Devon Noel Lee
What's the point of writing a family history if nobody will read it?
Do you ever think to yourself, "what's the point of writing a family history if no one is going to read it?"
If you do, chances are you become discouraged easily and put off writing and publishing your genealogical discoveries.
Write About What You Love
I discovered great advice from a writer’s subreddit that you might enjoy.
The critical line in this advice is to do it ‘because it’s what you love.’ You love the ancestors you have researched and compiled into your family tree. You love your living and future relatives and want them to connect to their heritage.
Use that love to leave a legacy for someone to enjoy at some future date. Your story can benefit extended family members even if you do not have direct descendants.
Many libraries, archives, genealogical societies, and history museums may welcome your published family history. At some future date, a descendant of your common ancestors will find your work and praise your name.
Become a Better Genealogist
To become a better genealogist, you must incorporate writing as part of your skill set.
My colleague, Yvette Hoitink, CG®, is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She wrote a great post a few years back about how working with clients helped her become a better researcher. One of the first reasons involves writing.
I especially liked this comment,
“Writing things down like that forces you to slow down and take note of every detail. It triggers processes in the brain that don’t happen when you just add facts to your family tree software.”
I couldn’t agree more.
A well-written family story depends on gathering facts and compiling them in an approachable way. As you find records and analyze each clue to ensure they fit together, magic happens. Not only does your ancestor come alive in your mind, but you can also write about this person as if you knew them intimately.
While writing a story, you may discover that your well-documented family tree does not fit together. These red flags send you back into genealogy records to figure out why.
In short, the fastest way to become a better genealogist is to write document-based and social context-enhanced family histories.
Do you want to write a family history book?
Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:
Writing Preserves the Work You’ve Completed.
One of the biggest concerns for genealogists centers around “what will happen to my research when I die?”
Somewhat related questions to the fear our genealogy won’t survive after we pass away connects with these questions:
What happens when we downsize a loved one’s or a friend’s home?
What happens during disaster recovery following a flood, fire, tornado, or the like?
More specifically, what typically happens to the genealogically relevant documents and artifacts during any of these situations?
In most cases, the genealogy records are rarely preserved unless a family history fanatic is on hand to take possession of such material or rescue it and attempt to salvage what remains.
However, we can proactively save our genealogy research by turning the records and facts into a portable and tangible format.
Solve the question of what happens to your research when you die
Since 2012, I have been the sole matriarch of my family. I am also the only adult actively trying to preserve our family stories. Previously, I feared death because I could have taken all of my family history discoveries to the grave.
However, writing dissolved this fear.
After writing rough drafts for over 120 ancestors, my family members can pick up where I left off should I not live long enough to convert the drafts into published stories. To date, I published two books. I have 118 more to go.
But, having written those books, how can I ensure that the books survive into the future?
Reprints Prevent Disaster
In 2017, I displayed some of my genealogy research in our local library to promote family history. Unfortunately, on August 17th, the library flooded, and water damaged many of my books.
Thankfully, I could reorder my published books and replace them on my shelf.
Had I displayed original documents or journals, I would have been devastated at their loss if I had not digitized those materials before the flood.
Again, I feel grateful that during the floods in Houston and the recent fires in New Mexico, I didn’t worry about my family history. Everything is digitized, and the books I have written make it so that I do not have to decide between putting my genealogy or my clothes in an escape vehicle.
Donate Books to Archives
Whether you publish a digital or physical copy of your family history, you can donate them to libraries.
For example, a copy of my memoir, From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown, is part of the library system that serves Bentonville, Arkansas. The genealogy collection curator wanted stories from around the country in case a more logically located library was damaged.
Check out libraries where you live or did live previously to find out which ones will accept donations of your published family histories.
If you can not find a local library for your research, reach out to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Their Genealogy Center accepts published books and other genealogy materials.
You can also donate digital copies of your books to two other resources:
You have many avenues for donating your family histories. However, I will caution you against donating family histories that contain living persons to the libraries listed above. You could find yourself in some hot water with your loved ones by sharing their private information. Therefore, for the books you write that contain living persons, make plans to have those items donated after they pass.
You Have No More Excuses
Hopefully, you will feel encouraged and motivated to write your family histories even if you think no one will read them. If this isn’t motivation enough, feel free to share a copy with me. I will be happy to be someone you know that will read and appreciate what you write. Send me a digital link to your story using this contact form.
Start Writing Today
Ultimately, the ‘why’ of writing family history centers around preserving your family history. Do not disparage the fact that no one wants to read it today. You will be surprised who will want to read your stories in the future.