Sunday, November 04, 2012

On putting our family histories into words ...

How is it that writing seems so easy until we sit down to attempt it? This is not a novel, or an acdemic dissertation; it is about leaving something behind to show for all our efforts -- an attempt to put a family’s history into coherent, reasonably accurate form, without leaving  potential readers confused or bored. 

Ah, the readers -- who are they to be? In my case, I hope it is simply some of the younger generation of people related to our family lines --  i. e., my children, their cousins, and future generations of same. 

Is the writing to be an adjunct to a collection of documents and photographs? A series of captions with spare descriptions to hold them all together?  Or is it a stand-alone story with citations or incidental references to the documentation?  Or … something in between?

This issue is the one that gave me pause -- I began by planning simply to create some family-tree-type charts and add extensive captions for the volumes of material I had collected.  In other words, it would be a kind of justification for all the years I had put into this work. 

Gradually, however, I came around to the notion that, for me, writing a narrative would be a better way to go; I could then include the documents as supporting material.  

Then there is the matter of structure. Should one start from the present and work back in time, as we are advised to do our research?  And, if so, what line or lines do we choose to follow? Or should one start back with an earliest-so-far-discovered ancestor and come forward? In either case, the problem arises about how to manage the collateral lines that develop, so that the project doesn’t turn into a frustrating maze.

Once those matters are decided, at least provisionally (an outline is essential), how does one present the facts? Will the writing be a description of “how I did it,” or  a straighforward depiction of the people and events? Or something else entirely?

And of course, how much information should be included? I had a single family line in mind, starting way back when and coming forward, and of course I wanted to make it as complete as possible, but that could fill volumes. The most satisfactory way to deal with that, it appears, is to break the work into sections, each based on a time period, or location, or major event.

No one structure/format/style fits every case, but these are questions every genealogist/author needs to consider.

More about this later.

In the meantime, I commend to everyone the wonderful blog, The Legal Genealogist.
Please take a look. The author was in the thick of the East Coast storm and her reactions are eloquent in their simplicity (posts of Nov. 2 and 3, 2012).

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