Saturday, 15 June 2013

Writing your family history

I have been researching my family history for about 11 years now and have accumulated lots and lots of information and documents about my ancestors. My family tree had grown to include nearly 1400 people, which makes it impossible to remember the facts about everyone. At family reunions I am often asked questions about "Great Uncle Albert Junior" but I rarely remember very much, so I decided I wanted to conglomerate my research to include the interesting and important information about my ancestors.

There are many ways in which this can be done:

  • write a book
  • write a blog
  • a website
  • pamphlet
  • detailed poster of the family tree
  • case study story on a particular family or ancestor of interest

I was overwhelmed and not really sure where to start, so I went to a seminar about Writing Your Family History at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012.

These are some of the tips I have learnt whilst beginning to write out my family history.

  • Who are you writing for? Family, friends, yourself, or for other family historians? What is your focus? As a starter you could write a case study about an ancestor to send to a family history magazine.
  • What is your goal?  To educate, inform or entertain. 
  • What style do you want to write in? Factual, fictional, 1st or 3rd person, past to present, present to past...etc
  • Always write from a plan. Have a beginning, middle and end.
  • What do your readers need to know and what trivial facts can be left out. Cherry pick the interesting facts or anecdotes.
  • Put the facts into context for the reader, for example Great Uncle Jim was a carpenter, but what did a carpenter do in 1890? Be careful not to patronise but focus on adding meat to the bones.
  • Add topical or locational information to put the lives of your ancestor into context. What national or local events were happening during your ancestors lifetime? What political or social changes did your ancestors live through? What was the town like where they resided especially in comparison to today?
  • Make it interesting - tell it as a story.
  • Add photos, images of documents, timelines of local events alongside family events, maps and family tree diagrams.
  • Start writing - you can keep researching forever so at some point you have to make a decision to stop researching and start putting what you have onto paper.
  • Make it clear when it is a fact or when theorising, especially if writing a fiction.
  • Include personal recollections.
  • Back up all your facts with references or if you quote from another website or book cite where the quote came from, do not plagiarise.
  • When you have your first draft, find a critic to read it and help you develop your story further.

By writing your family history it will become a valuable resource for future generations to look at.

I have written the story of my Davidson ancestors which is on this blog as "The Davidson Story". At present some of it is still being refined, but my aim is to also print it as a coffee table book for my elderly relatives who do not have access to the internet and for them to keep and pass down to their descendants.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

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