How To Write Your Family History

And Keep Yours Alive

Picture of family reunion

My research and writing began when my mother, at 91, asked me to take on the project of writing her memoirs. I'd heard some of the stories of her younger life, but had forgotten many and never knew about others. I soon learned she had nearly a century of living to relate, and I discovered I was learning the history of a remarkable woman.

When you begin to research your family history, you'll get to know your parents and grandparents in a different way. You'll see them through their recollections and the memories of others, as they were while growing up, struggling to provide a living for a young family and contributing to their community to make a better life for others.

My great-grandmother was one of these. I discovered that she, wife of a judge and mother of seven, living in war-torn Hungary, elected to follow her first-born son to the United States — and to bring with her the rest of her children, which included my grandmother. Until then my great-grandmother was merely a picture in a photo album; now she has become for me a courageous intriguing woman, a woman who could inspire others if her story were told.  Here are some tips on how to write your family history:

  1. Talk with your parents and record their memories on paper, on audiocassette or videotape.
  2. Visit other relatives and get their recollections about life in days ago.

  3. Take photos of living relatives, of old homes where they lived, of the cemeteries where ancestors are buried. Search old photo albums for snapshots of other relatives.

  4. Don't rely solely on your memory as your parents and relatives relate their stories of younger years. Write down or put on tape what they tell you.

  5. Go through any old letters you might have saved from your parents and relatives, as well as those you've written them. These will give you insight into common everyday events that most everyone has forgotten.

  6. Go to the cemeteries where your ancestors are buried and jot down the dates and names for your family tree.

  7. Publishing a history. You may want to collect this history solely as a family record for yourself and your children. Or you might want to have it printed in booklet form for family and any others who are interested in what your family has done. Nowadays, with desktop publishing programs, you even can publish the family history yourself, without having to take it to a printer.

  8. Keep memories alive. Family histories are fascinating. Don't let yours be forgotten because someone neglected to write down the tales of yesteryear and record the family tree. If you don't do this now, some day you'll say, "I wish I'd written all that information down for my children and future generations."


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