Friday, March 10, 2006

Writing Your Family History

Beginning to write your family history is not as daunting a prospect as it may seem. You should think of it in steps. That is what you must do anytime you are working on a large project. Think about the steps involved to get you to the next place in the project.

Your first step when you are preparing a family history is to begin by getting a notebook and pens and a carrying pouch. The pouch should be large enough to put full-sized sheets of paper. You want to be able to keep the research you have done that done in one spot. You also should get an accordion file or even a small filing cabinet so that you can keep everything in order. You are going to need to record interviews and the like, so you need to be organized about it.

Once you have the supplies, determine how large you want the project to be. Family histories, even in the United States, which is a relatively new country, can be extensive. You could go back generations if you wanted, and the project could become a lifetime of work. Or you could go back to 1900 or just go back three generations. You need to make the initial determination now. You may change it later. It is perfectly likely that you will think the idea is a wonderful one to do through your grandparents and then decide that you want to go back further. Just get a general idea now of how far you want to go.

Your next step will be to determine what you know. Creating a flow chart is the easiest way to do that for a family history. Use this method for a small number of generations. Write down the names of the people with whom you will begin. If you do not know, then put questions marks. Then you should write down their children. If you are unsure of the number of children they had, indicate such on the chart. If you are sure but do not know the names, then you will want to indicate that as well. Be sure that you make a line from the children to their spouses. Move outward until you reach the current generation.

When you are doing a larger number, such as your family history from the time they reached America, you should work your chart backwards. Begin with you, your siblings, and your cousins of the same generation. Then you should go backward until you reach the farthest point you can go.

Now begin at one end of your flow chart. On a different sheet of paper, write down each name at the top. Then write down everything you know about that person. You will determine where to begin your research using this method. You should write down the dates of birth and death if you know them along with where the live, their education, their occupation, and any other basic information.

Completing the initial information can be tedious. It may take you a while to get started and get everything that you know down. When you are done, begin the interviewing process. It is best to begin interviewing people you know well. Start with your mother or father, for example. At this point, you can show them your research notes. Allow them to correct anything and to add what they know. Even if you think that your parents will not be able to add much, you will be surprised. They may not have told you everything they know, or they may have discovered that your researched jarred some old memories.

After you go through your parents, move on to your grandparents. Then begin asking questions of your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Allow people to talk. Many people, especially older ones, have amazing stories about the family. Give them a voice because you will want to preserve these memories for future generations.

A family history project can be a lifelong obsession. You may want to begin by writing up a brief family history that you can expand into a book. Visit family reunions. Share what you know and get input. Work diligently on your family history.

By Julia Mercer

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