Help Your Ancestors Live Forever – Write Your Family History

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I recently wrote an article on this website about having fun in one’s research and how sometimes we get stymied or bored in that pursuit.  If you wish to read it, it can be found Here 

What struck me in writing that piece, as well as the comments that I received, was that a lot of folks are, in my opinion, much too focused on dates and documenting dates, and sources of those dates.

For me, I am interested in assuring to as much a degree as possible, through research that Great Uncle Isaac was indeed married to Great Aunt Carrie. And it is useful to know that they were married on July 26, 1887 and that he died on June 7, 1931, both events occurring in San Francisco, California. That’s nice, but I am more interested in knowing why he left the family business to be a stage electrician for the California and Columbia Theaters and other prominent San Francisco theaters in the 1900’s.  And why of the four brothers who were the sons of Louis and Caroline Marks, he was the only one who had a stable life, and didn’t go to prison, or desert his wife.

Again, my opinion – dates don’t cut it for me. If this pursuit was all about dates, I would quit in a heartbeat.

So what I try and do is to write the stories of my ancestors, from sources such as verbal family stories (and rumors from time to time), newspaper articles, photos, documents, letters, etc.

One of the branches of my family tree has what I call “The Memorable Seventeen.”  The complete post can be found Here

And here is a summary of the Seventeen:

  • One lived his life in a mental institution
  • One committed suicide
  • One was nearly murdered at his business
  • One escaped the Nazis by traveling to Shanghai and Palestine
  • One escaped the Nazis by traveling to England
  • One was born in California
  • Two were murdered in Nazi concentration camps
  • Two were in the German army in World War I
  • One was in the American army in World War I
  • 11 immigrated to America
  • Two never married
  • Two were tailors
  • One owned a hardware store
  • One owned a barber shop
  • One owned a bicycle shop in Germany and America
  • One was a gambler
  • One was a cook in a convalescent home
  • One owned a dry cleaners
  • Only one stayed in Germany after World War II
  • The first to immigrate to America was a seventeen year old girl – all by herself with no one to meet her at her destination.

And the message is:

EVERYONE OF THESE HAD A STORY AND THEY DESERVE TO BE REMEMBERED, AND IF WE DON’T WRITE THEIR STORIES – WHO WILL?

So what are the reasons that you should write your family history:

  1. I am going to repeat myself – if we don’t write it – who will?
  2. It’s fun
  3. It honors your ancestors
  4. It keeps them alive forever
  5. If you post the stories on the Internet, you might find a “cousin”
  6. You may inspire some of your known relatives to participate and share more stories and photos and documents than they already have (if they have).
  7. You are going to die some day and the stories could then be lost forever
  8. Did I say it is fun?

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not a very accomplished writer.  Oh – I can get the important facts and ideas out, but I don’t have any discipline, or a writing plan, or whatever.  I use short blog posts as my stories – and then copy into a Word document in case I ever want to tie the stories together into a book.  If you are remotely interested in my family history websites, they are Braunhart Mania and Marksology

I am more of a “spitter of words.”  And sometimes it comes out OK and sometimes it doesn’t.

But you know what – I don’t care.  And I suspect that at this juncture, my ancestors don’t care either.

Now I do know of a couple of folks in the family history world who are much better writers than myself, and who actually have a plan, and have written about the writing of family history. I encourage you to read the materials on their sites.  They are very helpful. The first, Lynn Palermo, is the author of the site The Armchair Genealogist You can find on her site numerous articles about writing your family history.  She has actually published her families history – I suggest you review her many helpful articles. The second is Caroline Pointer, whose suggestions regarding family history writing revolve around a family history blog that you might create, and how to write the blog posts (stories) that will inhabit your site.  Her family history writing site is Blogging Genealogy.

So sports fans, write a story or two, or twenty, or a hundred.  It doesn’t matter where you write it or how you publish it, but I guarantee that you will have fun doing it and you will feel good about keeping the memories of your ancestors alive.


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23 Comments

  1. Hi Martha,
    Thanks for the compliment. I do my best to get the point across.
    Kenneth

  2. Love this post! And yes, I so agree with you about the importance of writing the stories of our ancestors. And, yes, it is fun.
    I particularly like how you itemized the life events/experiences of your “Memorable Seventeen” ancestors. I’m tempted to try that exercise myself with one or more branches on my family tree.

    1. Thanks Jana for dropping by. If you have done some “story” research on that branch, I suspect that their stories will yield a bunch of very interesting “one liners” like I have in my “Memorable Seventeen.” It is a fun list to put together.
      Thanks,
      Kenneth

  3. Thanks Kenneth. It’s all about the stories! And you are an excellent writer. I believe truly that we need to get out of our own way when it comes to telling our stories. You can be a family historian and a family history writer. And yes it is fun and extremely rewarding. Just need to move past those voices in your head. Thanks for the mention.

