A twelve-week course to guide you in both the research and writing of family history, from where to find the information to putting it together to tell the best possible story. You will learn how to gather and marshall your material, how to place your characters in a social and historical context, how to structure your narrative and find your authorial voice. The course will be led by the historian, biographer and critic Peter Parker, and leading specialists, including Patric Dickinson (President of the Society of Genealogists) and  Kate Summerscale (author of the best-selling The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace), and Andrea Stuart (author of  Sugar in the Blood), will give masterclasses on specific aspects of research and writing.


Week 1. Introductory: an overview of researching and writing family history, from the local library to the world wide web. Goals and methods. Setting the limits.

Week 2. Research: Asking the right questions. Going to the right places.

Week 3. Masterclass: Patric Dickinson on genealogical research.

Week 4. Social context: how they lived, what they wore.

Week 5. Historical context: ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

Week 6. Masterclass: Kate Summerscale on newspaper research.

Week 7. The quick and the dead: emotional and ethical concerns. Why am I telling you this?

Week 8. Structuring your book: beginnings, middles and ends. Gaps, secrets and surprises. Concealing and revealing.
Week 9. Masterclass: Andrea Stuart on deep historical research and filling the gaps you find there.
Week 10.Tone and voice.
Week 11. Character: bringing people alive; looking at pictures.
Week 12. Editing and revising.


Sessions will take place on one evening a week. In addition, guided tours at weekends to such institutions such as the Public  Records Office at Kew and the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library will be provided.


This programme is provisional and will be finalized according to the specific aims and interests of the participants. The course details may change at the discretion of the course leader.


Participants are asked to bring to the first session of the course examples of the material – such as letters and other documents, photographs or objects – that have inspired them to begin their quest, or which they will use as a basis for writing their family histories.


The following books should be read as background to the course:


A.J.A. Symons, The Quest for Corvofor the excitement of the chase, the experience of uncovering a life.

Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets – for general background on researching and dealing with the hidden and unexpected.

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes – for using artefacts and domestic detail as a way of tracing family history.

J.R. Ackerley, My Father and Myself for structuring a narrative, concealing and revealing facts, writing about oneself.


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