Writing Your Family History, by Mary Maki, FRGS member and Secretary.
As genealogists we know that birth, marriage, and death dates are not enough. We want to learn about our ancestors. We want to tell their stories. We want to bring them to “life.” Writing helps us to do that. It helps us make sense of our research. It tells us what we are missing—names, dates, and especially citations.
Most of us have our family trees online. It is possible that future generations may not be interested in online family trees, but if there is a well-written book about their ancestors, it is more likely to be kept, read, and passed down through the generations.
Get started. Determine your audience and format. Determine an ancestral line you want to write about. Will you write up stories from your research just for family, or will you make it a more research-oriented volume with source citations, explanatory footnotes, table of contents, photo listing, and index to share with historical societies/libraries, and other researchers?
Develop a style sheet. A style sheet is for our personal use to make sure you are consistent throughout the document. Will the main ancestor in each generation be in small caps bold (or just bold)? Will state names be spelled out or abbreviated? If abbreviated, which form will you use? Maiden names are in parenthesis. Will you use WWI or World War I? And how will dates be written—1 July 1930 or July 1, 1930?
Hook your reader. From your research, think of a favorite family story or a favorite/interesting ancestor, or an interesting time in your ancestor’s life. Start your story with action. Don’t necessarily start at the beginning. It is okay to start at the middle or even near the end if that is where the action is. Pull your readers in and before they know it, they will be caught up in your research and your family history. This is also a great way to connect with cousins.
Here is what your project will look like. Your title needs to be specific, i.e. ancestor’s name, and location if possible. (Example: Cutter, Davenport & Butterfield Families of Elkhart, Indiana) Don’t be funny. This is serious business. Next comes an introduction, like how you get started with this family line, or share an interesting adventure along the way. This is your chance to connect with your readers. You will need a table of contents and a photo and document list for easy reference. The body of your work is next, and then any additional material will go in the appendix. This can include obituaries, family group sheets, etc. The last thing, and this is not negotiable, is the index. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who can. Working on developing an index is a great way to catch any errors in your work.
Edit—You’re almost done! Read through, double check names, dates, place a copyright notice on your work, and find qualified genealogists as beta readers.
Most of all—have fun sharing your family’s history!!