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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Inspiration for Keeping Family Alive Through Stories

NOTE: I’ve saved for last a wonderful story by Nancy Julien Kopp. I hope it will inspire you to tell and record your family stories -- stories that help keep your family alive. You deserve the satisfaction of knowing you are helping to preserve history. They deserve the pleasure of learning more about their ancestors.


Keeping Family Alive

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Family and Stories

I’m 83 years old. The family members I have today are mostly ones younger than I. In some cases, a whole lot younger. I want them to meet and remember the family that came before me, the people who made me who I am and who have also had some influence on their lives.

As a writer, I quite naturally slipped into the role of recording family history and writing family stories. Because I maintain a blog for writers with tips and encouragement, I urge my readers to write family stories. Over and over, I say that if they don’t write the sad, funny, and inspirational tales, they will vanish and never to be heard again.

My own inspiration comes from loving the family members that came before me and wanting them to stay with us through the stories I write about them. They are more than names on a Family Tree.

Bakery Inspiration

I’m inspired every time something reminds me of my maternal grandmother’s small neighborhood bakery. Hers is a story of survival and hard work. She grew up on a Minnesota farm, married a coal miner in Iowa, had five children, with only three surviving to adulthood, separated from her husband during the Depression, came to Chicago with my mother, then age 11, and managed to start a business on her own during difficult times.

How could I not be inspired to write about the grandmother I had for only 12 of my growing-up years? Stories my mother related about her and memories I have of this ,sometimes stern, woman who showed her love through cooking and baking encouraged me to write about her numerous times.

Grandfather’s Coal Mine Inspiration

The desire to write a middle-grade novel came because of another family member—my maternal grandfather. My mother often shared stories about his life as a coal miner in southeastern Iowa. I didn’t get to see him very often, but I grew to know and love him through her words.

My novel is about a young boy who is taken out of school and sent to work in a coal mine at age 11. My grandfather spent most of his life toiling below ground in the mines starting at age 9, but I allowed the boy in my story to find a way to get back to school. I lost my grandfather when I was only 9 years old, but the memory of a final visit to him served as inspiration for a memoir piece that won a contest award and has been published.

Parental Inspiration

My parents’ 57 years of marriage were filled with both joy and sorrow. They inspired me to write many short memoir pieces about each singly and as the couple they were those many decades. Those stories allow my children and my grandchildren to know their grandparents and great-grandparents as more than a picture in a frame. We tell the stories at family gatherings, but I write them for these younger family members and those yet to come.

More Bits and Pieces for Inspiration

As my parents shared the stories about their families, I worried that those wonderful bits and pieces about my ancestors might get lost if no one wrote about them. Who would ever know that my paternal Great Grandmother came to Chicago from Canada speaking French and never learned English? Who would know that she had an altar in her bedroom or that she sold handmade baby dresses to the renowned Marshall Field’s Department Store? I knew because my father told me, and my family will know because I remembered and wrote about her.

An Aunt’s Inspiration

One day inspiration hit me when I had lunch with my husband’s aunt. During our conversation, she mentioned that she and her sister never had names until they went to school. Instead, the seven other siblings, their parents, and the neighbors called them Big Baby and Little Baby. Their father finally named them after his two favorite horses, Fannie and Jennie, but let the little girls choose their middle names.

I just knew I had to write that story when I learned that evening that my husband never knew how his mother and his aunt had been named. I wrote a fictionalized version of the story for middle-grade children, which was published, and it now resides in my Family Stories 3-ring binder saved to be shared.

The Wand of Inspiration

The family tree with names and dates is important family history. But I feel blessed that the love of my family members encouraged me to write about them and keep them alive.

My hope is that my oldest granddaughter, a teacher and writer, will carry on the family tradition. I like to think I’m passing her a wand that will inspire her to continue to write about our family and will encourage her to pass on the stories of our family legacy.

A Wand for You

And while I am passing on a wand of inspiration to my granddaughter, I want to give you one as well. If you aren’t already writing family stories, consider starting right away. The power of sharing inspirational family stories is strong and worth the time it takes.


I Hope You'll Consider the Message I've Discovered

Keep your family alive by writing their stories.

Record the sad, funny and uplifting tales that inspire current and future generations.


About Nancy Julien Kopp

Nancy Julien Kopp lives and writes in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has published stories for children, personal essays, articles on writing, short memoir, and poetry. Her work has been published in 24 Chicken Soup for the Soul books, several other anthologies, newspapers, magazines and ezines. She was named Prose Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Kansas Authors Club. She is a former teacher and still teaches through the written word. You can read her blog at:



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Jul 19, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you Nancy - you have given me the nudge I needed to finish some of the stories and poems started some time ago:)


Jul 05, 2023

Hi Nancy: Thanks for this story. It is a wonderful take on memoir writing. I hope it inspires all of us to record and share family stories.

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