Genealogy

Writing Your Family History

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.

Blank 3.5 x 2 in

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.

Photographs

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.

Good luck!

 

 

 

Genealogy

The Most Important Thing I Learned at My Conference

Last week I attended the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Mason, Ohio and there was one topic that was repeated no matter what the subject of the class was… FamilySearch, Ohio Archives, Finding Females, Newspapers, British Roots, Bright Shiny Objects… and that was you should always have a research plan.

Why Should You Follow a Research Plan?

I’ll confess, the closest I come to having a plan when it comes to my own genealogical journey is beginning each day with an “I think I’ll work on my great-great-great-grandfather, George Henry Fesler” today and I proceed to enter into my program all the information I have and search for the documents that I don’t.

But having a research plan can keep you focused.  It can help you from getting distracted by the beforementioned bright shiny objects (I’m sure you have come into contact with those – a document that you find or information on another ancestor that you stumble upon that you just HAVE to follow up on RIGHT NOW).

The Steps of a Research Plan

Steps in a Research Plan

Depending on the website you seek your information from, recommended research plans seem to fall between 5 and 7 steps. Most that were gone over in my classes seemed to go with 5-steps.

1. What is Your Objective?

It’s always best to know what it is you want to know before you sit down and begin randomly searching for information.  Even I when I just decide “I’m going to work on researching my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather George Henry Fesler”, I have identified who I want to research.  I’m in the process of still adding many family members to the software that I use, or sometimes I have the basic information down (to fill in a fan chart or such) but I need to add documents, events, and sources.

2. What Information Do You Already Have?

It’s always best to double check the information that you have already acquired for a person because you may already have the answer that you seek.  And by finding out what information you have, narrows down the information you still need to seek.  Sometimes it’s helpful to even look at other close relatives such as father’s because you may be missing a census in one file but have it in another (assuming you file by the head of household).

Going back to my example of George Henry Fesler, I had a number of files that I had downloaded, and when I was adding them to my software I often don’t have the information for the citations handy and will either re-find the document on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com for this.  Here on my personal family tree on Ancestry.com I saw where I had attached George’s death certificate, but I never downloaded the file. Lucky for me my husband had a 14-day free trial of Ancestry that hadn’t been used and I was able to instantly download the death certificate (don’t worry, if this was not a possibility I would have gone to the library and used the free Ancestry Library Edition).

3. Create a Hypothesis on What You Believe to be True?

Hypothesis is such a big word.  It makes me think of tenth grade when I had to write a term paper for my Expository Writing Class.  I’m sure I learned about it in science too, but the term paper really seems to strike a chord.

According to Wikipedia, a hypothesis is “a proposed explanation for phenomenon”. Basically, it’s the information you think you will find.

For example, I think George Henry Fesler, my great-great-great grandfather, died in Wells Tannery, Pennsylvania.

Until I re-discovered his death certificate attached to my tree on Ancestry.com, I wasn’t 100% certain where George passed.

4. What Records Will Prove Your Hypothesis?

To prove or disprove your hypothesis you will need to find records that will either support or discredit what you believe.  These are often government documents such as census records, death certificates, pension files, or published records such as city directories, or an obituary in the paper.

What records will I need to prove that George Henry Fesler died in Wells Tannery, Pennsylvania?  I know that his death certificate will be helpful, possibly his grave, census records could assist with letting me know precise locations of where he lived every ten years before his death. Where he is buried helps, but a person can die anywhere (my great-great-grandmother’s 2nd husband died on a trip visiting family in Illinois and he lived in Akron, Ohio), often they live in the vicinity of where they are buried or reside.

5. Do Your Research!

Now you find those documents I mentioned above that you don’t have.  I was lucky enough to discover my great-great-great-grandfather’s death certificate was somewhat in my possession.  George actually lived in Wells Township in Fulton County, Pennsylvania pretty much his entire life.  He is buried at Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery in Wells Tannery.  He was born in Bedford County, but all the census’ from 1850-1910 have him living in Wells Township.

A Way to Stay Focused

Researching with a plan is going to be my new motto.  It’s one thing to attend maybe one or two classes where it was mentioned – but I attended 6 classes each day at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference (and I went to 6 classes each day – despite recommendations to possibly sit out a time to mingle with others – there was too much to learn) and I would say at least 3 classes each day began with how important research plans are.

Research plans help you stay focused.  Sure you’re going to come across bright shiny objects but as Lisa Louise Cooke stated – “embrace them, save them for later” and keep your focus on your task at hand.  You can always spend time another day just following up on those unexpected gems.

So the next time you decide to sit down for a spell of working on your family history, trying creating a research plan and let me know if you find it to be helpful or a hindrance.

Happy Hunting!