some of his criminal activity, but I don't think that'd fit into the title very well.

My great nana's (paternal grandfather's mum) could cover the large size of the family and similar poverty conditions (I've seen references to people on that side dying in workhouses).

Then there'd be one for paternal grandmother's family (specifically the Gurney branch), the title linking into the sheer size of the family and, additionally, their frantic movement between England (where they originate from) and Australia.

My maternal grandfather's novel could have a title related to how one of his branches migrated from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

My maternal grandmother's novel would have to have a title related to her paternal family, the von Hippels, a famous aristocratic family of scientists that are well known for all sorts of different discoveries.
by Anonymous Dowding G2G6 Mach 3 (33.1k points)
Thomas, it sounds like you have several good books to write. Hope you live to be 106 like your nana and write all of them.
+19 votes
I did write a pamphlet on the Bean side of the family, called "Beans, Coast-to-Coast". They arrived in Maryland in the mid 1600's, and my mom was born in Oregon, so it kind of details their progression across the country.

My Grandmother wrote a series of booklets about her memories and such, and she played off the Bean name, it started for instance with "Bean Roots".
by Rob Neff G2G6 Pilot (109k points)
+17 votes

laughTitle?  "OMG!!! What were they thinking!?!?"

by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (600k points)
Right you are!  Even some of the family tragedies make us stop and wonder.
Susan......Can I borrow that one for a chapter heading if needed?

Absolutely, John, grab it with gusto and then run like a chaste chased hare pursued by slavering hounds

Susan,  Being a car guy, I was going to run like I stole it.....your version might be more PC......also at times might change it to.......OMG! What Was I Thinking?

I just finished (more or less) a confusing set of relationships ... we have Lela Owens married a Belyeu and had a dau who married a Wright who was either the uncle or the nephew of the OTHER Wright who was the 2nd husband of Lela  ??? 

Well, something like that .... this is on the Huffman side of the ancestors ... 

What were they thinking is ... I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know. 

Johnnnnnnnnn, thinking like an opportunistic liberator of others' property when someone GIVES something to you? Really? 

Susan,  Maybe"things" happen when you,re living and not so much least that's what I like to think, as that's how I got here......
Am in trouble?.....Susan
+23 votes

I am currently writing a book about one particular branch of my family who went from being humble woolcombers through silk weavers then a Court dressmaker.  At the same time, they were Protestant Dissenters and Congregationalists.

My book is titled: Faith and Silk, with the subheading:


“We are all Adam’s children, but silk makes the difference.”

(Thomas Fuller 1654-1734)

One day I'll finish writing it! ;)

by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
Ros I LIKE that title,that is Elegant
+21 votes
by Hart Wallace G2G6 Mach 2 (23.9k points)
I like the idea, Hart, but given some of the thing I've found out, I would not really actually like to
(Be sure to bring along your Google Translate)
That is  for sure, with  my  Heinz 57 origins--but I  would  love  to  hear  the  stories in  person and perhaps Paul Harvey's "The Rest of The Story"

I have  an ancestor who had a home in Virginia and one  in Safety Harbor Florida. The Florida home is on the historic registry. When I  first  discovered it as  an  older  adult and walked on the  property, I had the sense of being present in the past(if that makes sense) Ever since that event I have had this yearning to talk with the people from whence I came. Several years ago, the folks living there, claimed that they  saw my great grandfather in the home. The current residents, either have not  seen him or deny having seen him.  His old homeplace in Virginia also built  around 1889 is still owned by family, but they deny ever seeing him there. Do you have a  family home with  a ghost?
+22 votes

Stories for your Grandchildren

I was traveling with an elderly Australian couple in the Far East and when a 'crazy' side-trip presented itself I thought it too dangerous.  Joe, my 76 year old travel fellow said "why not?"  I gave him a long list of things that could happen to us and he replied, "And if any of those things happen, think of the stories you'll have for your grandchildren."  

From that day on, I've lived my life differently and it has been a more colorful and adventurous life as a result.

by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)

SJ my mother told me when I was a teenager that the worst thing a woman could do was to marry a dull man. smiley

I love it, SJ! What a wonderful outlook!
SJ,  You wouldn't say......adventurous, like on WikiTree?
+19 votes
The Peripatetic Paines, a Revolutionary Family on the Move!

Really -- Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont. Nova Scotia, Quebec, New York and more!!
by Janine Barber G2G6 Pilot (203k points)
Janine, I hope you write it as I would love to know more!

I was born and grew up in Connecticut. Then Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Michigan, Los Angeles, back to Connecticut. Bought a house in Vermont with my English husband to retire in but instead emigrated to Kent, England; that was in 1997. Recently discovered my maternal grandfather was a direct descendant of Richard Borden who brought his young family in a clipper ship to the "New World", c.1635, from a village minutes from where we live, and the rest 'is history' ! Who knew?!
+18 votes
From Sea to Shining Sea.

