Historic Writing by Caylie Jeffery

“History, it is said, was written by the victorious… the winners. But history is really a patchwork of stories about ordinary people whose daily lives and legacies have become the fabric of our world.” Nicole Christian, History and Social Sciences Educator


I hated history as a youth. I’ll admit it. Despite a strong educational beginning with a fascination for early Australian explorers, a monotonous history teacher in my middle school years was all it took to wipe that slate clean of any interest whatsoever.


It took another 35 years to be bitten by the nostalgia bug, and start my journey back into my city’s rich and fascinating historical past. This then led to a personal fascination with people’s historical stories, and then, finally, to my own ancestral journey.


I became an accidental historian the day I decided to look into the back-story of some old documents I’d found hidden under the Lino of my hundred-year-old home in Milton. When I shared my discovery on social media, the community’s response was astounding! So many people wanted to help me research, and answer the questions that arose from what I’d found.


Over the course of a year, we developed an online research group, establishing a safe space for sharing ideas and telling stories. We gathered over one million words about the people and times surrounding those hidden documents, and I was able to pull the most important words together in my latest book, Under the Lino.


Each of us has a lifetime of stories to tell, and behind that, is a rich and varied historical trail that deserves to be explored! We might have a chest full of black and white photographs, letters from our elders, video or audio recordings of events and stories, and perhaps, family keepsakes and heirlooms that are gathering dust on our shelves. What are we doing with it all? Will our children and grandchildren be able to decipher the background? Or will they have to embark on a journey of exploration after we’ve gone, and taken most of the answers with us? Or, even worse, will it all end up in a skip?


Collecting stories from other family members is not always easy, but if you use photographs and keepsakes to jog memories, while audio recording with a few well-placed questions, you’d be amazed at what you can discover.


History begins with us, always, and works backwards. Our family, our houses, our schools… there’s so much to discover about our fabulous heritage! I use mind mapping, family tree and journaling techniques to gather information, gleaning stories from old letters, and notate conversations and anecdotes I can remember from years gone by.


There are some wonderful writing programs, such a Scrivener, which can augment your information, and assist with organisation, or perhaps, you’d like to stick with paper scrapbooking. The new world of self-publishing and e-books opens up simple methods of sharing at reduced costs, so all family members and interested parties can access your work.


Family history research sites like ancestry.com are useful for building trees and making familial discoveries, and trove.nla.gov.au is just that, a treasure trove of online resources containing books, images, historic news articles, maps, music and other fabulous archived information that might lead you to what lies in amongst your family’s history.


If nobody else in your family is doing it, be the driving force that creates your family’s fantastic patchwork of history! They will thank you for it one day, I promise.

Get started with your own fantastic historical writing project by joining Caylie Jeffery at our interactive workshop, Under the Lino: Writing Historical Fiction on the 27th of April.

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