How to Write the Family Background in an Autobiography


A vital part of any autobiography is the family background element. Readers are always interested in a writer's childhood, and learning about a writer's family allows the reader to get a sense of where some of the writer's ideas and values came from. Reading about the writer's relationships with his parents and siblings as well as other close relatives can shed light on the kinds of relationships the writer developed later in life.

  • Make a rough sketch of your family tree; you may want to ask for some assistance from a relative interested in family history. Determine how far back you can trace your family's history so you can include that information in your autobiography. Try to get at least a rough sense of dates. As you trace the history, make notes about geographical locations where family members were born and where they lived.

  • Flesh out the basics you have gathered. Interview family members, find out what they think are the most intriguing and significant stories, big and small, in your family members' lives. Be prepared to ask questions about education, occupations, religious affiliations, military service, relationships and life experiences; use photographs as prompts for your questions.

  • Brainstorm ideas, based on your investigation of your family tree and your interviews with relatives, about what information you might want to include in the family background section of your autobiography. Once you have a rough list, circle, in order of importance, the events or facts about your family that you feel have most significantly shaped your background. Be generous with your circles; you can cut information later.

  • Determine what material you will actually include in your autobiography. If it is going to be book length, you'll probably want to work information about your family background into several chapters. For a short autobiographical sketch, you'll probably need to limit the family background section to a few paragraphs. You may find it helpful at this point to read some autobiographical works to get an idea of how much family background other writers include in their work.

  • Decide in what order you will write the family background section; it does not necessarily have to be written in chronological order. For example, if you think the fact that your ancestors came from China, or the fact that your family's religious life was the center of their existence, start with that idea and expand on it. You might want to begin by saying which relative, for better or worse, made the biggest impression on you or influenced you the most.


  • Legacy : A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History; Linda Spence; 1997
  • You Don't Have To Be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story; Steve Zousmer; 2007
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