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The Best True-Life Family History Stories

Updated on August 18, 2014

Amazing Family Stories from the Past

So many of us are discovering the thrill of researching our ancestors. I'm yet to meet anyone who didn't have a fantastic family history story or two to share.Some have even turned their years of genealogical research into published books. Here I share my pick of these true-life family history books which read like novels and prove that truth often is stranger than fiction!

These books are truly special. They are based on the real life of people in the authors' own family trees. Sometimes they weave wonderful tales based on the facts that survive about their family's past. Sometimes they focus on the writer's own family history research, sharing the ups and downs of genealogy. You, the reader, will feel you are there as they make exciting discoveries about their ancestors.

The true-life family histories reviewed here are books that I have greatly enjoyed. I am delighted to now share these amazing true stories with my fellow geneaology enthusiasts.

Image by Grafixar on morgueFile.

Family stories - truth stranger than fiction

Family stories - truth stranger than fiction
Family stories - truth stranger than fiction

From Royal Ancestors to Divided Germany - The Secret of the Notebook: Review

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

Image shows Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany. Copyright author.


A secret notebook and a family legend

Imagine if you grew up with the knowledge that your parents had hidden away a very special notebook which held the key to your family's history.

For Eve Haas, the notebook that her father once showed her was to remain a mystery until after her mother's death. Only then did she take possession of this precious piece of family history.

At the beginning of her quest, her only clue was that her great grandmother had passed the book down through the family, and that it had belonged once to her great-great grandmother. The family legend was that it had been given to her by a royal admirer.

A real life quest for truth

The book follows the true-life adventure of Eve and her long-suffering husband as they track down the truth behind the rumours. It is a journey that takes this couple back to face their fears in pre-unification East Germany. This is a trip into the past which holds dark memories both for Eve, who escaped with her parents from Berlin as a Jewish schoolgirl, leaving her beloved grandmother to perish at the hands of the Nazis.

Her husband accompanies her despite his own fears, having fled for his life from East Germany as a young man and having no wish to return.

The modern day dramas that intertwine with their research into Eve's family history are as interesting as the uncovering of the identity of her great-great grandfather and the story of his marriage and hidden child that history was supposed to forget.

And bridging the generations, the grandmother whose tragic end is made even more emotional as a result of the truths that emerge when the final pieces of the family story are put into place.

The Secrets of the Notebook

Why I recommend this book

This is a very personal account which brings a human touch to both researchers and ancestors alike. One of history’s great men is given a touch of reality as Eve lays claim to her connection with him.

A Story of Race and Survival - Cane River: Review

Plantation House, where slave ancestors lived
Plantation House, where slave ancestors lived

Image of Plantation House shared by Wikimedia Commons.

Four generations of women

The author's research began with her fascination with her great grandmother, Emily. As she worked her way back through the maternal line, she traced her family's roots to the community of Cane River in Louisiana, where she uncovered 3 generations of slaves: Emily's mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

The fictional account which resulted from her encounter with her family history brings these women to life in a tale which has at its heart the strength of women determined to survive in spite of those around them.

Their true-life stories are weaved with fiction to make this a compelling account. As a result the story reads like a novel, with wonderful narratives and descriptions bringing the characters to life. What is so fascinating is that these tales are grounded on confirmed facts. The pages are peppered with photos of the story's characters and scans of letters and newspaper reports, perfectly blending hard evidence with fictional narratives.

Cane River

Why I recommend this book.

Cane River is described as: a story of slavery and freedom in the American deep south. This is a family history which has been written as a novel. It makes for a gripping and beautifully-written read which was selected for Oprah’s book club.

What's your ancestor's story?

What's your ancestor's story?
What's your ancestor's story?

Several of you have shared some fascinating family history stories on my other genealogy lenses. I'd love to hear more!

Have you got an exciting family history story to share?

Submit a Comment

  • socialcx1 profile image

    socialcx1 3 years ago

    Fantastic lens. Well done

  • SusanAston profile image

    SusanAston 4 years ago

    Brilliant lens. Very detailed and thoughtful.

  • Ann Hinds profile image

    Ann Hinds 4 years ago from So Cal

    Came back to bless this lens. The book resources on writing your own book and I did finish my little 65 page book on the search for my husband's missing siblings. Thanks!

