I constantly read how I should be writing my family history down but the question is HOW? I obviously want it to be entertaining and not cause people to be snoring within minutes, but do you just plop down the statistics? Do you try to give it personality? These are the things this inquiring mind wants to know.
How You Will Share Your Writing
What form of media will you use to share your family history? This is a very important decision. Will you write a book? A newsletter? A blog?
The format of your writing determines how formal your writing needs to be. If you choose a blog (I obviously write about my own family discoveries along with tips of how to do your family history) you need to be a little more entertaining to keep your reader’s attention (hopefully I succeed in this). This would probably be similar advice if you thought of doing a newsletter.
If you are going to write a book you obviously want people to enjoy what they are reading but you can also make sure you throw in statistics you have gathered about your relatives/ancestors if that is the only information you have.
If you have photographs of the people you are writing about, make sure you include them. This is probably a no-brainer but it’s worth stating. I know whenever I come across a photo of a relative I get so excited to see how they looked at whatever stage in their life. I am hoping to one day find a photograph of my great-grandfather, Charles Morgart, as he is the infant/toddler in my blog’s header. I have yet to see an adult photo of him but so wish I had one.
Photographs also make people real. Face it, you can tell people that this is when they were born and this is when they died – but it’s when you give the details of how they lived and what they looked like that makes a person become alive.
Add Some History
You may be thinking, “of course I am going to write history, I’m writing my family’s history”, but sometimes it’s nice to give your writing a little bit of historical context. Relate to your reader what is going on in the world to give a better sense of the time period when your ancestor lived.
For example, I am presently reading “National Geographic’s Atlas of the Civil War” as my great-great-great-grandfather, George Henry Fesler, fought in the Civil War. I have obtained his military file and it details all the battles that he fought in and where he was stationed. George fought in many battles but I will confess they tend to be a lot of the smaller battles, not Antietam, Vicksburg or Gettysburg, the battles that the average person has heard of, so I’m reading this in-depth book about all the battles so I can include better details in reference to him.
There are different ways you can highlight historical events, you can just do a sidebar of big events that happened during the time period or you could have a timeline listing similar details.
Setting Your Book Up
When writing a book you can always highlight a different ancestor in a chapter. For example, you can have a chapter on your mother, then a chapter on her mom and a chapter on her dad and within the chapters referring to her parents you can detail her siblings.
You may not have any intimate details about some of your relative’s lives but when you come across those initially you can just put the vital statistic information that you have on these individuals. Sometimes you may just have very limited information, but if you have gathered any city directories about your ancestor, often they list where they worked, which helps give a little more insight into them. Censuses will often list a general occupation as well which is still helpful in painting a picture of your relative’s life.
Make a Video
I know on my mom’s side of the family, my aunt and uncle were occasionally asking me how I was progressing on my research. Not having anything written down, but having found photos of various members of my mom’s side of my family, I made a minute-long video that briefly highlighted my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother and lastly my great-great-great-grandmother and my great-great-great-grandparents (the photo of my 4th great grandmother happened to be a photo with her husband). I used the online video maker Adobe Spark which is free to use and even can be made with background music (the default was surprisingly fitting for my video). I shared the video with my aunt, uncle and many cousins and they loved it! It was long enough to be interesting and short enough to keep their attention.
Your Program May Write the Book for You
I use Legacy Family Tree to store all my family’s information and there is a way to print a book using all the information I have entered into the program. It fills in written accounts listed in the notes on each individual as well listing all the sources that you have attached for all the records included. This is a nice, no-brainer way of writing a book with the click of a button.
Brings Your Research Together
Writing about your family is a great way to make your research more interesting to the average person. Family Historians often find such neat information about our ancestors through vital statistics, newspapers, and family lore, compiling them all together for future generations just makes sense.
No matter what form of media you choose to use – book, newsletter, or blog, anyway that interests you in writing down your information is how you should publish your work.
You don’t have to stop all of your research to begin writing a book, but it may be something to focus on one day a week in order to get ideas together on what you may want to do. I know I have been thinking about how I want to do mine for a while and I like about taking it an ancestor at a time. It may provide you with who you want to focus on for a bit as well, and if you have all your writing on a computer you can always continue to add the further along you go with your tree.
No matter how you opt to write your genealogical findings, I wish you great success in your journey. Sharing your research with the world is one of the greatest honors we as family historians have.