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What Type of Family History Do You Plan to Write?

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Jan 17 13 7:27 AM

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Welcome everyone, we have a ton of new members and we are gearing up for an exciting month. I'll have the first newsletter out to you this weekend and we'll address getting organized to start writing in a few short weeks. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about what type of family history you plan to write? 

Your family history can take on a multitude of formats, a family history blog, narratives for a legacy book, a family history memoir, a personal memoir, personal essays, a novel based on your family history. Let me hear from you, what type of family history do you plan to write?

 While I have you hear let me know what one piece of information, education you think you need to move you forward. I want to be sure the 28 plus emails you'll be receiving from me over the next month will be valuable to you. By knowing your challenges and the type of family history you plan to write I can focus the newsletter appropriately. So let me hear from you and let's get ready to write.  

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#1 [url]

Jan 17 13 2:55 PM

I plan to write one chapter of a family history narrative. The central figure immigrated from Ireland about 1760, fought in the Aerican Revolution in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, had two families and moved to western Tennessee in the early 1820s. A lot of moving in times of limited transportation and a war experience that includes General (Benedit) Arnold and a penchant for always leaving an area just before a battle with the British. I have a time line and a GPS linking him to a daughter in my line. I'm thinking I'll start with a chronological outline in hopes I can meld it into a flashback story style. I have a goal of writing a single chapter of a five chapter family history narrative anticipating I'll learn so much over the next month that I can continue with confidence and ease with the remaining chapters.


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#3 [url]

Jan 18 13 5:11 AM

Hi Lynn,I'll be writing a family history memoir which includes personal memoir. It focuses around the promise I made to my husband's cousin Hattie to tell "the story." She was one of the originators of the George Family Reunion Committee, and I am her predecessor as the Carter Family historian. She challenged me 8 months before her death to write the story of our daughter's, it will also serve as a book on grief recovery. 
I've been reading lots of memoir in the past year...but also novels based on true stories. Right now I'm reading Joyce Carol Oates' The Gravedigger's Daughter, and then her personal memoir, A Widow's Story.There are some sensitive issues in my story connected to a close friend of mine. In the past I have contemplated writing this as a novel, but I think a memoir would have greater impact. I just have to be careful in that area...and I plan on sending her copies of anything containing her story (which she gave me in a taped interview about 6 years ago) for her approval. My goal for the Challenge is to outline the whole book, and write the opening and closing chapters. These I have freshest in my mind. I plan on using Scrivener, but would also LOVE to get Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Pro software! But that may have to wait for later. I also started a new blog (linked to my main blog page) that I will be using just for writing challenges. You can find it at My first post is about the Challenge.

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#5 [url]

Jan 18 13 10:43 AM

This is my first attempt at writing a story.  I plan to write about my paternal grandmother - the only grandparent alive while I was growing up. I have many notes, and some audio recordings from the early 1980s to assist.

The purpose of my story is to provide a family history for my three young grandchildren.  It is not a memoir, although that may be a future endeavor.  This story is about introducing my grandmother and her future husband, and then the main part of the story is about how the two families emigrated from Germany in the mid-1850s, their descendants, and what brought the two families together. The story ends with their marriage, and an epilog that discusses their siblings.

This may be too ambitious of a start. I plan to only provide details about the initial families, and the primary descendants.  I will probably include some information about the early lives of both grandparents.

My wife thinks I should just write about my the one or two of the 3x-great-granparent families that immigrated.  But I think starting at the beginning plans of my grandparents marriage will provide a better structure than just telling the story of their emigration.  

The intent is to describe how after more that 6 generations of being farmers (as far back as I have gotten so far), my grandparent's generation was the one where many of their siblings decided to no longer be farmers.



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#6 [url]

Jan 18 13 10:48 PM

During the challenge, I plan to work on the book I began writing on my dad's family about 2 years ago.  I wrote a few chapters and then had to quit and haven't gotten back to it for a long time.  I'm writing it more like a novel than a traditional family history.  

