Family history and genealogical research is one of my passions, and I’m lucky enough to say that I come from a grand familial tradition of writing down my family’s stories. My great-aunt, an incredibly interesting woman in her own right who was a stenographer at the Nuremberg Trials, spent years researching and documenting the stories of our family, compiling not one, but four books revealing the history of my mom’s maternal lineage.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have four whole volumes of history right at their fingertips, but that doesn’t mean all is lost! It just means that you might have to be the one to pick up the pen (or, in this day and age, open the new document on your computer) and write out your family history!
The idea of writing a family history may be daunting, but I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you get started:
- Compile Your Sources
Make sure you have all of your research saved and organized in a way that makes sense to you. That can mean anything from a filing cabinet to a Google Drive dedicated to your family’s history.
- Turn Your Research Into a Story
Ultimately, genealogy research is a list of facts about a person, but what is the story of that person’s life? Pull together the facts you’ve found and do some outside research. You may not be able to say exactly what happened to make your ancestor leave their homeland and strike out for America, but you can find out why most of the people in their area immigrated and use that information to flesh out the facts you do know.
- Put Your Ancestors in Context
One way you can help turn facts into a compelling story is by placing your ancestors in their historical context. Create a timeline with important historical events and add your ancestor’s important dates to that timeline. What was happening in the world around them? What were their lives like? I may never know the exact details of my great-great-great grandfather’s life as a farmer in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, but I can sure tell you a lot about the potato famine and how it affected farmers in general!
- Talk to Your Relatives
The best way to find out more recent family stories is to actually ask your family! Set up times to interview family members or just ask around at the next family gathering you attend. If you can, record the interview or interaction using a smartphone or camera so that you can come back to it later. If your family is anything like mine, once they start telling stories, it’ll be hard to stop!
Everyone’s family history has interesting stories — you just need to dig in and find them. This new year, make it a resolution to discover your family’s unique story and to write it down.
Want to get started researching your family? Come to our Discover Your Past Program Series. Get an introduction to genealogy and discover how to use sources like the United States census and vital records. There’s still room in all three of these great sessions, so register now!