Respond to a Question Writing Sample For SCGS Stars in My Family Tree


Kick your biographical sketch up a notch by focusing on the details that answer a question about your ancestor. Then submit that article for inclusion in the book The Stars in Your Family Tree that the Southern California Genealogical Society will publish in June 2021.


This focused family history narrative takes portions of the biographical sketch and focuses on one aspect of a relative’s life. The story only includes details that answer the question posed, such as the following:

  • Why did Joseph choose to emigrate to Cincinnati, Ohio, from Baden, Germany, in 1849?

  • What did Caroline do after her husband died, leaving her with four children under the age of 5?

  • What was Harry’s military service experience like during the Vietnam War?


During the South California Genealogical Society Webinar on January 9th, I featured the following biographical sketch. (For a link to the webinar, scroll to the bottom.)


Can a blinded Civil War Veteran live a full life?


On 1 June 1864, William James Townsend had surgery that dramatically limited his adult life.


21-year-old William and his younger brother, Milby, served as privates in Company K, 133rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Both men had enlisted on 6 May 1864 and were at New Creek in West Virginia when William became ill.


The dark-haired, blue-eyed William had contracted mumps and erysipelas, causing his eyes to swell shut. Field Doctor Craine’s treatment involved lancing both eyes to drain the swelling. Although William recovered his health, he mustered out on 20 August 1864 due to the complete loss of sight in his right eye and near blindness in his left.


While Milby continued to serve, William returned home to Madison Township, Franklin County, Ohio. Few family members welcomed him home. Both of his parents had died before 1860, leaving his married sister, Elizabeth Helsel to care for her two young children and her younger brother, Perry.


Three months after his discharge, William married 18-year-old Mary Claybaugh on 10 November 1864 in Franklin County, Ohio. Mary was from Pickerington, Fairfield, Ohio, which lay about 10 miles east of Madison Township.


Mary’s family was active in the Union Army, with three brothers in different units. Nicholas served in the 4th Illinois Cavalry Company C and Thomas in the 71st Ohio Regiment, Company G. Five days before their wedding, Mary’s brother Burgess fell to his death while serving the 99th Ohio Regiment, Company K. With brothers fighting, Mary likely found was to support the effort, which likely brought her in contact with the injured William.


After their marriage, children join the Townsend family yearly in their Hamilton Township home. Nancy was born in January 1866, Ida in April 1867, William in May 1868, and Mary in September 1869


Hamilton, 11 miles northeast of Madison, was where William’s widowed sister, Elizabeth, had moved. He either worked as a farm laborer for his sister, his neighbor William Sharp with a farm value of $250,000, or Jacob Swutzenberge, with a farm value of $50,000. While the Sharp farm was more valuable, the Swutzenberge farm had hired multiple farm laborers.


Four more children joined his family, John in Jul 1873, Louisa in Feb 1875, Harry in Feb 1877, and Emma in Jan 1880. By June 1880, only four children lived in the Townsend household. Mary and Louisa both died. Nancy and Ida were living in Groveport, about 10 miles away from their parents. 13-year-old Nancy worked for the Wildermuth family as a servant, while Ida lived with her uncle.


By 1 Sept 1883, William could no longer provide for himself, though he had purchased property. He sought an invalid pension based on injuries sustained during the Civil War. He received a stipend that helped Mary support two additional children: Samuel, born Jul 1884, and Ethel, in Nov 1887.


Dr. C. R. Clement began attending William in 1885 for kidney issues. William Townsend died on 13 November 1889 of kidney failure.


While William struggled to provide for his family as a farm laborer with little sight and sent his children to other homes to work or be cared for by family members, he lived a full life. He married, had ten children, and owed a home. Before his death, he received financial aid. This pension provided his widow financial support throughout the remainder of her life. His eight children, who lived into adulthood, married and started families of their own with more financial stability than their childhood provided.


Total Word Count: 590


FYI: With only ten words left before I hit my 600-word limit, I can include a link to my online tree on FamilySearch for readers to review my citations.


Are you ready to accept the challenge?


Will You Submit an Article That Answers a Question to SCGS?


The above article meets The Stars in Your Family Tree book's requirements that the Southern California Genealogical Society will publish in June 2021, which I mentioned in this previous blog post. It's also a little more interesting than a biographical sketch.


Watch this FREE webinar entitled, "Writing About The Stars in Your Family With Ease" to learn how to write one of the following stories styles


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Additional Family History Writing Articles


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