You might have read that title and thought, “Well, she would say that!” or, “I’d love to, but my family history just isn’t interesting enough to go to all that trouble. I disagree – everyone has stories that deserve to be shared!
Here are 10 reasons why you should start writing your family history today.
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1. Share What You’ve Learned
You might have finally solved the decades-long family mystery about Great-Aunt Ethel, or learned why your branch of the family moved to a new town. Perhaps you’ve uncovered family traditions that have died out, but that you could revive. Or you’ve found something surprising about how your ancestors lived, loved and worked. You don’t want the discovery to get forgotten again!
2. Don’t let Your Hard Work go to Waste
A genealogy project can be time-consuming and expensive, but when you’re passionate about it, it’s worth all the hard work. You’ve invested in finding out as much as you can about your ancestors, so make the most of it.
If you don’t record what you’ve uncovered and pass it on then your research and discoveries will die with you – that’s the cold hard truth. Think about how frustrating it’s been when your own investigations have stalled, how much time and money you’ve had to invest in solving brick walls or proving connections. Leaving your findings in an easy-to-read format will help future generations of genealogists in your family!
3. People Love a Family History Story
We’re all human, and we connect via stories. Your family are far more likely to read a narrative than to analyse a spreadsheet. Leaving just names and dates behind isn’t going to interest anyone.
Look for ways to bring some colour and interest to your ancestors. Make them real, relatable people, not just names on a family tree. Focus on the stories, what were your ancestors’ lives like, what troubled them, what did they dream about. Leave behind a record of who these people were, and what their place was within a wider historical context.
4. Re-evaluate Your Ancestors
Writing about your ancestors forces you to look at them in a different light. As you piece together their life, you’ll think about the wider historical context, examining questions you’d never thought to ask before. You’ll start to think of them in the context of the time in which they lived.
Did they live through a war? A time of political or religious unrest? A period of disease, famine or extreme poverty? What would their experiences have been like compared to the generation before or after? How would those things have shaped their opinions and values?
Answering these types of questions will lead to a far greater and deeper connection with both the past, and your ancestors’ place within it! You’ll also get a clearer idea of how their past has shaped your present.
5. Spot Gaps in Your Research
Collating and writing up your research allows you to easily spot any gaps or holes. Are you missing a source somewhere? As you begin to piece together your narrative, make a note of where those gaps come up.
When you’ve outlined your findings, you can go back and work out how to fill in the holes. Do you need to speak to a family member for their recollections? Go back to the archives, or chase up a birth, marriage or death certificate?
Writing your family history often leads you to look at your sources with a fresh perspective. You might suddenly find that there are hidden clues that you’ve missed simply because you haven’t thought about them in the right context.
Allocate some time to shore up your research, write your family history and make it even more valuable to your descendants. Doing this might uncover something exciting that you weren’t even aware of!
6. Having a Structure Helps You Find Connections
Thinking about the structure of your writing helps you to examine the connections between individuals in your family history. There might be characteristics that you feel pop up every couple of generations or recurring themes such as poverty, widowhood, entrepreneurship or crime. Writing up your findings makes these themes easier to spot.
These connective threads throughout the generations help to make our ancestors more relatable. It’s easy to think that we have nothing in common with people who died centuries ago, but of course we do!
Tip: Consider structuring around themes rather than individuals. Look for repetition in your tree – like rags to riches, people that didn’t conform, evidence of romantics or bigamists!
7. Get Creative!
Sitting down to write your family history (and it doesn’t have to be done all in one go!) gives you a chance to unleash your creativity. You get to tell a unique story that cannot be replicated by anyone else. You’ll know from your research that fact is often stranger than fiction!
We’ve all had that “Wow!” moment when we’ve uncovered a story that was lost to time. Wouldn’t it be great to give your family, friends or fellow genealogists a few ‘wow’ moments’ too?
8. Write Your Family History in Whichever Way You Like
You can flex your writing to suit you and your needs. There is no right or wrong way to write, and there is no one format. You can write a book if you want to, have a series of blog posts or have summary articles where you share your top findings
You could get really creative, and make it multi-media! As well as photos, what else could you include to make your family history really come to life? Could you add audio clips from interviews with older relatives, a piece of music from a particular time period, or even a video tour of the family home or village?
9. ‘Cousin Bait’ Long-Lost Relatives
By sharing your writing publicly, whether that’s wikis, blogs, Facebook posts or newsletter articles, you’re effectively laying ‘cousin bait’. This is a good thing! Your research finds will encourage distant relatives to get in touch and share their own findings.
They may have photos or documents that you’ve been hunting for. Connecting with cousins from different branches of the family is a great way of filling in some of those gaps I mentioned. You never know what you might find out, so make your research easy for them to find.
10. Writing Your Research Processes is Good Practice
Taking time to write up your research processes and evidence statements is good practice, even if you don’t feel like doing it. Why? Because it means you’ll always know “how you know something”.
It gives you a space to explore brick walls or indefinite answers – without needing to clog up your database with “possible” finds. Being methodical with your findings makes it easier to track backwards and forwards and work out what else you can add.
BONUS: Write Your Family History for Yourself
The 10 points above are all good reasons to write up your findings, but really, you should do it for yourself. Pulling everything together to create a comprehensive family story will give you a huge sense of satisfaction, and serve as real, tangible evidence of what you did, and who your ancestors were. And that will feel great!
Furthermore, writing itself can become a joyous activity. A hobby just as enjoyable as genealogy….and I think we all deserve to take a little time to do the things we enjoy, don’t we?
BONUS: Find Your Family History Writing Tribe
It’s all very well knowing the benefits of writing your family history, but that doesn’t mean actually doing it will come completely naturally to everybody.
Some people become overwhelmed by all the size of their tree and all the facts they’ve collated.
Others might struggle to find stories amongst ‘less eventful’ ancestors or get frustrated by gaps in their research.
Genealogy research rabbit holes are fun! Nothing beats the joy of finding yourself utterly fascinated by some random part of your family history. Whether your
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