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How To Write A Family History Book!

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.

How to write a family history book!

Please read on as I will explain all that you will need to know so that you can write your very own book.

Giving due credit!

I first must give credit to Lisa Alzo who has 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 of 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 use 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 you 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 at 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.

Discussed in this post:

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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!

Bring out your ancestors stories

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.

Don’t overwhelm your readers!

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 live.

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 family history book and it helps.

But the stories bind it all together.

Other things to add to 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 in 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?

Write A Family History Book

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 stories from start to finish.

The next step was to learn how to fit in the historical events of the time and how they 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.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

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‘.

Or, 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 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.

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 may be no records available that will help you piece together certain events in your ancestor’s life.

If this is the case then mention this in your book.

It may encourage your readers to start their 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 ever thought about it before or have you just accepted the facts as they are?

Youre ancestors stories

Step into your ancestor’s shoes!

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 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 with something exciting or tragic that will have affected them greatly.

Timeline of your ancestors!

This is what’s called a hook and it can help draw your reader’s attention and make the story you are telling more interesting.

What’s the hook?

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 be off-putting for me.

Some guidebooks approve of 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 audience what approach to take.

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 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 the second pair of eyes looks at your work.

Review your family history book!

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.
  • The proper tense is 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 information for 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.

This is a good overview of what tips that I have learned along my genealogy journey.

I do though have 2 books that I will recommend to you that will help make your book possible and also bring it to life.

Both of these books have helped me immensely. Both of them can be purchased from Amazon and have received excellent reviews.

        

What do these 2 books offer?

In the first book by Gill Blanchard, again titled ‘Writing Your Family History‘, you will learn how to deal with any gaps of knowledge about your ancestors.

You will also learn 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.

The second book by Sharon Carmack, titled ‘You Can Write Your Family History‘, can also help you a great deal.

It covers many of the same topics within her guidebook, including how to conduct historical research, organize materials, outline and plot a story, and how to include illustrations and charts in your book.


My Final Thoughts!

Writing your family history book can be 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 the order I learned how to dig for more information. I found out new 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 someday to their descendants.

I am very proud of what I have accomplished with my book. It will surely last the test of time.

Other posts that will interest you:


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining how you can write a family history book. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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Summary
Article Name
How To Write A Family History Book
Description
I will show you how to write a family history book. I discuss how to develop the outline of your ancestors' stories as well as look at their timeline.
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Publisher Name
The Genealogy Guide
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12 thoughts on “How To Write A Family History Book!”

  1. Hello Owain. What I am trying to figure out is how to organize the book. Do I start with my father’s family and then my mothers? Then if I do start with my father’s family I have my father’s father and then his wife’s family. Not sure how to branch off or stick to my fathers side only and ignore the wives at first and then go back? Not sure why but this confuses me how to write the story clearly with so many branches etc.

    Thanks. Rick

    1. Hi Rick,

      I am sorry to replying to you late. I wasn’t notified that I had a query from you.

      I have written two books. The first book is about my father’s ancestry, while the second book has my mother’s ancestry. I found the book too big to include both lines, so I split it into two books. You may want to do the same if your family tree is as large as mine.

      My mother’s book follows the same plan as my father’s book.

      My father’s book is seperated into two parts. The first part is his father’s branch and the second branch is his mother’s branch.

      The two parts of the book are then seperated into a number of chapters, (depending how much research I have on a particular branch).

      My first chapter discusses the earliest known Couch ancestor and the Couch descendants. The second chapter then discusses the earliest known female branch off the Couch branch. I then add chapters for female branches as I come down the tree.

      I then follow the same process for the second part of the book. So basically you are working from left to right of your tree from the earliest known ancestor.

      In the book you can mention that your ancestor’s wife, where she was from, when born and where they married. But then leave it at that. If you have plenty of research on her ancestor then you can include a new chapter that discusses her ancestry.

      This is how I laid out my book and what makes sense to me.