  4. Thanks Lynn for the compliment. I see a good writer as one who plans and outlines, etc. Obviously the story has to come out right as well.
    I don’t do any of that. I get an idea, start writing, edit and go. I just go for it and whatever comes out is generally 95% of the way it turns out. It’s easy when there are only a couple hundred words or so in a short FH story.
    And I don’t have voices in my head telling me the “right” way to do things. If I did I wouldn’t write anything.
    One has to match their writing style to their personality IMO.
    Thanks again,
    Kenneth

  5. I too enjoy your posts! I agree with your thoughts on getting the stories . . . that’s much more important to me also . . . love your style, Ken! . Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks Gini for visiting and for the compliment. I appreciate it. And thanks for the support!
      Kenneth

  6. Your memorable 17 are indeed memorable. I used to want to write a book but was frustrated by the inability to sustain a chronology. My blog satisfies my need to keep my ancestors alive and tell their stories. I guess I’m a “spitter of stories,” random vignettes.

    1. Wendy,
      Thanks for visiting. I suspect that every family has a “Memorable 17” or 12 or 22. Regarding a book, I am not sure that chronology is the answer. In my case I suspect I will write one about one family (the Braunharts) of 4 or 5 generations. I think one just needs to find a thread that runs through a number of people/ancestors.
      So we keep writing in whatever form it takes – it is a good thing.
      Kenneth

  7. Love this very timely and helpful post… I’ve been thinking I mustmustmust get more written on my family history! And a bit at a time, just whatever comes up as I research and write… I have some lovely bits attached to ancestors in the Notes section – time to get them out into a document and into the light, I think!

    1. Celia,
      Thanks for visiting. BTW Celia was my grandmother’s name. Lovely name.
      My advice is just go for it. Fortunately no teacher or professor is grading us, so whatever you write I expect will be terrific.
      Thanks,
      Kenneth

  8. Great article. I’m struggling to put some stories together right now. I’ve don’t the research, I have the ideas, and I have some good material, but I just can’t seem to tell the story. This article helped me a great deal.

    1. Thanks for visiting Grant. My advice is – just go with it. I am sure that whatever you write will be good. As long as you focus on the story (and not dates, etc.) I am sure it will be interesting. If you can intersperse some photos, document images and/or newspaper articles, It will no doubt be interesting.
      Thanks,
      Kenneth

  9. I’m with you – on everything! I too, am a “spitter of words” – I just didn’t know what to call it. I rarely, if ever, have a plan. Sometimes it comes together well; sometimes not. But it is fun. And somebody needs to do it. Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Kathy,
      Thanks for visiting. My view is whatever it takes to get our stories published via a blog or otherwise is all that matters. We don’t have to be Shakespeare!
      Thanks

  10. I love doing genealogy, but I am not sure why I’m doing it. I am the last of my family. My parents are gone, all of their siblings are long gone and the ones that married and had children, the children died quite young. I was an anomaly in our family. I grew to adulthood. I do have children, so I guess I’m doing it for them. But with no living relatives it makes it very hard to find stories. I have all the dates and have been to some of the places that they lived, but not many stories on why they did what they did. Why they moved around so much, and why so many of the family never married. I have no cousins to compare stories with or to verify the rumors that I heard growing up. I would love to write about the family, but all I have are the census and military records and probate records, not many stories. How could I possibly make anything out of that?

    1. Peggy,
      Thanks for visiting. Yes your situation is challenging and a bit sad for you.
      I would recommend that you search high and low through newspaper databases and archives. That would likely provide the best opportunity to find out more about your relatives and ancestors lives. Also if there were any close neighbors or friends, there might be some stories for you there.
      I wish you the best of luck.
      Kenneth

    2. Your story is that you were the lucky one in your family to live long enough to have children to keep your family line going!

  11. I’m enjoying rummaging around in your blog and bookmarking and/ “pinning” things to help me in the future. I am a beginning family historian and genealogist. What I love best are the stories. I try to research what is happening around in the area and culture at the same time as that helps me tell a better story. Context can give life to the bare bones of documented dates, at times.
    Thank you so much for all your helpful articles!
    Jo

    1. Thank you Jo. I am glad that my site is helpful. I love the ancestor stories the best also!

  12. I HAVE STARTED WRITING MY FAMILY HISTORY STORY. I AM WONDERING IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND A SIMPLE PROGRAM. [FOR MY SIMPLE MIND!!!!!] GEEZ, I HAVE BEEN USING WORD…BUT MY PHOTOS WON’T STAY PUT!!
    I AM EXCITED ABOUT THIS ADVENTURE! AND I DID FIND DISTANT RELATIVES ON A MESSAGE BOARD!!!
    I ACTUALLY AM EXCITED ABOUT FINDING YOU!!
    KGB

  13. Love the photo above. Would love to use it on a new website. Where did you get it or can I use it.
    Thank you

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