When I started my Family History Writing Challenge last February, I wanted to turn the names dates and places into a story. Throughout the year, I built on that initial push to write the stories of my ancestors, resulting in my narrative project. Sadly, the majority of the individuals who could tell me stories were no longer living. What could I do?
Though I admit to following my curious nature when pursing ancestors rather than keeping detailed research logs, I was very methodical about expanding the story of my ancestors. The process was simple enough for even the most challenging of ancestors with the fewest of documents.
Let’s take a look at how I expanded the story of when my great-grandmother Lura Smith was born. Keep in mind, I have never met this ancestor but I have gathered many sources about her.
Step One: Make a Simple Sentence
Lura Maud Smith was born on 9 February 1884 in Bay City, Bassar, Michigan.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The sentence is factual and rather boring. Yet, how many times do you say, “I don’t know what to write”? No more. You do not have that excuse anymore. What do you write? You start with a very simple sentence that takes the facts off the chart and adds verbs and punctuation. These 14 simple words are a great start.
Step Two: Expand the Sentence to Include Parents
Lura had two parents. The story of her birth should include her parents.
Lura Maud Smith was born on 9 Feb 1884 in Bay City, Bay, Michigan to Andrew Nelson Smith and Emmeline “Emma” Ward.
That sentence now how has 22 words and it’s still boring. I will now expand this sentence to include more information about Lura’s parents. I’ll include her parents’ ages, where they were from and perhaps what their occupation at the time of her birth. To keep the tutorial brief, I’ll state that the majority of this information was obtained from her birth record, her parent’s marriage record, and using the group sheet above.
Lura Maud Smith was born on 9 Feb 1884 in Bay City, Bay, Michigan to 27 year-old Andrew Nelson Smith and 16 year-old Emmeline Ward. Emma Ward was a native of Michigan while Andrew Smith was from Central College, Delaware, Ohio. They had been married for one year prior to their daughter’s birth.
The addition of these facts greatly expanded Lura’s story. I have shared a little more about her parents. Her father was much older than her mother, with the mother being 16, just into adulthood. You can now see that Emma and Andrew were from different states and had been married for one year prior to Lura’s birth.
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Step Three: Expand the Sentence to Discuss the Child’s Name
Many cultures have naming traditions. That is not the case with Lura, but at this stage, I could expand the birth story for an ancestor if that applied. Lura, however, was often mistranscribed as Laura. Her name was often mispronounced. Future generations might appreciate knowing how to say and spell your ancestor’s name if there is a chance of possible confusion.
Lura Maud Smith was born on 9 Feb 1884 in Bay City, Bay, Michigan to 27 year-old Andrew Nelson Smith and 16 year-old Emmeline Ward. Often, Lura’s name is often presented as Laura. However, Andrew and Emma did name their oldest child Lura (lʊər-ruh) not Laura (lAW-ruh). Emma Ward was a native of Michigan while Andrew Smith was from Central College, Delaware, Ohio. They had been married for one year prior to their daughter’s birth.
The 14-word sentence based on a basic profile of Lura has now expanded to 75 words. And slowly the story of Lura is taking shape.
Step Four: Expand the Sentence to Discuss other Children in Family
So often, family histories briefly mention the siblings of ancestors and it’s such a shame. A chart could demonstrate that there are five children and your ancestor was the third among those children. What a chart does not clearly show is just how old siblings were when a child entered a family. Often, you can see age gaps on a chart, but sentences that say, the older children were separate from the middle two by 6 years and the last child by another 13 are clear. Then you can understand a phrase such as, “Mom always said she had three sets of children”.
The sources for sibling information, if you’re lucky, may be present in journals, family stories, photos, and more. If you only have group sheets, you can still comment on siblings in your ancestor’s birth story.
Lura Maud Smith was born on 9 Feb 1884 in Bay City, Bay, Michigan to 27 year-old Andrew Nelson Smith and 16 year-old Emmeline Ward. Often, Lura’s name is often presented as Laura. However, Andrew and Emma did name their oldest child Lura (lʊər-ruh) not Laura (lAW-ruh). Emma Ward was a native of Michigan while Andrew Smith was from Central College, Delaware, Ohio. They had been married for one year prior to their daughter’s birth. Lura would be the couple’s only child for eight years before her brother Earl was born.
Lura’s story is now 91 words and provides more perspective than an entry on a chart. Having previously gathered records about Lura and her family members, this process was relatively painless. The resources will be shared at a later date. For now, I wanted to focus on the process of writing.
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5 Steps to Quickly Write About Your Ancestors
Far too often the writing process is explained in complex terms. As such, few individuals will begin crafting a family narrative because the process seems too difficult. When I broke down the writing process into simple, achievable steps, I found myself looking forward to the process with each successive ancestor. The best part was that writer’s block was rarely a challenge for me.
Go ahead. Start writing the stories of your family members. Write a paragraph about when your ancestor was born. Don’t worry that it’s not a gripping story with rich details of the weather, setting, and so on. That can come later if you so choose. It would be far better to write something like the last paragraph when Lura was born than to not write anything at all.