It starts with my great, great grandfather as a teen and his family's migration from Virginia to Ohio in the mid-1830s.  From there, I'm writing the family's history by decade.  Instead of individual character sketches or biographies, I'm writing it with the characters intertwined so it shows interaction between family members and associated people.

My biggest challenges so far are:
1.ancestors and relatives that I have limited info on.
2. I have a couple of decades that I don't have much of a story for.  Those chapters mostly contain who got married, who was born, who died and where everyone lived.

I know the solution for both of these is to use social history but sometimes that is coming across as "fillers". Yes, i can use social history but I want it to be more than just page fillers and haven't figured out the best way to do this.

Yes, I can write that Mary was a typical farm wife in a particular decade and tell what a day in the life of a farmer's wife would have been like but I want it to be a more personalized picture of my real ancestor and not come across as I don't have much info on this person and am trying to bring her to life by writing generalities about anyone whose life may have been similar. I don't know if this makes any sense to anyone.

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#7 [url]

Jan 19 13 5:06 AM

Hi Tom,

Thanks for checking out my new blog! 

I like the way you're planning your writing. You're moving from what is familiar and then adding back story where it falls in naturally...I think the history of the immigrants could flow from conversation with your grandmother. It sounds really interesting! There are stories I'd like to eventually write about my family's emigration from Wales, England and Russia, but not enough information yet to attempt it.

I wish you the best on this Challenge!

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#8 [url]

Jan 19 13 6:48 AM

As I said in my welcome post I have been researching my family for over 30 years tracing and proving one maternal line back to 1350 also, through marriage I am related to the current royal family of the UK, but then so are many thousands if not millions around the world. In the early 90s I produced a regular family magazine to keep my family informed of the progress being made. Tending to concentrate on those ancestors who had made significant progress in accumulating wealth or climbing the social tree both of which for my generation are lagely irrelevent except interest.  There were much more interesting stories to tell about others who were not rich or not princesses so for the past few years since returning from our travels I have been cocentrating on  ancestors  who were warriors, a tramp, those who were in service, shopkeepers and agricultural labourers etc..

The importance of my change in direction was brought home to me by my 10yr old grandaughter, she had been doing a project at school using a computer the teacher had asked the class to find out the names of their grandfathers, my grandaughter gave the name of one of her maternal grandfather. A week later her mother picked her up from school and she told her mum she was dissapointed she did not have any rich ancestors or princesses in her family and her grandfather was a Poo Merchant. 

What she had discovered was that her grandfather born in 1820s had put down his occupation  as a Manuer Merchant in the 1871 census,  her teacher had explained to the class what a Manuer Merchant merchant was so, her interpretaion was a Poo Merchant, amusing as that may sound, to a 10 yr old with the sort of media pressures young people are under to emulate the stars of the television it was disapointing.  

So, I did some research of my own and produced a story about manure merchants showing how important they were at a time when there were thousands of horses in big cities like London, where her grandfather lived, and that without people like her grandfather to clear up the manure left behind by those horses we would soon be neck high in the stuff.  I found an article in a New York newspaper of 1860 where it was stated that if it was not cleared away by the 1950s they would have manure up to 9th floor of the tallest buildings in the city, it also had a very amusing cartoon which I copied and put in the story. I also gave her a story about one of my ancestors who was one of the first British policemen in 1840, together with another story of an ancestor who at the age of 14 joined the army in 1875 and fought in battles in Egypt, Sudan and India and was killed in WW1 during the battle of the Somme. 

My grandaughter gave a presentation of these stories to her class with the closing remarks that no matter how wealthy or significant your ancestors may be everybody is important as are their acheivments.

So that is the type of family history I plan to write probably by resurrecting the family history magazine together with small booklets for some individuals and groups of proffessions, at the present time I am doing a booklet for warriors of the family. I have proof of several family members involvement going back to the battle of Agincourt as an archer.  So as well as their individual involvement there will also be passages covering how and why, hopefully it will provide future generations interesting stories that give them a wider understanding of life at the time their ancestors lived.               


