How Do I...
Write A Family History?
...Before You Begin ...
Some Questions & Comments To Consider
Most things when done well are the result of careful planning. Writing a Family History is no different. Before you begin your Family History, here is a list of key points to consider.
A Final Note
- Who is my target audience? Who am I writing for?
* Consider whether this book is for you, your immediate family, for a particular surname group in the U.S., or the world, or maybe just one branch of the family.
- Do I want to trace one surname completely? or several connected families? or all my family lines?
* Tracing one surname fully will mean researching all branches or one branch of the family from a particular ancestor to the present or the time frame you choose. It will probably include all the descendants of that surname and their progeny as well.
* If your choice is to do several connected lines, you will most likely put limitations on how many descendants to include.
* A book dedicated to all related surnames will be the most limited in what is included in the way of descendants. Remember to take into account the finished size of your book, and not make it too large to be easily used. You may want to limit yourself to ancestral lines and their stories, but include family group records for each ancestor so that their familiy members are included.
- What is the time frame I am interested in?
* Think about whether you wish to take a surname(s) from the earliest known Old World ancestor to the present, or concentrate on only the old country family, or the family from their immigration to the U.S. until the present, or perhaps even a certain time period, ie from 1800 to 1920.
- Do I want to do an entire history or just trace the family while they lived in a particular place?
* You may choose to just look at the family history in a particular area as well as time, say Alsace, France or Shelby County, Kentucky.
- Besides family group records, what do I want to include?
* A family history doesn't become a "history" without stories or other information to help our ancestors 'live' again. A list of names, dates and places is of course important in a genealogical work, but it will be so much more interesting to the reader if they are 'fleshed' out. Ask youself questions such as: What was the world that my ancestor lived in like? What was his occupation, religion, or status in society? Did he own property, read and write, fight in a war? Was he or she a pioneer in a newly opened part of the country? Many of these questions can be answered by looking at records available; county, state and U.S. histories. Even if you don't know anything more than an approximate birthdate, looking into these other sources can help you at least put the ancestor in context with his surroundings. Example: "At the time our ancestor was living in Augusta County, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a young man named George Washington was working for the Brittish as a surveyor and mapping the countryside."
* For more recent ancestors and descendants, interview yourself and all living relativies and friends for stories they may know or what their impression of the person was. Letters, cards, and other writings may be available as well, to help you discover the life and character of an ancestor.
* Other suggestions of what to include might be, photos, signatures, physical descriptions, drawings of homesteads and houses, coats of arms, etc.
* In a multi-family book that covers only the ancestorial lines, you may even want to include a gedcom on a disk, so that family members can have access to the full family tree of data that you may have, but didn't have room in your book to include.
[NOTE: Remember in any case not to include detailed information on living members of the family (ie birth, marriage dates etc) without the expressed and in-writing permission of those members.]
- Do you want to include special items not in the text?
* Appendices can be used for anything and everything. Perhaps you want to include a 'family album' of photos, cultural, ethnic, or religious information, pedigree charts, scans or photo copies of interesting documents, passenger lists, etc.
(or things you must include to have a truly useful Family History)
* 1) Table of Contents.
* 2) Index: very important to list every person mentioned in your book and on what page or pages they appear.
* 3) Bibliography: Include the names of books or other materials that you used in your research.
* 4) Documentation: list your sources of information.
* 5) Be organized in your approach: keep families in their generations and surname catagory.
* 6) Numbering systems for ancestors. There are many books on numbering systems, find one that works for you. This is especially important for a single surname book. Other types of histories may be organized in such a way as to not need a numbering system with the exception of generational. ie. First generation in America, Second Generation... etc.
You don't have to wait until all your research is done to start! Genealogy is a never ending history of families and their lives. New information is always coming to light.
Remember when writing that facts are facts and can be documented. Suppositions and guesses are just that and can't be documented. Be professional! If you included your theories or guesses in the text, be sure to say so! A fact may turn up someday to completely change what you thought was a likely truth. A family story is just a rumor until there is proof to back it up, so be sure to make the difference clear as you write.
The same goes for documented facts that may be hard to read and in which you are guessing at the meaning or the spelling of a name. Let the reader know these things.
And now, Go For It! :)
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