Do you want to preserve the life of your ancestors and their stories as well? If so then you will want to know how to write a family history book and also what is involved. Please read on as I will explain all that you will need to know so that you can write your very own book.
I first must give credit to Lisa Alzo who has really helped open my eyes and showed me how to truly discover my ancestors. Lisa is a writer, lecturer and genealogist who has over 22 years experience researching family trees. She has written several genealogy books showing how to trace your Polish, Czech or Slovak ancestors.
Her most inspirational book, Writing Your Family History, has given me many tips that I have used during my research. It shows you how to begin your writing project, gives you writing exercises, shows you useful apps, and includes many tips, tools and tricks that you can use.
Who are you writing for?
Before I do begin to help you learn how to write a family history book let me ask you one simple question.
Who are your writing for?
Are you writing just for yourself, close family, extended family or maybe friends? Maybe even a combination of these.
Have you thought that maybe your book will be of interest to local history groups or genealogy societies in your area who can learn from your book
So are you going to write for your family or will it be aimed for the general reader? Ask yourself this question because your audience will dictate several things. It will help tell you what kind of book that you will write, how much of your family tree you will cover and how much detail that you will go into.
Is there a theme to your book?
Are there any common threads that can tie your ancestors together. For example were they from a seafaring background? Or were they known for their rebellious ways.
If there is something that can tie all of them together it could make your book more appealing and readable. You can draw your reader into the story of your ancestors and guide them on a journey as they discover what happened during their life.
Topics discuss in this post:
- Bring out the story of your ancestors!
- Look at the historical events of the time!
- The timeline of your ancestors!
- Review your family history book!
- Family History guidebooks that I recommend!
- My final thoughts on how to write a family history book!!
Other posts that will interest you:
- How To Create A Family History Book – Part 1 – Discusses how you should research your family tree, what kind of book to write, deadlines, where to find information, and more.
- How To Make A Family History Book – Part 2 – Discusses what documents and records to use, what stories to include, organizing your research, and more.
- Making A Family History Book Can Be Fun! – Discusses the layout of your book which includes the cover, contents, foreword, and more.
Bring Out The Story Of Your Ancestors!
While researching your family tree you will uncover many facts about your ancestors. That is what genealogy is all about. You will discover who they were, where they came from, who they married, what work they did, and so on. There is so much that you can discover about them, both offline and online.
Along your family history journey you will have unearthed ‘new‘ branches and people. It will also mean that you have created many boring lists of facts about them.
When it comes to writing a family history book you do not want to bore your readers by including endless charts, reports and lists. By all means include them as they can help clarify relationships between relatives and help break up the text of your book.
Don’t go overboard will all of your research. If the reader is more interested in your ancestor she then they could come to you to see all of what you have uncovered.
Stories bring names and facts about your ancestors to life!
The stories and background information that you will uncover will bring the names, dates and places to life. Stories mixed in with facts are what make a family history book for me.
Adding charts, reports, lists, photographs and more can help make your book more appealing and readable. Trust me I know because I have written my own family history book and it really helps. But the stories binds it altogether.
Other things to add in your book:
- Maps – Showing where your ancestor lived and also the path of their migration.
- Awards – Are there any special achievements that you could include?
- Journal or diary entries – Did they keep a journal or diary? Maybe you could put in snippets from them where relevant.
- Newspaper articles – Did they feature in a newspaper? Do you have the cutout? If so you could add these to your book.
- Letters – Add a letter home from the front perhaps.
- Recipes – These are always fascinating to add to a family history book. They can give an insight as to what your ancestor had to eat but also these recipes can be preserved and passed down through the generations of your family.
All of the above can be included into your book. But I just reiterate to you again do not go overboard. If you feel like your book is getting too big then take it out. Or maybe you could write two or more books.
But I’m not a writer!
You will be!
You may have said to yourself that you’re not a writer. So what? Neither was I when I started to write my family history book.
Over time as you learn more about your ancestors and you write their stories you will develop as a writer. You will learn how to put all the facts together. I know you will because that is what happened to me and it can happen to you.
You don’t have to be a professional writer!
I was able to organize what I had found out about my ancestors and then tell their story from start to finish. I then learned how to fit in the historical events of the time and how it shaped their lives.
I must point out at this stage that when you research your family tree you may discover conflicting pieces of information, such as dates of birth. Do not get discouraged when this occurs. If something isn’t quite right then say so in your book. Your readers will understand.
When it comes to storytelling your relatives will also be a great asset to you as you find out more and more information about your family tree. When interviewing your relatives they too may not think that they are storytellers too.
But soon they will realize that they are when they tell you so many stories, memories and anecdotes about your ancestors.
Bringing old family photos can help to stimulate their mind and bring up a memory that they hadn’t thought of for years. This again is certainly true whenever discussing my ancestors with my father.
Seek permission from your relatives!
I must point out here that if you intend to discuss any living relative in your book then seek permission from them first. You may also need to be sensitive about what you include.
Your relative may feel comfortable sharing with you a particular event in their life. But they may not want to share that with the ‘entire world‘. Of if they do want to share they may only want a part of it disclosed in your book.
The same can also be said of any ancestor of yours that they have information on.
Piece together your ancestors lives!
From the information that you have already found out and from your relatives you will be able to piece together the lives of your ancestors. Anyone that can help you with your genealogy research will offer something in their own way. So if anyone offers their help I would suggest that you take it.
As you continue to learn more about your ancestors you will also learn how to write down what you have found out. So it doesn’t matter if this information comes from certificates, census records, or your relatives. It all helps!
