Writing a narrative about your family tree can be completed for one family member or for a group of ancestors. Family histories are generally narrative in nature, consisting of a combination of personal stories, photos, and family trees. While it is common to write a narrative in chronological order, it is not unusual to begin with a rise in action which then unfolds to earlier times.
To make an interesting family story include background information on historical events that would have impacted their lives. To gain a greater understanding into the lives of your ancestors add their occupation as well as information about the fashions, the art, the transportation, and foods common to the time period and/or location. Timelines displaying a list of events in chronological order are particularly useful for studying history as a sense of change over time is conveyed.
One segment of my narrative focuses on my family history occurring in the United States during the developing 1800’s. The attraction to move from the East to the new promised lands was due to the overcrowding created from the European migration. The government played an important role in the development of lands after the end of the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase from France’s claim. The Lewis and Clark Expedition plus the Indian Removal Act in 1830 led to Iowa opening in 1846 where settlers purchased their land from the government, speculators, or the railroad. The pioneer settlers wanted a better way of life on the frontier with fertile acres for farming and a fortune to be made.
Some of the members of my family were involved with the western Underground Railroad movement after attending Oberlin College in Ohio. The family left Oberlin, Ohio 1853 and journeyed through St. Louis by Missouri Riverboat to settle in Tabor, Iowa. Sentiment at this time ran high in Tabor as most of the early-day settlers of the town of Tabor were radical prohibitionists and Rev. John Todd was a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad.
Organizing your research in these timelines will help develop an outline for your narrative. Understanding the obstacles your ancestors faced: immigration, pioneer or farm life like my family, war survival such as my great great great grandfather, or rags to riches stories. Choose an interesting fact or record about your ancestors to open your narrative. Make your narrative personal with favorite stories and anecdotes, embarrassing moments and family traditions.
For example, my family descended from an English gentlemen arriving in Plymouth County, Massachusetts as an indentured servant between 1629 and 1639. Mayflower families had established a beachhead from 1626 to 1643 dubbed the Great Migration. During this period 42,000 men, women, and children headed cross the Atlantic to the colonies. He, the indentured servant, met a young lass; they weren’t married and had a difficult time keeping their hands off of each other. The grim-faced Puritan Magistrates dragged them to court; the couple was sentenced to sit in the stocks.
Narratives consist of a series of actions or events; be creative and enjoy sharing. Include photos, as well as birth, marriage or death certificates, history and plot maps of the county, military accounts, wills, and obituaries from newspapers, censuses from Ancestry.com, headstone pictures from Find a Grave, and biographies. Also, if you have the opportunity, interview family members and gather first-hand accounts of events or reminiscences which have been handed down. These stories will add additional depth to your narratives.
Enhance your narrative by creating a cover using your family history and include an index which allows readers to easily locate each name and topic. Also do not forget to provide citations for your sources and websites for follow-up research. I recommend you consider placing your narrative in a three ring binder, full-scale hard-bound book, spiral book, or post it on a Web site for sharing with the family members.
Most importantly, enjoy writing your narrative as it tells the story of your family.
About.com Genealogy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://search.about.com/?q=Genealogy
Kempthorne, C. (n.d.). For All Time: A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History.
West, C. (n.d.). Searching For Francis West: How A Colonial Reprobate Became My Spirit Guide. Retrieved from http://www.whistlingshade.com/0603/francis_west.html