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#9 [url]

Jan 19 13 7:06 AM

Hi Deb, 

As you say, I am starting with something I am familiar with from discussions with my grandmother in the early 1980s, but unfortunately, she did not know where her grandparents came from in Germany, and did not know the backstory of how they arrived.  I finally uncovered through research last year the emigration process and earlier German Ancestry.  It is this decision to move to America, and their journey to the day when my grandparents get married that makes up much of the story.  

So my current plans, subject to change, are to start with her returning from a trip to visit her future in-laws, and how the new couple are leaving the farming profession.  Then reflect back on how big of a change this is after generations of farmers; and the synchronicity of how the paths of her and her husband's ancestors brought them together.  

From this point in the story, in what I think is a normal History Narrative, one goes back in time generation-by-generation.  But like others have said, there often is not much interesting information going back generation by generation.  I can print that from my genealogy software.

I think what will make it more interesting is to provide the introduction of the two grandparents, and then go back to the decision of two families in the 1850s to emigrate, discuss some of the environment of that time, and then provide a chronology of the lives of these two families. Identify events in the lives of each family, but sticking to the main descendant trail leading to my grandparents.

The story continues through the marriage and the birth of their two sons - a point in time where other family members have left the farm in the early 1920s.   Hmm... in re-reading this, this is probably too ambitious for a 30 day challenge? 

My biggest challenge with the above, is in closing the story - where does it end? Maybe it should end with the wedding?  With an epilogue that discusses how other family members were also leaving the farm.


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#10 [url]

Jan 19 13 2:40 PM

I'm not sure what type of Family History to write!  This is my first attempt, although (in general) I like to write. 

My first thought was to do narratives about different family members, with a plan to incorporate them into one family history narrative document. 

In considering a plan, I believe I would use parallel stories (actually, two separate sets of parallel stories) until my grandparents met in 1904, marrying in 1910.  My grandmother's grandmother was still living until 1920 - she had come over from Ireland, lived in Pennsylvania, then moved to Los Angeles before 1910.  My grandmother was named after her,  my great-great-grandmother, and I am fascinated with her story (almost all of it discovered by research), and feel like she could be the 'main thread' pulling all the other stories together, since she was born in 1843 and lived until after the births of my aunt and uncle (both of whom are deceased) in the 1911-1914 era. 

However, because my intended audience is my family, I am resisting the idea of writing as a 'genealogy paper' with a footnote number at the end of every sentence, and sometimes one in the middle of a sentence.  (Is there any hope for me??)  Because of this, I am considering writing a novel, based on the true story - but I would want to make it clear what was truly known...

Is there a way to document my story as I write it, short of the distraction of very frequent footnotes?  I want to make it flow like a story; and I'm afraid I'll have to write it as a novel to do that.  Which I'm not adverse to doing - but:  I do want family members to understand how incredibly much of the story is true! 

Can anyone help me?



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#11 [url]

Jan 20 13 1:14 AM

Vignettes of individuals and families is what I’m going to write to plant into a genealogy reference book for my family.  I hope to tie it all together with the introduction and epilogue in the style of the films Century Hotel and Last Night where disparate stories collide through a small thread of connection. I guess those will be the real story of the whole but I do feel the need to relate the facts of research for posterity foremost. Yet my family will mostly enjoy a good tale and that’s what I aim for.  Now I need to gather my vignettes before I can even think about the overall story, although it lurks in the recesses of my mind.

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#12 [url]

Jan 20 13 6:56 AM

Thanks Barlyn1 for sharing your story. Very interesting. And your granddaughter  has learned an important lesson that many family historians can heed. Everyone has a story- each equally important. So many don't write or share their stories because they don't think they are special. It's all in how you look at and present. Thanks again. 

