Have you ever thought about writing a family history? Do you fear that no one will want to read it? You are not alone, but that shouldn’t stop you from writing a family history. Many of you have asked me at conferences, emails, and other social media this one question,
“Why write a family history if no one wants to read it?”
Writing a Family History Makes You a Better Genealogist
Due to my journalism background, I prefer writing in a style that falls between lifestyle features for a newspaper to a biography written for middle school and high school students. Regardless of your style, writing a family history forces you to analyze details and explain your rationale, thereby enhancing your researcher skills.
I have written the first drafts of over 120 of my direct ancestor. These drafts cover my direct ancestors to the 6th generation, who are my 4th great-grandparents. I’m in the process of taking those drafts and turning them into published books, having completed two thus far.
As I have reviewed each document for supporting details to enrich the story of a particular ancestor, I discover missing sources that I thought I had. I discover inaccurate conclusions and correct mistakes on my family tree.
In short, writing has made me a better researcher faster than any other training I have experienced.
If you enjoy genealogy and you want to become a better researcher, start turning the facts you find into stories.
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Your Family History Adds to Your Country’s Common History
The New York Public Library website shares several reasons regarding the importance of writing family histories, which include:
There is a need for diverse family histories about individuals underrepresented in history texts.
More family histories need to document female lines.
There is a need for more histories about families who are not affluent.
History is based on the writings of the past. We know a great deal about the Great Depression because reporters went and recorded the stories of those in the Dust Bowl area. However, others around the country didn’t realize the Great Depression happened because they were just as poor before, during, and after the era. Tell these stories.
The Great Depression did not significantly affect plenty of individuals at all. How can that be?
The Great Depression impacted people differently around the country, with some areas of the United States having a reduced impact on their economic situations.
All aspects of an event should receive pages in books on shelves of the countries collection history section. In so doing, citizens gain a better perspective of the past and learn how to improve the future.
Libraries and Archives May Welcome Your Published Family History
If you have few family members interested in their legacy, libraries, archives, genealogical societies, and history museums may welcome your published family history.
Publish your family history in a softbound or hardbound copy (avoid comb bound books) through a service, such as Lulu.com. Then donate the finished works to entities that collect family histories and family narratives.
Determine which library, archive, or society serves the area where your family lived or worked. Often these entities have special collections for individuals with connections to their areas. Additionally, look for repositories that serve a special connection your ancestor may have.
If your ancestor is African American, look for ethnic-based repositories that welcome family histories for African American heritage individuals. If your ancestor worked for a university, consult the special collections division if they would like a family history about one of their former employees.
Don’t limit yourself to close connections for depositing your published family histories. Some locations welcome donations even if the link to a location is non-existent.
I’ve learned from a collector of Books of Mormon that it’s not wise for historical books to only be in the place where you would expect to find them. If all the historical copies of the Books of Mormons appear in Utah repositories, which are then destroyed by fire, all copies will disappear. So, this collector deposits his collection at Harvard, Princeton, and other archives around America.
The same thing can happen to you. Donate your family histories to the logical place and then any place willing to accept family histories.
A copy of my memoir, From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown, is part of Arkansas's genealogical library collection. Although I never lived there, the library wanted to preserve my pageant perspective and asked for a copy.
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Writing Preserves the Work You’ve Completed.
After my Ohio research trip in 2012, I returned with many facts, stories, and documents. I feared that if I died on the return trip to Iowa (where we were living at the time), I would take the discoveries I had made to the grave with me. Writing dispersed this fear.
In writing about those 120+ ancestors, I gathered all of the photos, stories, and discoveries in one place. Should I die before publishing these books, my family members can pick up where I left off. I could breathe easier, having processed all of the details.
Ultimately, the ‘why’ of writing family history centers around preserving your family history. If no one wants to read it now, they may want to read it in the future. Start today.
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