January 1996

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Genealogy 601


Elwyn R. Van Etten

101, 201, 301, 401, 501, Genealogical Terms

Your previous genealogy lessons over the past five years should have taken you far and wide in digging your family roots. Your files, no doubt, are overflowing with data about your great Aunt Millie and your great-great Uncle Willie and all your other great relatives that spell out your descendancy. The dates and places are all documented except for one or two; the cemeteries where your family members repose have all been visited; the pictures from all the old albums have almost all been identified and labeled so you now have the skeleton of your family on paper or in the computer. Is this the end? Is this all there is? Not at all!

Now you are ready to flesh out the records you have compiled of family names, dates and places with the stories, exploits and achievements of the individuals and couples who made your family.

You can organize your family information completely with numbered individuals and detailed charts, or you can do it in a narrative style with simplified charts. Begin with your own personal history. That is what you know and can remember. When you begin to write, memories will come back to you of episodes that involved your brothers and sisters and your parents and uncles, aunts and grandparents, and the stories they told of their siblings and cousins.

You are the person to write about your family's history not only because you have been curious and have collected much information already about your ancestors, but also because you are a part of the culture of your lineage and have a unique sense of the values and the temperaments, the friendships and the rivalries of the related individuals in your family. You can understand those different personalities who were your ancestors and their close relatives. Any story of a family is a story of individuals who were achievers or romantics, mixers or loners. There were those who cared very little for the past and there were those who tried to keep it; they were all vital to your family's survival.

Your relations will want to be included in the family record you are assembling, and they will bring you family tales. Some may have old letters or mementos from ancestors. All the information that great Aunt Millie saved and the stories handed down from great-great Uncle Willie will begin to fall into place and those long-ago uncles, aunts and cousins will be more than just a name with only birth and death dates. Write the stories as you would tell them, then read them aloud to your husband/wife, your children, your brothers and sisters. Improvements will become obvious and your story will get better every time you reread it to yourself and others.

Include copies of old letters and reminiscences from family members, photographs of residences and common ancestors. Loose-leaf albums are ideal for any degree of elaboration you choose because you can always make additions, and revisions, and because you can put in transparent envelopes to display pictures and unusual documents. Bringing all of your research together is satisfying, and it also makes comprehensible to others your many charts and notes. When you want organizational information consult Prudence Groff Michael's book Don't Cry Timber or other genealogy guide books you can find in a library.

If you decide to make albums for your brothers and sisters, they can add their own family stories even if their version of events differs from yours, and pass copies of the album on to their children. Giving family albums to relatives encourages continued interest in family history, and it disperses the record, safeguarding against the loss of your work.

Remember how our whole project of genealogy started, in your own living room at home. That is still the place to carry it on, amongst your family who will be interested and ready to give advice and criticism, but proud of you for writing their family history, too.

So, with the winter winds howling and the TV wasteland not worth the effort, take your writin' stick in hand and tell it like it was. Your family will be eternally grateful.

101, 201, 301, 401, 501, Genealogical Terms
1996, Elwyn R. Van Etten
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