Friday, May 26, 2017

NERGC 2017 – Writing a Family History

I looked forward to this session, since I am to give a Writing Your Family History presentation to our genealogical society at its September meeting. There is no better person to learn about writing from than Warren Bittner.

It’s important to know the concept of your story. Are you using information from diaries, letters, or first hand accounts? To fill out your ancestors, search all the records: Military, court, probate, contemporary letters and diaries. Analyze each document and understand it in its historical context. Read local histories and family histories. Know the law at the time your ancestor lived. Understand their ethnic and religious background. How did those affect your family? What was the educational philosophy of the time? Know their medical history.

When you have completed an exhaustive search following the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), according to the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), you can then start writing.

Hook the reader from the first sentence. This applies to all writing, but might not be so apparent when writing family history. Choose a significant event or an interesting ancestor. Start with action, and begin the story in the middle or near the end. Get the reader hooked, define the story’s theme, and add context to your ancestor’s lives.

Use active voice, strong verbs (Warren included an extensive list), and make every word work. Make every sentence advance the story. Describe (if you can) your ancestors and the places they lived. Did your ancestor (s) change over the years? If so, how?

There are a number of ways to present your family story. Find what works best for your family, and enjoy the writing journey.

P.S. The writing process will show you what details you are missing.

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