Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How to write about your Family History

Writing a family history that is actually worth reading has proven to be significantly challenging. As a dedicated Family historian or researcher, you are likely to have invested a great deal of time following records of family members; through archives, libraries, record offices, databases and even graveyards, collecting all sorts of papers, letters, documents, photographs, and stories to help peice together the life stories of your relatives.

Following my own experiences let me provide you with a few suggestions to help you create the atmosphere or environment for your writing, and help with some simple tools:

  • Physical Context - Where did the family live?
    This is the most important question for you to answer before you can begin your writing. You will have collected and documented records and sources, but you should also examine the geographical location.
    It is important to learn about the physical environment and how it would have been for your relatives and other inhabitants. You may want to study detailed topographic maps to support your study and determine exactly where the people lived. You will want to understand the appearance and how it ay have changed so you can describe it.

  • Historical Context
    What events will have affected your ancestors, locally within village/ parish, or the county, or changes across the country? What were the politics at the time? Were there wars or conflicts affecting people at the time or involving your ancestors? You will want to read historical accounts of the period to understand what will have affected them and decisions they made in their lives. Everything from a birth or death in the family to international wars will have influenced them, and the influences differed depending on where and when they lived.

  • Photographs
    Photographs and portraits are very important to help illustrate, and understand your family and their history. Look deeply at all images and get an idea of how people looked, their physical features, their clothing and how they arranged their hair? Where did they live, what animals did they keep and what transport did they have?
    Try to find photographs of the community, postcards and newspapers? What other possessions did they own? What items may have been listed or described in a census or probate?

  • Writing
    Following on form the above examples choose an ancestor or family member you have researched and study a photograph of them. What is their name, when, where and why was the photograph taken, and what is it of. Consider the events that are either depicted in the photograph or study local, national, and international history a bit to place the photograph into historical perspective.

Now write a few paragraphs describing what you see and what you have learned. For example describe the appearance of the person or people in teh photograph; are they big or small, hapy or sad? are their clothes well tailored and clean - suggesting their affluance and the formality of the photograph. Can you draw any other assumptions from the photo about the stage they were in in their life?
Do you have other photographs of him or her and their family? Can you describe these without considering the history you intend to write about?

Also factor in the historical events of the time that would have affected the area. What influence did the Wars of the time or the arrival of motor cars or the railways have on their life and that of his family? Do you know his political party affiliation and his thoughts on world events and politics?
Were their any epidemics such as the spanish influenza of the 1920's or Cholera or TB?

Once you have written a detailed description around this try to understand whether the reader will be able to picture and grasp what you are writing about without seeing these photos. If it is not clear you need add more information or research the subjects more closely. The purpose of a written family history is not simply to document names, dates, and locations but to bring the accounts of their lives into focus as if they were still alive today.
If you follow this task you may find you also will get to know more about your ancestors!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How to start researching your family history

Following the BBC Family history series bloodlines, there is considerable help available on the bbc site;

1. Early Research recomendations:

Start by setting out a very structured approach using a family tree template -
such as is available here

Set out all the information about each family member member in your family that will identify that person. Each person can be identified by personal information, such as the following:

  • Name
  • Other members of the family
  • Dates and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
  • Ancestral village
  • Occupation

Get forms or computer programs to record your family information. They make the task of recording and organizing easier. You can get basic ones for free.

If you prefer writing information on paper, download or print these two forms:

  • Family tree Chart —This lets you list your pedigree (your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on).
  • Family Group Record—A family group record lets you list an entire family and their information. You will need several copies.

If you prefer using a computer, download the free program Personal Ancestral File, or install a family history program of your choice.
Record the information you remember about your family on the forms or in a family history program.
First fill out a form for your own family, and then work back to your parents and grandparents. You can quickly see what you know and what information is missing or incomplete.

2 Sources of information

Use information in Your Home:

Look for information in your home that might contain the missing or incomplete family information.
Useful sources include

  • birth, marriage, and death certificates;
  • family bibles;
  • funeral programs;
  • obituaries;
  • wedding announcements;
  • family registers;
  • ancestral tablets.

Add this information to your Family tree chart and family group records.
Record the sources of the information (use the Notes or Sources section on the forms or in your family history program). This helps you and others know where the information came from.

3 Ask Relatives for Information.

Make a list of other relatives and the family information they may have.
Contact the relatives—visit, call, write, or e-mail them.
Ask specifically for the information you would like.
Add the information to your pedigree charts and family group records.
Record the names of the relatives who gave you the information in Notes or Sources.

4 Find Family Members or Ancestors You Want to Learn More About.

Look for missing or incomplete information on your pedigree chart and family records.
Select a family or ancestor with missing or incomplete information.
Start with the generations closest to you, and work your way back. Usually, it is easier to find information for a family member or ancestor born in a recent period.

5. See if Someone Else Has Already Found the Information.

Warning: A common mistake is to gather every reference to the surname even if the person is not clearly a relative.
Look for the names in Search for Ancestor. This will search the databases that are a part of FamilySearch Internet. The databases include family histories submitted by others.
Look for a published family history.
Look for the names in the Family History Library Catalog, Surname Search.
The search will list family histories in the Library's collection that contain the surname.
You can arrange to see many of the histories at your local family history center.
Look for published family histories on other Web Sites or at public archives and libraries.
If the family histories do not contain information about the family you want, search for records from the locality where your ancestor lived.

6 Search Records for Information about Your Ancestor.

Use Research Guidance. Research Guidance helps you find copies of original records, such as censuses and birth records, based on where the person lived and the time of his or her birth, marriage, or death. You select the place and time, and Research Guidance provides a list of recommended things to do and records to search in priority order.
Download and print forms and guides to help you. Many forms and guides are available in Research Helps to download for free. These forms will help you plan, record, and analyze your research.

More information on starting out your search is found here: