Writing Your Family History – Preparation for the First Draft

It can be a daunting prospect turning all those names, dates and facts into something that you and others will enjoy reading. Often the biggest hurdle is knowing where to start. There are several simple steps you can take to make the entire process much easier and less stressful. (Read last week’s post, "Who is Your Intended Audience?" first)One approach is to start by compiling timelines for each of the individuals and clip them into family groups – this way you have points of reference for referral throughout your process. Then take a page, either electronic or on paper and jot down what you hope to achieve – this will help you focus your directionality.As you scribble a few jottings memories and family stories will spring to mind. Now is the time to start writing or recording to tape anything and everything that comes to mind. This is material collation – not your book. Start with the bits you know best. Sorting, culling, grammar and spelling will all come in due course.Another option is to take one ancestor or one family household and concentrate on one chapter in their life or lives – perhaps the period covering the children’s births, their school days, a family holiday, census night or a move of job, house – you decide. Pick something easy to start with!Collate all the documents, photographs, stories you have pertaining to the short time period you have set. Revise the information. Are you missing anything? Ask yourself possible/potential questions about their lives about transport, food, clothing, warmth, fun, working conditions, love, beliefs. If you don’t know try finding out – visit your local library, read on-line about the time period, the locality. If older relatives are alive consider popping along to see them – show them the information you have – can they add anything to your collection? Set a time-scale to find out more information on this small chapter.Once you have collated all the information you can on this small part of the life/lives of your ancestors (even if this is a one week holiday to the seaside in 1920) and write up this chapter, or make a (digital) scrapbook page or two. If it is easier for you, leave this in draft format for now. Pop your work into a separate file, either electronic or paper, and if you like, upload this section as a story to your on-line family tree.Today we have something very different for you to try for free. Why not try making a digital scrapbook page with this super digi-scrapbook kit from DitzBitz? You don’t need any specialist editing software. Whether you are an experienced Photoshop user or, use a free app such as Pic Monkey, DitzBits’ downloads will provide an easy to build page. What’s more, there is no mess, no glue, and if you make a mistake just click the undo button or start again! (Thinking ahead - something special on a budget for a few birthday or even Christmas presents for some of your friends and relatives?) Click on the link to access DitzBitz’s Heritage Page where you will be able to download the free kit, plus some easy put together elements and examples. http://ditzbitz.weebly.com/heritage.html


As you build the stories and chapters of your family history, regardless of whether it takes you weeks, months or years you will become more practiced and familiar with what works best for you, your family and the information you have found. Try out small sections, even try different approaches of presentation on friends and relatives and listen, really listen to what they have to say – Is your work so full of source citations that the average reader falls asleep before the end of the first page, or can nobody tell where you sourced the information? Have you too much information or too little? Do they like your writing style? Once you have an idea of what your intended audience likes then come the jobs of culling, sorting, spelling, grammar, revising source citations, double checking accuracy, proof reading and all the other tasks and decisions and that is a whole other chapter!

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Written by


September 7, 2017
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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