Dad's family all arrived in the Southern Colonies in the mid 1700's from London and from County Antrim in Ireland.  With the expansion of the railroad in the late 1800, a number of the men left home and eventually settled in California.

One branch of Mom's family came to New England in the late 1600's - early 1700's, the other branch arrived in the late 1800's fleeing the latest famine in Ireland.
by Dorothy O'Hare G2G6 Mach 7 (79.1k points)
Dorothy,The earlier branch of your Mom's family came over not long after my maternal grandfather's. You might be interested in reading my reply to Janine Barber's answer, just above yours.I'd love to know more about your ancestors.

Hi, Elizabeth -

My earliest New England ancestors were Thomas Bell circa 1740 and James Babcock circa 1660.  

Thomas arrived in Boston, but settled in what is now Colrain MA.  James settled in Newport, RI.

+18 votes
House of Lies
by Lois Tilton G2G6 Pilot (157k points)

crying  Harsh, very harsh, Lois. 

laugh At least ... it won't be made into a movie for TV 

devilOr will it? 

It was written 150 years ago, and the lies still live on the internet

surprise In that case, yes, write it and publish it ... on WT at least, and you are probably doing that 

"The House of Their Lies" is even better title and then again it would be throwing the gauntlet down  ... stir up a fuss ... 

Are you by any chance related to Maj. Uriah Tilton 1713-1788 in Duke’s Co., MA?
I am a Tilton only by marriage, but the vast percentage of the Tiltons in America seem to be related by descent from William Tilton-82.
+18 votes

Title would be The Only Stephentown on Earth. It would be like a James Michener novel. Each chapter a different story about someone in the same place.

by Joyce Vander Bogart G2G6 Pilot (185k points)
Joyce,  Now that sounds interesting.......note to self, must research.
Stephentown is in eastern New York State. There used to be signs that said "Welcome to the only Stephentown on earth" but people keep stealing them.
Joyce, Your book sounds like an Elizabeth Strout novel, several of which I have recently been reading. Hope you write yours....
And then I could win the Pulitzer Prize!
+15 votes
"Heavy is the Head that Wears the Responsibility for Family Genealogy"
by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (784k points)
Carol thanks for a good laugh.  You are so right!
My family's motto is "if you're not having any fun, there's no point in doing it."
+14 votes
The Tales of War
by Richard Shelley G2G6 Pilot (226k points)

Richard,  In my hurrier I go the behinder I get, my answer ended up as a comment on your post......had to invent a bag of tricks to move it onblush......

+14 votes
What My Father Taught Me.......My exercise in teaching myself to type......In the wisdom of the day, in 1958, when I asked my grade 8 teachers if I could take a typing course, I was met with a "No you're going to university, you'll have a secretary".......So I took out my sliderule and got on with life.....
by John Thompson G2G6 Pilot (287k points)
edited by John Thompson
I had a slide rule, too. I think my son has it among his family treasures. But I don't think you could get a very long novel out of it. How about one of those books with 365 short stories, one for each day of the year?
I grew up about 14 years after you... typing class was mandatory for everybody, but they were interested to see how my friend and I would do. We were big time into computers, which were brand new at the time, and had taught ourselves to type, albeit incorrectly. They hadn't ever seen kids who already knew the keyboard before starting the class.

I wanted to take shorthand, like my older sister, but it wasn't offered any more.
How funny John,

When I was in the 4th grade my father had me learn to type,  so I could type his letters for him.  (I guess Mom was on strike.)  At the time,  he encouraged me to become a piano teacher.   I never took a typing class.

I became an engineer.   First semester in college they still had us take a slide rule class.   I've been there for every step of the computer generation.   How things have changed!

Peggy,   At this very time, I was preparing a career to fly the up and coming Avro Arrow, with the state of the art fly by wire system, that you, as an engineer can appreciate for back then......11 miles of electrical wire and enough vacuum tubes to power 200 television sets.

Rob,   As advanced as you became with computers, at your time, by the time 2005 rolled around my grand daughter, at age 4, when the two of us got back from the mall, proceeded to fire up my wife's computer.....I bluffed a couple of questions she she could play games.  Evan more interesting.......her grandmother, your 12th cousin, has a grandmother born in Montana with the same ancestral history as all of yours, just different last just think what I could do, if only I were computer literate.
Joyce,   There's a good idea......365 short stories......Oh, where can I get a book with more days in it?
No, you write one book with 365 stories, and next year an exciting sequel with 365 more.
+16 votes

My title would be simple:

Well, there goes the neighborhood.


by LJ Russell G2G6 Pilot (200k points)

LJ,   I noticed that winkcool

+14 votes

"All Family"
- The long way from the Middle Ages to today and yet so short. -

I have chosen the title because you can tell a big part of the world history by your family. The subtitle is supposed to show that it is a very long period of time, but in retrospect it was frighteningly short.I

by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.8m points)
Dieter,  Well said......"yet so short" .
+10 votes

I already have a working title and it's actually the name of my blog. It's "All Roads Lead to Haverhill". My Italian side and a good chunk of my mother's side ended up in Haverhill, Mass at some point in time.

