Writing a family history is very time-consuming, but very rewarding in many ways. It is a great way to understand your loved ones and to preserve their memories. It is a wonderful way to help children appreciate and learn from the past. It is a way to help them and us understand “if they can do hard things, so can we!”
After writing several histories, I have learned a few tricks that I want to share on this blog.
Collect Your Stories
Once you have decided whose history you want to write about, you need to collect information about that individual or those individuals. Most historical data is included as stories, and stories are what most people want to read about. Stories are the stuff that helps us identify with the characters and remember who they are.
Schedule regular times to interview. Because collecting stories takes time, I suggest carving out several hours each week to interview the person/persons you are writing about. (For example, keep your schedule open for interviews every Friday morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon.)
Prepare questions to jumpstart your interview. If you don’t know where to start in your interviews, you can google family history questions online to help you get started (and keep you going).
Interview as many people as you can. If your history includes stories about a married couple (i.e., your parents and/or grandparents), you can interview them together or separately. Sometimes, one spouse remembers details about the other’s history better or can add details to a story. Also, locate and interview the children, siblings, grandchildren, and friends of those you are writing about. These critical people can fill in blanks and enhance the original stories with their memories.
Record your stories. If taking notes while interviewing, plan to transcribe your notes quickly so you don’t forget the details. Otherwise, use a good recording device you can easily transport. Some recording systems include “voice to text” apps that make the transcription part of the history much easier.
Find other documentation to support interviews. Because time changes the details of a good story, find journals or other historical documents to enhance the interview process. Think how much information you might find in the parents’ journal of those you are interviewing! Ask to make copies of certificates, newspaper clippings, letters and emails, calendars, to-do lists, and anything else that adds to the original stories. Because the memories of the interviewees may be faded, remember that historical documents trump any memories and verify specific dates.
Use other resources. One great resource for extra information is Familysearch.org. It contains not only birth, marriage, and death dates, but it also includes stories and memories and photographs that you can add to your history. In addition to this, you can google information about specific places, schools, and people. Many cities have established historical websites and/or archival photographs. You can find wonderful information and photos from these sites.