  • profile image

    saraht43 4 years ago

    My husband's great great Uncle bought a brand new car about 1900....after bringing it home, he discovered it wouldn't fit lengthwise into the shed or building he intended to put it in, but instead of remodeling or adding to the building, he cut the middle out of the car and welded it back together to make it fit into the building. LOL.....check out my page on genealogy research tips.

  • PostcardPassion profile image

    PostcardPassion 4 years ago

    Very informative and interesting lens.

  • Ann Hinds profile image

    Ann Hinds 4 years ago from So Cal

    My husband's family is a closet full of skeletons and I am going to turn it into a book. That being said, I pinned this so I can go back and read everything you have here. Wonderful lens. Blessed

  • profile image

    familyshortstories 5 years ago

    I've recently started a lens exclusively for telling my family short stories, I'd like to share. Thank you for the book references you've posted. The Secret of the Notebook is on my list now! squid-like!

    " A person who won't read has no advantage over one who cannot read."

    Mark Twain

  • Vikk Simmons profile image

    'Vikk Simmons 5 years ago from Houston

    Uh, why has this not been awarded a Purple Star? This is a wonderful page.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

    @yayas: Thank you for such insightful comments, Yaya. Making links with the past can tell us more about our own lives, but you are right, we cannot live in reflected glory, nor is it hopeless to try to escape a less welcome legacy.

  • yayas profile image

    yayas 5 years ago

    No amount of research or tracking down other peoples' lives can make us become like someone else. That said, I feel it is very important that we find our ancestors an' honor them by showing the family connection. For sure, there will be some skeletons in the closet, but it's important to keep in mind that we are all related, in the end. Still, keeping track of the family does not mean that we are good or evil because of our link to another person. By the same token, it does give us examples of what we do or do not want to become.

  • profile image

    Spikey64 5 years ago

    I have thought of looking into my ancestry. Thanks for this lens it was really full of great resources.

  • julescorriere profile image

    Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

    Love your site. My work revolves around gathering stories inside of communities and turning them into performances. HIstory is not the only thing we get from these stories. Inside of them are the values, heritage and culture of the families and communties. I love how your site emphasizes these things. Nice work.

  • Virginia Allain profile image

    Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

    I'm working on the third book with history and memories from my family. It is fortunate that so many of my ancestors kept diaries and saved letters.

  • profile image

    huvalbd 6 years ago

    When my grandfather began losing his eyesight, we got a tape recorder and encouraged him to 'write' his memoirs. He did, and they are quite something. There are wonderful stories all over the family tree, many of which have been written down and shared among family--but some that were not captured that way, which we regret losing as people pass on. I agree, it's worthwhile to capture that family history before it's lost.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

    @capriliz lm: Thank you, much appreciated!

  • capriliz lm profile image

    capriliz lm 6 years ago

    I have some new books to add to my reading list. ~blessed with a cupid kiss~

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

    @WorldVisionary: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  • profile image

    WorldVisionary 6 years ago

    Great stories here and great presentation. Blessed by Squid Angel

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

    @SusannaDuffy: I'm sure you will enjoy it, Susanna!

  • SusannaDuffy profile image

    Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

    You've convinced me! I must get the Secrets of the Notebook

  • dc64 lm profile image

    dc64 lm 6 years ago

    There is something about looking at old photos that I can't put into words very well. Entire lives with all the hopes and dreams that people still have today. Family histories and stories of love and courage that sometimes speak through these pictures. While I have no great family history story to tell, who knows what the future holds?

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @sheriangell: It's quite an amazing book. I hope I get a chance to read The Color of Love too.

  • sheriangell profile image

    sheriangell 7 years ago

    Very nicely done! I read Cane River several years ago. I think it's time for a re-read, it's an excellent book. Thanks for the lensroll on The Color Of Love, lenrolled you back!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @AppalachianCoun: Thank you for your kind comments!

  • AppalachianCoun profile image

    AppalachianCoun 7 years ago

    Wonderful lens! 5* Extremely interesting and the pictures were great.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @delia-delia: Well, Baroness, you were one of the inspirations behind this one! :) Thanks for visiting.

