Hot Chocolate & Genealogy
Hot Chocolate & Genealogy

The Art of the Anecdote: Recounting the unpublished

When explaining the tragedy of war, a veteran might recall a story that happened to him during a particular battle that made him feel despair or pity. An accomplished chef might describe her climb to gourmet cuisine with tales of oven mitts that caught on fire when removing a pan from the stove. As a listener to their stories, you believe them and take away a lesson from them. Why?

The word anecdote comes from the Greek word anekdota meaning, 'unpublished things.' Traditionally these stories were unpublished and only ever recounted through oral history or legend. Consequently, they were given less credibility as an information source. Now that is changing. These stories are being given greater value than history textbooks!

Anecdotes have become a vital part of family histories as they not only recount personal and historical experiences, but they add tremendous flavour to speeches, eulogies, biographies and histories. Often they let us decided 'the moral of the story.' Here are some guidelines for recording anecdotes for your family history:

  • Use the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why...and let's not forget How. Make sure if you are recording a story that all these questions are clearly answered.

  • Timing. Pick a good time of day for either interviewing family members or writing up the anecdotes. Be able to walk away from the project when it becomes tiring or frstrating for either the interviewee or the writer.

  • Accuracy. Double-check spellings, dates, full proper names, nicknames and places that come up in the anecdote. Errors in any of the five W's reduce the credibility of the narrator.

  • Proof. If you can find a photo, newspaper clipping or another similar version to the story, include it with the anecdote. While everyone tends to embellish a little, a small piece of evidence can go a lonnnnnng way!


This article appeared in the November 1996 issue of Hot Chocolate.

Additional Articles:

  • The Science and Art of Coat of Arms
  • Beyond Cinderella: Integrating Stepfamily
  • Discovering an Outlaw: Another Side to Jesse James
  • What's New in Genealogy ... Today!
    click to view original photo