Join the DNA Recombination Project

Posted by Andy Lee Family History Fanatics is starting the DNA Recombination Project. You can be a part of it. All we need is some ba...

08 January 2011

Writing Family History - Should I Include That?

I've started trying to compile bits of family history together to create a) a scrapbook and b) a family history book. The scrapbook will have the condensed version of my ancestor's life while the book will be more in depth.

For one particular female ancestor, I have several sheets of her journal, a life history that she started, a personal history form, pictorial review, and other sources of information. As I'm trying to mesh these sources into one narrative, I keep coming across this question: Should I include that?

A narrative history is a story form of a person's history. It takes a name and a date on a family tree and makes them a real person. (Okay, it's more technical than that, but that's the short version). The goal is to get to know that ancestor's life, times, and thoughts. In cases where there is a lot of information to pull from, creating a narrative can be challenging.

For instance, when writing about an individual's early years. Do you include when the babe first sat up, first rolled over, first walked? The individual in question had a life span of 60 years. Does this information really matter? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

During the person's youth, they have playmates. Do you include every friend they ever played with? Do you just list them briefly and summarize what games they played? Do you include a few brief examples of the ancestor in question playing a specific game with a specific friend?

Humans go through a natural changing process during the teenage years. Should you include when the person experienced those changes and their reactions to it?

Also, some ancestors dated a lot of individuals, some dated none. With the ancestors who dated or had crushes on numerous individuals, do you include every crush or boyfriend? Or can you highlight one or two and sum up that the person "had many crushes and boyfriends"?

How about an activity that covers many pages of documentation? If the person in question was in a sport and wrote about many activities and events associated with that sport, then how do you treat that in your family history book or scrapbook?

I suppose there are some 'easy' answers. Perhaps some things can be put into a chart (baby milestones) and included on a page with other details. In the case of baby milestones, if there is an anecdote associated with a milestone, that should be included. For instance, my grandmother commented that though my mother 'officially' started talking when it was 2, the mother felt her daughter was born talking. This suggests that the child was quite the talker. I later learned that my mother got into trouble at school, work, church, etc for talking too much. This coincides well with my grandmother's belief that her daughter was born talking. That makes a great piece for a narrative. It's more rich than, "started talking at 2."

For others such as the maturity process, it could be mentioned or not mentioned. If mentioned, perhaps it could be very brief. If the information is in a diary, it might be best left there. I'm not certain. It's a judgment call.

What about the ancestor with the numerous associations with the opposite sex (aka boy crazy or girl crazy, though those are 'modern terms' and not a great fit when discussing the past)? My guess is that when my kids read about their ancestor their interest is not really in who and how many people the ancestor was involved with prior to their marriage. Perhaps inclusion of the first boyfriend/girlfriend and possibly another one who impacted the person's future dating experiences could be included. Otherwise, it might be wise to keep these interactions in the ancestor's journal.

Learning about my ancestors has been truly a great experience. Time and space don't allow for the inclusion of everything that has been documented about or by an individual in question. Decisions have to be made by a family historian. In making these decisions, I don't want to alter the history of the individual on the one hand. On the other, I don't wish to create a boring narrative by not excluding information better left in other documents.

It's a tough balancing act. When done correctly, a compelling book about an ancestor does result.


  1. I came across your blog at Geneabloggers. I really like your thoughts here. Some (personal) things are better left unsaid. However, if you have names of friends or boy/girlfriends, definitely include them. If nothing else, it may provide a clue for another researcher as to where their ancestor was, what type of person they were, etc., especially if you can relate it in a story. You never know ... your published history may be the sledgehammer someone needs to break down a brick wall!

  2. Jenny... thanks for the thought. I guess I'll have to think about the boyfriend question in a new light. I plan on printing scrapbooks, research books, history books, and potential transcriptions of diaries. Perhaps the printing of the diary would be a great place for those names. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi, per your comment "that when my kids read about their ancestor their interest is not really in who and how many people the ancestor was involved with prior to their marriage"

    When I was younger, and even now, I would have been very interested to know a relative dated more than 1 person before they married. It always seemed to me that for some of these ancestors there was so little of their day to day lives and knowing some of them didn't want to settle for the 1st boy or girl that came along would have been great to know. Just my two cents, and your post also has me thinking about what to do with some of our family secrets. Thanks for sharing.

  4. No problem Jeri. Thanks for the comment. Definitely something to consider. And you're right, the day to day things really do matter and make the family members more real. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Related Posts Plugin