      Please let me know if that all makes sense. I’ve tried to make it simple, but as you know family history can become complicated.

  2. I’m writing the story of grandparents who were missionaries to Japan. I have personal family stories. articles written by them & about them for magazines,, newspaper clippings, various bios to announce speaking engagements, photos, documentation ie. census records, ships passenger lists, passport applications, documents found on ancestry.com.. I can write the stories but how I can I preserve and document the sources and facts?

    1. Hi Judy,

      Thanks for the query. There’s a couple of options for you when it comes to preserving the documents. You can either save these documents as digital files or printing them out and put them in binders/folders.

      When I first started genealogy I saved everything within separate folders on my computer. These would be divided into branches of my family and then folders for births, marriages, deaths and so on.

      It’s always a good idea to keep multiple copies. So maybe have one copy on the computer, one on a memory stick, and also maybe one in the cloud. I know what it’s like when you lose something important so it’s best to have a few copies.

      I’ve began to print out and bind my documents. This is a great idea because you can quickly click through documents, and also you can see at a glance what you have and haven’t got.

      I’ve got colored folders, red for my father’s side and white for my mother’s. I have a folder for BDMs and then another folder for other types of documents. Each folder is separated into different generations working backwards and from left to right.

      I’ve even created a checklist for BDMs so I can see at a glance what I’ve got and need. I can send you a copy of it if you like.

      Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit. Hope I have helped. If you need more help then please feel free to reply.

      All the best,
      Owain

  3. I have been researching my family trees for many years, I have a combined binder (notebook) of all I have found in sheet savers. I would really like to copy these pages somehow for my children. I have the names, dates, marriages, deaths and several stories about some of the people, newspaper clippings etc. What is the best way to do this?

    elsiesimpson@sbcglobal.net

    1. Hi Elsie,

      Thank you for your query.

      My family stories are what brought me into the world of genealogy. I decided that I would write my book to preserve these stories that my father recited to me because I knew that if I didn’t then they would be lost forever.

      To do this I used Microsoft Word because I was familiar with it. I separated each family into different chapters and started each chapter with the first known ancestor with that name.

      I used the genealogy software program Family Tree Maker to create charts and stick into my book so that the reader could see the relationship between the ancestor and me. Also useful was my scanner/printer which I could use to scan documents and print out my book.

      I then went to my local stationery store to bind my book.

      My Making A Family History Book Can Be Fun post will be of further help to you.

      Please let me know how you get on and whether I can be of further help.

      Kind regards,
      Owain

  4. I have a family member who should read some of your stuff. He keeps up with all the photos and anything pertaining to the family and he goes way back before I was born with the photos of the family. I think it would be great to get into the genealogy side of it. I find it all very interesting.

    1. Thanks Ronnie for your comment. What I find interesting with this hobby is the two sides of it. There’s the genealogy side where you find the people, the names, dates, and so on, this can really be exciting as you find these people and add them to your tree.

      Then the second side to it is the family stories where you gell what you have found out and mix it with the stories, memories and so on. Also intermixing it with the local history can be really fascinating too.

  5. WOW! Wish I had all this information a few years ago. Again I’d like to reiterate what Belinda said and say that there is so much information here that anyone wanting t write their own family history book will find this most useful.

    It must have taken you ages to write this post. Great job!!!

    1. Thanks Belinda. Yes it did take me a while to put together but I really enjoyed it. There was just so much that I wanted to cover with this post.

      Like I said in the post, just take what guidance is suitable for you and your book. It will surely help you when you’re writing your book.

      All the best.

  6. This is a really good information if you are trying to write your family history. You give so much information that will help anyone with their book.

    I am actually going to send it to my cousin Kat. She has been working on ours. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks Belinda for your comment. I feel that writing a family history book is an essential part of conducting genealogy research. Everyone should do it.

      So thank you for liking my guide here and the many tips that I have included. Also thank you for sharing with your cousin. I’m sure she will enjoy it.

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