Research Your Scottish Ancestry

Robert WilbanksWriting Your Family History

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

One important part of researching the family history that can be unpopular and intimidating is compiling the research results and stories into a shareable format. This would usually be a written family history. So many genealogists get so involved in the research, they generally forget that a finalized organized presentation is a natural expectation. Avoiding a way to share the results of your research with your family, and the world, can make the whole research process be considered a complete waste of your time, money, and efforts. And thus, doesn’t make any sense.

Many might ask, with pedigree charts, family group sheets, and online genealogy databases, why is it still important to write the family history, or family stories? These charts and sheets only provide the facts, the boring data, just names, dates and places, creating a sterile genealogy. But family history, with the stories, the events, the actions, etc., bring our ancestors to life, with interesting adventures, memories, and connections to historical events.

In differing ways, we are all storytellers. So writing the family story doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, you may find that it is easier than you realize. Much of your research will already present the story, one document at a time, that you can write one paragraph at a time. In essence, you can make writing the history manageable by writing small bits and pieces of your findings and stories along the way in the research process. The added benefit of writing the findings and stories as you go, is that missing elements can become more apparent, helping you to determine where the gaps in your research exist, and thus directing you to where you can continue your research.

One of the easiest aspects of writing the family story, is chronology. While research generally goes backward in time, and occasionally the research discoveries may actually occur out of chronological time, creating a timeline becomes important. Organizing your research, thus your stories, based upon the chronology of your ancestors’ life experiences, will be one of the easiest aspects of writing your ancestors’ history. As a result, you are creating both the timeline and the family history and stories at the same time.

Of course, your research and discovery of various records, will include the fundamental facts. Be sure to include these facts in your writings, including the dates and places of various vital events, as well as adding any related stories to those events. Meanwhile, some records will provide additional information from which you can build stories.

Some records will make writing the story easy. For example, naturalization papers, widows’ pensions, newspaper articles, diaries, scrapbooks, and more, will include great stories in the words of your ancestors, or written by others who were there. Photographs will also provide stories in and of themselves, and really bring your family history and ancestors to life.

Initially, you don’t have to write creatively. But as you go, and as you make more research discoveries, your creativity will grow and easily come to you with each addition and rewrite. You will be surprised by what you discover about yourself with regard to writing, and your creative abilities toward creating an exciting family history presentation. You may even discover the great fun of writing your family’s stories.

When it comes to writing the family history, there is not one required method or style. You can find or create a method or style that is right for you. There are many genealogy websites, blogs, wikis, videos, and more, out on the internet, with a wealth of information and instruction on writing your family history. Many will have different insights and varying options as to methods, styles, with great tips and more. You are sure to find one, or elements from many, to help you write your family history that is most comfortable for you.

This is another of a series of articles in which I show you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and online resources nationally and internationally, etc. The previous articles are now available on the Genealogy Section of this website.   See “Genealogy” in the menu options at the top of the web page.