The title is a play on the "All Roads Lead to Rome" saying. Other options include "Life in the Valley" since I am in the Merrimack Valley. I decided to go with "All Roads Lead to Haverhill" instead even though my maternal grandfather's side was in Newburyport.

Plus, I kinda want to see how everyone pronounces Haverhill. =)

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (628k points)
I'm thinking same vowels as tavern-hill
Nope. Sorry, Rob. This video will help ya out:

Haverhill is mentioned.
Most people get Lee right.

Hay-vrill. I met and married my husband in Haverhill, MA in 1976 and we were married at West Congregational Church on April 2, 1977.  We lived there many years before moving to tax free, Atkinson NH, then to The Disney World area of Florida. Did I give away the pronunciation secret???laugh How about where I was raised in Leominster, not far from Worcester, Massachusetts...

Yeah. But, that's okay. I linked a video and I discussed it on the stream today!

Atkinson, huh? I live one town over from there. I think I've seen that church. Not sure.
The Church is on Broadway...there is an old grange hall across the street or used to be and an old cemetery I think its called Hillside Cemetery, I think. I could write a novel just on cemeteries....
You probably could. I have relatives buried all over Haverhill. But, I can't find my 2x great-grandfather Antoine Legault's grave.
+9 votes
"Finding the Missing Pieces"
by Sarah Jenkins G2G6 Mach 3 (33.0k points)

My daughter's favourite designation for several folk in our branches would fit right in with that title : "Pod People". 

(I even created a jigsaw image (based on one found on Wikitree), with an odd piece that doesn't quite fit, for background, or profile image.)

Love that lol.
+6 votes
"Headwaters" looking at the progression of my ancestors through the centuries.
by John Hall G2G Crew (380 points)
+14 votes
I have written a novel. It's entitled Echoes of a First Love. It's about my sixth great-grandparents who lived through the French and Indian war and the Revolutionary War.
by April Payne G2G3 (3.7k points)
April, I'm impressed! Is it available for sale?
It's not published, just yet. I'm finishing up the editing and securing rights from some copyrighted things I needed in the story. Plus, I told at least two family members I wasn't going to sell it. I'm not trying to make money off of my family. I'll either self-publish or put it in blog format online for those who wish to read it. Right now, I'm still stinging from remarks that I have been disrespectful because even though I have called it a novel, I use real people in the story. It's based on the life of John Sevier, my sixth great-grandfather. Yes, I get into their heads, so to speak. That's how I write. I like full emersion. But at what cost? Thing is, I meant for it to be a 'gift' for the family. Now, I'm not so sure. I followed John's timeline, and there are a few chapters/scenes that I totally made up simply to show the context of the time they lived in. Also, I decided to shoot down some persistent "Legend Has It" lies that still abound. So, some chapters/scenes were written to do just that. Now, the remarks were made after only a brief sampling was shared, not the book in its entirety. I don't know exactly how to handle this. Any thoughts?
April, I'm a rank beginner here so I can't comment on procedural matters, nor have I read what they have read, taken, I gather, out of context in any case. However from a personal perspective I wonder if your family members are expecting an air-brushed version of history and the people in question, and in a fictional novel? A pity they can't see it as a 'gift', maybe that's their problem, and one you can learn something from? Obviously none of you knew any of these people and non-family readers won't be any the wiser so how is this even an issue? The idea that you are being 'disrespectful' feels like 'superstition' to me but that's just my opinion and no more or less valuable than theirs? Although I'm with you on this, in the end you must figure this out for yourself.

Thank you for the response. Part of my indecision lies in the fact that I wrote this out of love and with the deepest respect for my forebears. I merely wished to show them to be the people they were, humans like us, not super-people complete with tights and capes. Not to strip away their accomplishments, but to show they weren't larger than life. They were just like us, doing the best they could in the time they lived through.

Many of the family members who have read the snippets I've shared enjoy it and have commented in the positive. The one who didn't felt it was disrespectful because I got "into" the heads of our ancestors. Stream of consciousness wherein the reader knows what they're thinking. Mostly it was stuff I had learned in my research. We really don't know much if anything about their personal lives, but in our Family History Book, we have access to letters written by John. These helped me enormously to understand some of the things that went on and why he participated in certain events.

