What’s in a Genre?


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about genre. Several months ago, I began a genealogy/family history blog, “This Is Us: The Browns and the Moores, A Few Gauffreaus and Gustins” at http://genealogylizgauffreau.com. Much of the genealogical research has already been done by other family members, as well as research about the historical contexts in which our ancestors lived.

So what more is there left for me to say?

In my mind, plenty. I am on the hunt for my family’s stories–the stories of lived and felt lives in all of their nuance and complexity. Blogging is now the fifth genre I’ve used to write about my family.

Poetry can capture and hold those moments of intense emotion and insight when my bond with a family member is  suddenly revealed and remains with me from that point forward.

Short stories take those moments and ask why. What led up to that moment? Why did it happen? What events were set in motion as a result? Short fiction is also my genre of choice for trying to answer the question, Why are you like this? How can I understand you?

I’ve begun experimenting with flash fiction when a slice-of-life needs just a little more to make an impact.

And then there’s Telling Sonny, the novel I wrote in an attempt to understand a grandmother far removed and a grandfather who died before I was born. The novel was able to finish what the poem, “My Father’s Side of the Family,” had started.

So where does this leave me with blogging about the history of my family? What does this genre have to offer that other genres don’t? After all, creative nonfiction or no creative nonfiction, genealogy and family history have to adhere to the facts of someone’s life, whereas fiction and poetry can reveal the emotional truth of that life by not needing to adhere to the facts.

So have I just talked myself out of family history blogging? Nope. I don’t have enough experience with the genre. I will stay immersed in it until I discover what truths it has to reveal about myself, my family, and others who seek to understand and record their own family history.


17 thoughts on “What’s in a Genre?

  1. This is so true Liz! I write so often in different ways, poetry or short story or even just a retelling of sorts. I guess I’m trying to sort the memories and the feelings of people and moments and where I fit in all of it. Sometimes I feel an urgency to write stories of my grandmothers knowing that I might have been the last one to hear them and if I don’t get them down they may be lost. I enjoyed this. Take care, suzanne 🌷

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Suzanne. As it turns out, I’ve been researching and writing about my grandmother Velma’s education for the past year and have found more insights and commonalities than I ever thought possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I sorely regret knowing little or anything about my family history. In my youthful stupidity, I never asked, we never talked, and I and was never curious about it. It is a source of sadness. I only wish I could now have this conversation with my parents and all my Aunts and Uncles. Continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Liz, I do wish you lots of luck in your family search. Although, reading it now…my memoir ‘My Gentle War’ could have been much better…I really enjoyed writing it. What amazed me more than anything were the ‘serendipities’ and coincidences which truthfully occurred while I was writing it. One never knows…A chance meeting with an unknown cousin of my mother’s, who turned out to be a character actor, and accidentally discovering another cousin was once a Bishop of St. David’s cathedral…in Wales, and ‘re-living’ my unique experience of travelling to Merville in France a year after the war ended (with an aunt) and actually meeting a kind French woman who Dad had met when stationed there, and who sent us food parcels before the end of rationing. We stayed in her farmhouse and she tried to ‘fatten me up’ (the only time I was extra slim…) On the other hand, we never discovered why my paternal grandfather changed the family name to Mansfield?! Good luck in your quest. And a Happy New Year. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The family history you were able to uncover through serendipity is fascinating! What I uncovered about my maternal grandmother (through Nova Scotia provincial education records posted in Internet Archive) was that my maternal grandmother had gone to normal college to be a teacher and had taught for a year in Nova Scotia. My mother was adamant that her mother had NEVER been a teacher. Now, why my grandmother had kept this from her family, I have no idea, but she really had been a teacher before moving to Toronto to train as a librarian.


      1. Getting to the truth can, sometimes, be difficult, especially if particular members of the family are either deliberately secretive for one reason or another… as in your gran’s case. But the ‘seeking’ can be a fascinating process, which I enjoyed; not always fulfilling, but there’s usually a surprise, and it can be fun!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The oddest thing about it was that mother had the first clue in her possession: a photograph of her mother with Normal School classmates and a date. Between a Normal School volunteer’s research into the school’s records, and Internet Archive, I was able to find the answer fairly easily. As for the whys, we shall never know!


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