Writing Your Own Family History–Enhancing the History

Conduct follow-up interviews. Once you have organized the history, you will want to continue to shape and add to it. As you edit through your draft, make notations of follow-up questions to complete specific stories and then take them to your next interview session so the details can be added to the text.

At this point, you will find that some stories can be included in several places. Your first consideration is to ask where the story fits in chronologically. If it doesn’t matter, put it in a chapter that needs more stories so that each chapter is balanced with approximately the same amount of stories and pages.

With as much detail as possible, you can make inferences about how your character develops from one stage to another. With heaven-sent inspiration, you can understand—and write about—why your grandparents or parents are who they are and how they became what they became.

Add chapter and history titles. With the stories written, add your own chapter titles and give your history a descriptive title. For my grandparents who owned their own road construction company, I entitled their history, Building on a Legacy. My second history about my farming grandparents was called, From Seed to Harvest and included chapter titles of “Raising Crops and Raising Children” and “A Decade of Difficulty and Determination.” The history of my parents—which initially was written to commemorate their 50th anniversary—was entitled, Fifty Stories for Fifty Years. And, in writing the missionary history of my former mission president, I named it after a phrase he translated from Chinese for his dissertation, The Morning Dew Awaits the Sun.

Of course, you can simply name your history after the person you are writing about (i.e., History of So and So).

Include an introductory letter. In each of these histories, I have written a foreword in the form of a letter to the reader—who might simply be my siblings and cousins. In this introduction, you can give credit to those who have helped with the book (i.e., those who have helped scan photos, researched records, created charts, or edited the text). And you can give brief insights of what the history contains and why it should be read. This is a good way to whet the appetite and get people reading your book.

Add photographs and images. With your text the way you want it, add images and photographs to your history. It is important to wait until your text is ready to insert these images to the document, as most photographs take up a big chunk of your document’s memory and may significantly slow your computer function. When I am ready to insert a number or photos, I have found it helpful to divide my chapters into separate documents so I don’t bog things down and so I don’t lose hours and hours of work—which has happened several times when Word crashed with such a large document! Just remember that if you create separate chapters, you need to change the pagination so that the page numbers are correct (i.e., so that Chapter Two doesn’t start on page one).

While adding historical photos, don’t forget to include photos about things which were made by the person/s you are writing about, such as doilies or crocheted items and hand crafted furniture. You can include photos of favorite cars, wedding pictures of children, and pictures of grandchildren when they were younger.

I recommend editing most photos beforehand so that you can crop out unwanted backgrounds (and make the picture bigger) and so that you can change some color photos to black and white (since it is much more expensive to print color photos). I also suggest including captions for each photo and including approximate dates for the images so that readers don’t have to read the text to figure out what the photograph or image is about.

In addition to photographs, you can include the following:

• maps of notable cities
• tables including places where people lived
• tables including cities where one served as a missionary
• images of former schoolhouses or church buildings or steamships
• images of historical figures or procedures not understood today (i.e., a lamplighter in England or a farm implement used with draft horses)
• hand-drawn or computer created blue prints of homes

You can also include images to carry the theme of your history. For example, at the beginning of each chapter in one history, I inserted an image of several strands of wheat to carry the theme of From Seed to Harvest.

Include appendices. The other thing that really completes a history is including appendices of extra, but important information. Here are some ideas of appendices to include:

• Appendix A: Timeline of Important Events
• Appendix B: Patriarchal Blessings
• Appendix C: Photographic Pedigree Charts
• Appendix D: Posterity of William and Mary
• Appendix E: Bibliography
• Appendix F: Index
• Appendix G: Figure and Table Index

For one of my histories, I also included an appendix listing most of the road construction projects of my grandfather’s company. For another history, one index included a Farm Property Timelines (complete with warranty dates and acreage and grantees—all found at the county recorder’s office).

Compile an index. One great way to turn your history into a historical resource is to create an index as one of your appendices. Word has a feature which allows you to highlight specific words and phrases in your document (i.e., individuals and important places and important stories) and then generate an index with its corresponding page numbers. You don’t want to work on your index until your history is pretty much completed, or the page numbers will change when you make corrections.

Note that if you have divided your chapters into separate documents, you will have to make separate indexes for each one and then combine them into one index (with page numbers in order). To make this a bit easier, you ought to make a list of all the words or phrases you want to include in the final index so that you will remember to highlight them in each document.

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