  • delia-delia profile image

    Delia 7 years ago

    what a great lens...5*...love it! I don't know how I missed it..if you get a chance check out my lenses on family history.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @justholidays: I'm delighted to get a historian's seal of approval! Thank you for the congratulations, I didn't now about it before today. And thank you very much for the angel blessing too.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Sylvestermouse: Thank you, it was a lovely surprise! And thank you for the angel blessing and add to Mouse Tracks - another lovely surprise :)

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 7 years ago

    Yeah! I enjoyed this page! I'm fond of history and this is entire part of my favorite topic!

    Congratulations on you being one of our winners!

    Squidangel blessings to the History of families!

  • Sylvestermouse profile image

    Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

    Just stopped back by to say: Congratulations for being chosen top People lens in the Giant Squid Challenge! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @OhMe: Me too, nothing beats a story which you know actually happened! Thank you very much for the lensroll!

  • OhMe profile image

    Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

    I love to read Family History Stories. You've done a great job on this lens and I am lensrolling to all the lenses in my Pendleton Memories Series and Our Tate Family Reunion lens.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Wednesday-Elf: I agree, it quickly becomes an absorbing hobby and each discovery builds on the last... Thanks for stopping by!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @poptastic: Thank you Cynthia - and good luck with your own family history research!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: Thanks for the visit, Bev!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @HorseAndPony LM: Thanks so much. Some stories are better untold, but I hope you record the stories of your grandmother and other ancestors for future generations.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @anonymous: It was indeed a very interesting read. Thanks for stopping by!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @Sylvestermouse: You make a very good point. Some secrets need to be kept. Thanks for commenting!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @luvmyludwig lm: I hope you get hold of a copy. Thanks for reading. :-)

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @ZenandChic: You must be glad to have the memories to pass down the generations. Thanks for stopping by!

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @justholidays: Thanks for visiting, Dom!

  • Wednesday-Elf profile image

    Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

    I grew up knowing the maternal side of my family all came from Scotland, but didn't have a lot of history about my father's family, as he grew up in foster homes and I didn't know his side of the family. Dad once told me that his ancestors were English and Dutch and, he thought, a little bit of French, but he didn't know any details. It wasn't until 10 years ago that I heard from a distant relative I've never met some genealogy about my paternal ancestors and found out my paternal grandmother (whom I never knew) came from Quebec, Canada ... and THAT's where the French side came in. I found that small bit of information fascinating; now I can see why people get excited about genealogy. Interesting reviews here.

  • indigoj profile image
    Author

    Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

    @julieannbrady: Wow.. Atilla the Hun.. now that would be something!

  • profile image

    julieannbrady 7 years ago

    I know our family with the Eastern European heritage surely has a number of these family history stories -- I even heard a bit about Atilla the Hun of ALL people! Probably just another story.

  • poptastic profile image

    Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

    Very interesting lens! Thank you for the personalized book recommendations, i've been toying with the idea of uncovering my family's history too and reading Secrets of The Notebook like you suggested might give me the boost that I need.

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    Very interesting lens.

  • HorseAndPony LM profile image

    HorseAndPony LM 7 years ago

    This was a great lens. The books look very interesting. I need to get a write your own family history. My grandmother wrote so much about her life. I should organize it better. However, I agree with Sylvestermouse some things are better left in the past. My personal stories will forever go untold. :)

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    I agree with Crystal, the first book sounds very interesting. Great lens.

  • Sylvestermouse profile image

    Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

    I spent quite a while working on our family genealogy a few years back. I found out a lot of very interesting information and I found out it is better to leave a lot of things in the past. Some things I found would hurt too many people who are still living. Revealing the good would never be worth the bad revelations. I now keep the secrets:)

    Very interesting lens!

  • luvmyludwig lm profile image

    luvmyludwig lm 7 years ago

    I really want that first book! great job on this.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 7 years ago

    Ha! No, I'm sorry, I haven't one to share, they're kept secret ;)

    Anyway, you made a great lens!

    Dom.

  • ZenandChic profile image

    Patricia 7 years ago

    Great lens! My grandmother gave me a photo album she made for everyone in the family with pictures going back as far as she had with people in the family. I only know as far back as my great great grandmother

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