When I first began researching my family history, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed that one day I would finish my search. I know I thought that 20+ years ago. Planning that after I finished the research, I could start writing the stories of my ancestors. Today I know that I am nowhere near the end of my family history. I have always had the desire to put together a book with these stories to pass on to my Grandchildren. How should I start?
Waiting is a mistake. Looking through our trees we can see so many Ancestors we want to write about but thinking about that prospect is overwhelming. There may be lots of material to glean from but who should you start with? Should you do it in order, current to ancient? How much or how little information should you include?
So, how do we even begin? Here are some hints I have been using that may help.
1, Since there is not just one straight line stretching back to an original ancestor, you can actually start anywhere. There are many trees and branches to choose from. Where you begin and with whom you write about is up to you.
I started with my Maternal Great Grandparents. My Great Grandpa ends his line. I can find no information on his birth or death, only his marriage to my Great Grandma and the birth of my Grandpa. However, I have a few stories that I heard about him while growing up and I wrote about those. If I find anything in the future about him, I can always add it. My Great Grandma was a different case. Her lineage goes back to my 11th Great Grandfather born ABT 1606 in Uxenden, Middlesex, England.
2, Don’t stress over writing a perfect story. Just start writing down what you know about your ancestor. Basically, just get it on paper. You can always go back and fill in the information, make corrections and add details.
As the author of 3 books, I know the struggle with trying to write something that is presentable. Over the last 5 years I discovered that if I just write what comes to me, I at least have something to work with. Editing, grammar, spelling, rewriting, etc. can be done when the writing is finished.
3. Don’t get caught in the belief that you don’t have time to write a story. Everyone makes time for the things that are important to them. You can begin by setting aside 30 minutes during your day to sit down and write.
I know with the responsibilities of life it is sometimes hard to fit anything into our schedules. But like everything else, if you really want to do it then you will find the time.
4. It is okay to write a partial story. If you begin writing about one of your ancestors and you find you don’t feel like what you are writing isn’t interesting, then it is okay to stop writing. You can save what you do have and return to it at a later time, This allows you to approach it with a new perspective and perhaps some additional research.
5. If you are so inclined, include some historical context to your stories. You can write about what life may have been like during their lifetime, a short history of the area they lived in or some event that happened in the world at that time.
6. In writing stories of your family history, it is important not to forget about yourself! By the time your children or grandchildren read what you have written, you will have become one of those “ancestors”. It would be such a great gift to have an accurate, first-hand account of your life to pass on. You may include anything you feel you would like your descendants to know about you and your life. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly.
About 10 years ago I read a book about writing your own story, In it was ideas of what to write. Things like “tell me about your elementary school days”, “what did you like to do in your spare time or “what hobbies did you have” and “what type of pets did you have growing up”. These were great to get the mind thinking and you only had to write about one aspect of your life at a time. You didn’t have to put it in chronological order or stress over little details.
The reason for this blog is to encourage you to write those stories about your ancestors. Not all of us have been blessed by someone else taking the time to do it. It would be a great legacy to pass on to future generations. I know I would have loved for some ancestors of mine to have preserved some stories that I could read.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/Your-Family-History and http://tinyurl.com/Genealogy-Research-Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.