Aug 122014
Writing Your Family History can be fun

Writing your family history can be fun and rewarding.

Keep these points in mind to make writing your family history more fun, rewarding, and doable.  Each of these is probably a post of its own, so stay tuned!

1. Writing Your Family History Isn’t Just About the Research

Don’t get me wrong; research matters. A lot.

But you don’t have to be a genealogist to start writing your family history. If you’re not, your project will be smaller in scope or you’ll write more about the relatives you’ve known than your ancestors. Chances are, however, as you start writing, the stories of the past will beckon you to find out more.

 2. Writing Your Family History Can Be Done Piecemeal

If you’ve been researching your ancestry since the 1970s, the prospect of writing your family history might be intimidating. Likewise, if your knowledge of your ancestors is paltry, you might have misgivings about putting any of it to paper.

Relax. You can write it piecemeal. Let’s face it; even if you want to include every iota of information, can’t write it all at once. Make an outline (or not—there’s more about that in my book), and just start writing about what you know.

3.  Family History Isn’t Synonymous with Genealogy

That’s a future post! Give yourself license to explore both.

4.  Research Doesn’t Have to be a Solitary Pursuit

As you share stories, share your passion for family history and the hunt for ancestors. With research, “the more the merrier” equals “the more you know.” Consider collaborating with your online distant cousins as well.

5. Dashes (between birth and death dates) Are Your Enemy

Nearly no one connects to simple names and dates. Try bringing your ancestors alive. See also How to Turn Dry Facts Into Stories and The Rest of the Story: How Family Stories Fill Gaps in Research.

Stories need historical context (and images). Yes, this means additional research, but the understanding you’ll gain will make it worthwhile.

 6. Citing Sources Isn’t Just for Professionals!

My aunt, Ann Crymes, would come back and haunt me if I didn’t include this. She learned this this hard way. Whether it’s in research or stories passed down, cite your sources. There will be times that you’ll need to go back to the source and review. Fellow researchers will also want to know where you found your info. (And, if someone shared their data, you’ll want to credit them as well!)

 7. Your Family History Starts with You

Your stories and your memories of loved ones matter. Oral histories, aka stories you heard at your grandmother’s knees, are precious commodities. They—and your memories of loved ones—are exactly what your family is in the most danger of losing.

As you write about the past, put yourself in the frame. Writing a factual and accurate history doesn’t preclude showing some personality. (Again, there’s more in my book.)

8. Brick Walls Belong in Your History

Many people include their ancestral quest as part of their story. Rumors and speculation are like clues and, hopefully, someone down the line will find the missing piece to your puzzle.

9. Share as You Work—or at least think about it.

As you write, think about whom you’re sharing with. Not only will it help you write, it will also make the labor of love more rewarding.

10. Write Well

This is more of a book title than post sub-title. By my standards, however, you’re writing well if

  • Writing isn’t a drudgery
  • Your stories are interesting to read

(There’s a lot more about this in Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life as well.)

11. There Are Tools that Can Help

Don’t recreate the wheel. Look at what tools other experts use and see if you think they’ll work for you. For instance, Lynn Palmero (Armchair Genealogist) and I like Scrivener. Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter is a great place to find techy reviews.

 Your Turn:

Are you writing about your personal or family stories or considering delving in? Sign-up for my newsletter to stay to get tips and resources!


  4 Responses to “11 Things You Should Know About Writing Your Family History”

  1. So many helpful tips here! Thank you for posting. I write about offbeat and overlooked Texas history, and your suggestions will be helpful when tracking down obscure-but-interesting people online. It can be challenging. And that bit about the dashes – oh, yeah!

    ~Tui, popping by from #Mondayblogs

  2. Such great advice! I actually think that when I tell my family history in a story format, It forces me to be a better genealogist. When I am writing, my natural curiosity comes out and I explore the history of events. This background sets the stage for me.

    Also, I think that I can quickly see gaps in my research which gives me some direction where I need to look next. Telling your family story is so much more fun for me when I add the background info. — kind of like icing on the cake. I’ve done so much research, which I love, but it’s very enjoyable to go on the hunt for a tidbit to add!

    Michele Kerr
    Itsalifestory (dot) com

    • You’re right. You’re not filling in the obligatory data but thinking about the life that went before you. Thanks for commenting!

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