Research Your Scottish Ancestry

Robert WilbanksProducing the Family History

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

As I go around speaking and teaching about genealogy, one of the surprising things that I frequently encounter is the astonishment of genealogists when, usually after I make some tangential remark, they are suddenly hit with the realization that they are actually expected, or at least should consider, writing a book on their family history; publishing their research. Well, no, you donít have to write a book per se, but you certainly want to create something that will preserve your years of hard research in a way that others can enjoy your efforts, or at least continue on with where you left off without having to start over. After all, donít you want to share with your family the amazing information you found out about your (and their) ancestors?

Iím not expecting you to become some world renowned or Pulitzer Prize winning author, and you donít even have to have professional writing skills and abilities. However, in a sense, you are the Ďworld renowní researcher of your familyís history. So, you need to get it out there for all the family to enjoy, creating a presentable story of the exploits, endurances, and experiences of the family that came before.

If nothing else, creating the story for each of your ancestorsí life can actually be a part of the research process as you go. Indirectly, that becomes part of the records evaluation, and the analysis of your findings, family connections and conclusions. For example, creating a timeline, a chronological outline, of your ancestorís life can help to verify certain discoveries, and even potentially point out glaring issues in your research and findings. This forces you to frequently review your ancestorís story, and thus your research, to make sure your new findings being added correlate with your previous discoveries.

And as you create this Ďtimelineí of your ancestor as part of your research, you might as well write it in a storyline format. This way you are building your ancestorís story as you go, adding new information as you make discoveries. With basic computer skills, using a basic word processor program, you can easily create your ancestorís story just like any other kind of writing. Also, you can, insert photos and documents, related historical tidbits, etc. Before you know it, if you write it as you research it, you will have a nice written story virtually completed. Instead of later on having to look at your research pile and getting overwhelmed and intimidated at the idea of writing an ancestorís or familyís complete history.

But there is no need to be intimated by the idea that you have to publish some kind of completed all encompassing written family history. First of all, it doesnít have to be a published book. If you are into journaling, or scrap-booking, or doing photo albums, that can be a different way to create your ancestorís story. Or you can create poster-boards, displays, etc. Or, how about a website. We all have different skills. Use yours to your advantage for producing the family history.

However, Iím going to let you in on a powerful genealogy secret to writing a reasonable family history. Most of todayís genealogy software, such as RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, and more, have the ability to generate narrative reports (in addition to your basic pedigree charts), with decent sentence structure, citations and footnoting, even creating indexes of names and places. They can also create entire books, and even websites. You can usually have the option to save it as PDF file as a completed document, or you can save it as an RTF (Rich Text File) which will allow you to open it in your favorite word processing software and tweak it, insert photos and documents, change formatting, etc.

So, not only do you not have to fear writing your ancestorís story and family history, but if you do it as you conduct your research, it becomes a powerful part of your research process.