Inevitably there will be brick walls in your research. Sometimes these walls will be unbreakable as there maybe no records available that will help you piece together certain events in your ancestor’s live.
If this is the case then mention this in your book. It may encourage your readers to start their own research and who knows maybe they will be able to break down that brick wall.
Look At The Historical Events Of The Time!
Do you know why your ancestors made the decisions that would shape their lives? Have you even thought about it before or have you just accepted the facts as they are?
You will learn more about your ancestors’ lives if you look at the events that took place at the time of your ancestors. For example, was there a great famine that made your ancestor migrate from Ireland to the United States, or did they just move about the country looking for work?
You can start off by explaining the local or national event and then tie in how this event affected your ancestors and how it shaped their lives. From this you will understand the choices and challenges that your ancestors faced. And you will need to reflect this in your writing so that your readers will empathize with your ancestors.
Looking closer at historical events may also uncover that the stories that you have been told were not even true at all. Yes, your great, great, great grandfather may not have been an explorer but a convict on the run.
Wouldn’t that be an interesting ancestor to talk about?
The Timeline Of Your Ancestors!
When it comes to introducing an ancestor you will want to reel your reader in. You can start off with something exciting or tragic that will have affected them greatly. This is what’s called a hook and it can really help draw your reader’s attention and make the story your telling more interesting.
If you do decide to begin with a conflict that occurred in the family then you will need to be mindful of your readers. Will it upset or offend any of your family who will be reading the book? Do they even know the full events of the conflict or will it be quite a surprise to them that they have an uncle that they never knew for example.
Above all you need to tell the truth, but do not be offensive or defensive with your writing. For me telling the truth also means writing non-fiction. You therefore must learn how to interpret the facts.
And sometimes these facts can be interpreted in different ways. It depends though on who is telling the story. Remember if you are unsure how to interpret a fact then inform your reader.
Don’t embellish stories!
I like a family history book like anyone else. But when it has been embellished with fanciful events that may or may not have happened then it can really be off putting for me.
Some guides I have seen have explained this approach when it comes to writing a family history book. If you do like this approach then that is fine, but it is not for me.
If you are undecided whether to do want to go along with this approach then maybe you could ask your audiences. Ask them what they expect from your book.
Adding cliffhangers and flashbacks!
A hook can draw a reader into an account of each of your ancestors. You could also use cliffhangers throughout your book. A cliffhanger can also be used where you leave your reader hanging at the end of a chapter. They then feel compelled to turn the page to find out what happened next.
I will admit that I do not like the flashback approach where you will constantly go back and forth throughout your ancestor’s lifetime. It just feels jumbled up to me as I have to try and work out in my head what is going on.
I like to tell my ancestors stories from beginning to end, from their birth right up until their death. I will though add a hook at the start where something may have impacted my ancestor sometime during their lifetime and then tell their story.
But the decision is yours!
Either you go with the conventional approach like I have done with my own family history book or by all means try adding flashbacks to your book. After all it is your book so make it your own.
Review Your Family History Book!
When you feel that you have finished writing as much as you can then it is time that a second pair of eyes looks at your work. Often this help will identify errors such as spelling mistakes, grammar, incorrect dates, places, or events, offering a different viewpoint, and so on.
Your helper may also point out:
- Anything that needs further clarification.
- Is the presentation, writing, pictures, etc all consistent?
- Is it too technical, boring or too long-winded?
- Repetition of the same words.
- Proper tense used during the book.
You can acknowledge your helper within the foreword of your book. And if you feel that they did contribute significantly then why not consider adding them as an author?
This stage of your writing project must not be ignored. It is very important because it can help you to correct any of the mistakes I have listed above.
By taking the time to go over your work you may also discover that you may have left something out. You may find that you could go further into detail or maybe there is enough mation you to write a second book.
Family History Guidebooks That I Recommend!
I could not possibly tell you everything that you will need to know about how to write a family history book within just this one post. I have though given you a good overview of what tips that I have learned along my own genealogy journey.
I do though have three books that I will recommend to you that will help make your book possible and also bring it to life. Each of these books have helped me immensely. These three books you can easily purchase from Amazon and have received excellent reviews.
I have already mentioned Lisa Alzo and how her book Writing Your Family History has helped me find out more about my ancestors. It really was a game changer for me. It helped me look beyond the facts to see the story behind them.
Two other books that I recommend are by Gill Blanchard and Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.
In Gill’s book, again titled Writing Your Family History, you will learn how to deal with any gaps of knowledge about your ancestors, how to repeatedly discuss generations that either lived in the same area or had the same jobs, how to develop your writing style and how to include historical events into your book.
Sharon Carmack covers many of the same topics within her guidebook, including how to conduct historical research, organizing materials, outlining and plotting a story, and how to include illustrations and charts into your book.
My Final Thoughts On How To Write A Family History Book!
Writing your family history book can be really exciting. It does though bring up challenges, such as asking whether you have found out everything about your ancestors, or what to include and what to keep out.
I wrote my book whilst I was researching my ancestry. I felt that this was the best approach. You will never fully uncover everything about your ancestor. So now is as good a time as any to put pen to paper, or maybe fingertip to keyboard.
Writing about your ancestors will encourage you to find out more about your ancestors. This is what happened to me. As I learned to put my ancestors lives in order I learned how to dig for more information. I found out knew resources that were open to me and how I could add them to my book.
I have recorded the many stories and anecdotes that my father recited to me. If I had not done this then they would have been lost in time. So I have preserved these for future generations.
When you have completed your book you will have created a legacy that can be passed down to your children and then some day to their descendants. I am very proud of what I have accomplished with my book. It will surely last the test of time.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
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