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#13 [url]

Jan 20 13 6:59 AM

Well done in mapping out your story. While it may be too ambitious for these 28 days, you should be able to make some substantial progress that will set you up to continue throughout 2013. Isolate where you wish to start, doesn't have to be at the beginning and focus on that for the challenge so you don't get overwhelmed. 

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#14 [url]

Jan 20 13 7:08 AM

Anita, you certainly don't need to footnote your novel/stories. At the end of each chapter you can have a small bibliography to help highlight the sources for your facts in the preceding chapter. This is how I handled by own stories for my family, I've also seen it handled this way in published family history memories. I also made a note in the book that if they wish to explore these sources further I would provide them with a 'genealogy paper' completely footnoted. 

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#15 [url]

Jan 20 13 7:10 AM

Thanks for sharing Samantha, vignettes are wonderful way to write your stories and inject them into a more comprehensive genealogy book. It's a great way to tell your stories while still demonstrating your research. 

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#16 [url]

Jan 21 13 7:57 AM

Lynn, thanks for the encouragement.  I probably will limit my initial undertaking to only the one great-great-grandparent emigration and take it down to to my paternal grandmother.  The other 15 can be done as time and knowledge permits. First I need to get into the habit of converting the research into a readable story. 


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#17 [url]

Jan 21 13 12:21 PM

Hi Group! First timer here:) I have a family history book in the works and have an outline, and most of the introduction. Will be working on a particular chapter that I find less exciting but necessary as it tells the story of the place. My Mom has been doing research since the early 1970s and I'm practically drowning in stuff. Luckily, it's reasonably well organized so that's not the issue... at least I don't think so yet. I just want to get that pesky descriptive chapter done.
Cheers, Diane

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#18 [url]

Jan 22 13 6:12 AM

Welcome Diane, sounds like you have a plan and that's half the battle. And if the plan changes as you move forward there's nothing wrong with that. Do you think the chapter in question is the one that will challenge you the most creatively? What about this particular chapter makes it less exciting for you? Maybe with a little more info we can help you remove any obstacles and help you come at it from a more inspired place? 

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#19 [url]

Jan 22 13 10:38 AM

Thanks for the offer, Lynn:)
It's a chapter about the history of this small mountain town in the Appalachias where my family all converged in the late 1800s. So it's full of sources and facts... not my thing:) I like the stories. But if I leave it utill last, the book might never get done, so the plan is to do it now under the challenge. If I can just write 250 words a day, I'll make it through. And I understand that this chapter is foundational to the premise of the book. So I gotta get it done.
Deb made a comment in another section about getting source materials ready and that is going to be key for me, I think. With resources at my fingertips all I have to do is weave it together into the picture I want to paint... "all I have to do"! Ha!!
Just reread what I wrote, and after watching that wonderful video about breathing an ancestor's time and place, I can see that perhaps I need to shift the approach from what I was thinking of a dry retelling of history - and who wants to read that - to a "story" about the town. Cool! That really helps!!
Cheers, Diane

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#20 [url]

Jan 22 13 12:56 PM

Good morning Forum!
My first time responding, but I've been reading all your comments over the last couple of days - what an amazing collection of stories and lives!
I have absolutely no idea what genre my family history project falls into - it's a mish-mash of lots of different styles. I've spent the last year researching, and now ready to weave it all together - and having the Family History Writing Challenge is a great motivator :)

The tricky part I'm facing at the moment is pulling things together in a harmonious way. The visual resources I have are so wonderful that I want to as many as I can, and I have hundreds of handwritten stories passed on to me from my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It's a gorgeous collection, and I think I'll just have to keep playing around and writing until it falls into place.

I admit to being a compulsive researcher too, and feel a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the project. But I know that this will pass as I get stuck into writing and sorting. I'm committing to 250 words a day (but hoping to do much more), to be done when my little ones have their lunch time nap :)

Grateful for the opportunity to be connected to others in the same boat - wishing you all the best of luck in Feb!

Nat :)

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