With the heat of July in the Dakota Prairies, it won’t be long before we hear the combines harvesting the wheat fields. Today’s farming still follows the seasons, but the technology and equipment would seem otherworldly to our ancestors.
Those who settled the prairies in the late 1800s and early 1900s quickly learned that they needed to rely on each other. Neighbors helped neighbors harvest their crops, make hay and manage livestock. Many tasks that were too much for one individual to do alone. Let’s look at ways we can incorporate an activity like harvesting the land into our family history.
A tiny white fluffball of a kitten has joined my household, making my living room look like I have a toddler with toys strewn about. She brings much joy despite the chaos. Thinking about how important pets are in today's world, made me wonder if there were stories that we might be missing about our ancestor’s pets. Perhaps you have some that you are thinking about now? Let’s look at how and when pets played a role in those who came before us and look at ways to incorporate these stories into our family history
Telling the Tale (part 2)
Back to the Future. If we want to instead write about our family based on the facts but with a story flare, we can do this by documenting our sources in footnotes or bibliographies or even noting it in the story flow. For example: “According to the Tribune dated March 5, 1886 then note the event or what the paper said.” You can take the time to explain who someone was or why you can say for certain if they arrived on a certain ship to America. Take your readers on the journey with you. In the books I’ve written, I write about the home country ancestors first and then work my way forward to today.
In this model, as you would start with the oldest generation and work your way forward, where you start depends on how far back your family research has taken you. Sometimes one branch may only go back four generations while another you have ten generations. Think about how to tie these family branches together in a meaningful way that make sense to those reading your story.
The genealogy reports from family software can be combined with your story to help people with the context of who these relatives were and how they fit into the picture. Use the tree generators and family group sheets to help establish where they are in the family. They help the reader better understand the generations and make for quick reference points.
Back in Time. While I choose to start at the oldest date/generation, I have friends who have written about the current generation and then worked their way back in time. The reader may find it easier to understand your research because they know about their parents, grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents. They won’t be overwhelmed by names and dates of people they haven’t heard about yet.
I find this method to be more challenging when writing a “story format”. For example, when you need to talk about how they got from point A to point B but haven’t talked about the older generation yet, you will need to add more context. It’s just something to be aware of as you craft your story.
Location, Location, Location. Some authors write about their family based on the place or the location where they were living. I have used this method combined with oldest generation to newest. Since you may have one or two generations living in two or three places, the location becomes the focal point and you note what happens to all generations in that location. Sometimes the oldest generation in the location will take the lead in the story in the beginning while their children will have their stories told as they grow, marry and move to new locations or stay in place. Remember to include interesting historical happenings in that location as they relate to your family. An example of this might be World War II and how the community was rallying with victory gardens and war bond or how families needed to use ration stamps.
There are many books about crafting a story and/or writing your family history. Here are a few that I have found interesting and helpful. Many others are available.
There is more to your ancestors than the dates of birth, marriage and death. Look for ways to tell what happen in the space between birth and death.
“Neurologists say that our brains are programmed much more for stories than for abstract ideas. Tales with a little drama are remembered far longer than any slide crammed with analytics.”
--John P. Kotter
How are your family stories progressing? All families have stories. Some are inspiring, some sad or tragic but they are part of the human fabric. As keeper of your family history, you can weave these story threads into cohesive patterns for the current and next generations.
We’ve talked about ideas for bringing color and context into your story using regional history, newspaper articles, and civil & church records. Now that you have that information, how do you start making it into something tangible for your family?
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.