I'm wondering if I shared my Preface and Acknowledgement pages, if this would make them all understand what and why I wrote this in the first place. All I know is that now, instead of completing the Edit work, I'm at a total shutdown. I have devoted five years to this project. If I shouldn't share it, where do I go from here? A curious thing is that the one who made those remarks let it be known a book was penned by them for their children. Did somebody effectively shut them down? If so, why? And why must I pay for somebody else's sins?

Hi April, Hmm, this situation is certainly causing you a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, even though it seems clear your motives and intentions are completely above board and honorable in the best possible way. I have never published a book but it does sound to me like some of the kinds of concerns you raise are ones your editor should be able to help you with. Have you discussed this with her/him?

Also, it appears from what you say that essentially only one person has raised concerns about your respectfulness towards your 6th great grandfather, whereas the rest have been entirely positive. Obviously many books are published about real people, most of which are by no means entirely positive. As you point out, 'real' people are never perfect but struggle with the realities they face and do the best they can. To do so is the best any human being can hope to do. And you seem to be attempting to portray 'John' in exactly that realistically loving way. How is that "being disrespectful"?

What is this relative's relationship to you and why is their opinion causing you so much anguish? Why does he/she need to protect 'John', whom they never knew, in this manner? These are questions you don't need to answer here but only in your owe mind. 

And BTW when I mentioned 'superstition' in my earlier response I was referring to a personal response I have to people who are, in my opinion, unduly concerned with protecting the reputation of a deceased person, even if it violates or distorts the truth. The whole notion that one must not "speak ill of the dead" seems to me to violate the concept of speaking truth. What 'truth' are they actually concerned with?

It  does not seem to me that you are being disrespectful at all but rather that you are honoring 'John' by giving him a voice as you are able to reconstruct it. How wonderful that you have personal letters and documents that actually give you exceptional access to some of the inner reality of a man who lived through tempestuous historical times! It sounds to me that you have almost a duty to share this with the world!

Another idea is that there are a few others in this thread who have actually written and even published books like yours. You might want to start by reading what they have posted here.

So do speak to your editor about procedural and/or legal concerns. And if necessary, consider trying to find someone independent such as a counselor or clergy person who can help you sort out the more personal issues. Five years is a considerable part of your life; do not let one person dissuade you from an entirely honorable and potentially historically significant endeavor. 

Best of luck April! I for one want to read this book!


Thank you, Elizabeth for your kind and thoughtful words. You've given me another perspective that I managed to lose along the way. Very helpful, indeed. I am a person of Faith and prayed a great deal in the course of writing this novel. In fact, something that occurred to me was just validated. Apparently, the Watauga Association Agreement was signed in May of 1772. John's third daughter was born in 1772. He was gone to the settlements (that became East Tennessee) until early 1773. My fifth great-grandfather was born in 1773, but that's all we have is the year. In my recounting of this, I have John leaving shortly after Mary Ann was born. She was (in my story) attempting to walk by the time he got back. If the May date is quite correct for the signing of that document, which John also signed, then I may have had more help than just reading and researching.

I will sally forth with the project. I will likely have to self-publish in today's atmosphere, as some subjects are almost Taboo anymore. History is history. It doesn't make them bad people just because they did what they did, which in their time was accepted. I shudder to think what they would say about how we live today? I don't judge. It's not as if we can go back and change things, right? If I wanted to do that in my novel, I would have written a What If … . I didn't do that.

I used words to illustrate their lives as best as I could.

Thank  you again for our sage words. You may just have supplied the answer I needed.


Dear April, Thanks for your reply. I'm glad if I was able to be of any help.

You wrote  "Apparently, the Watauga Association Agreement was signed in May of 1772. John's third daughter was born in 1772. He was gone to the settlements (that became East Tennessee) until early 1773. My fifth great-grandfather was born in 1773, but that's all we have is the year..... If the May date is quite correct for the signing of that document, which John also signed".... then we only know with any certainty that he was away from May 1772 to 'early 1773'-- unless of course you have additional information. Without accurate dates for his absence and also the actual birth dates of their children it is frustrating and perilous to try to speculate. I know this from my own grandparents; they were married in February and their first child was born near the end of the same year, as, for example, 1900 and 1900. It's actually a common occurrence! Initially I didn't have my uncle's actual birth date so a bit startling. Another scenario is that your 6th GGGM become pregnant,probably unknowingly, before John left early-ish in 1772 (hypothetically), had her daughter in the latter part of the same year, prompting John's return in "early 1773"-- still in time for the arrival of his son later in that year. Without birth control babies came fast and furiously in those times an 

d was taken for granted I expect! How else? I see this pattern over and over when looking at dates closely.

Whatever the real scenario, your 6th GGM would have been left to cope alone with at least a baby and two other children while her husband was away. She was one strong woman-- that requires no speculation!  Elizabeth  

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+27 votes
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