Write Your Family History
9/27/2009
How do you know when to turn off the microfilm reader and turn on the word processor? Find out what it takes to record your family history—it's easier than you think.

Are you ready to start writing?

In My Wild Irish Rose, a family history narrative I published in 2001 about the lives of my grandmother and great-grandmother, I stated that Delia (Gordon) Norris' Irish origins were unknown. That book had been out about six months when, with help from friends, I finally broke through the brick wall and identified her place of origin.

Did I publish that book too soon? Shouldn't I have done more research until I found the place in Ireland? No. I had been searching for years to find Delia's Irish origins, and nothing on the horizon indicated that an answer could be found in the near future; otherwise, I'd have put off publishing until I found it. When the book went to press, I was certain I'd have to search for several more years—if not the rest of my life—to uncover her origins. Sure, I could have waited to publish, hoping I'd find another lead, make another breakthrough; but then the book might never have been published. In some respects, writing and publishing your family history is a way to guarantee that you'll break through any brick walls you may have—for it's a cruel, ironic, Murphy's law of genealogy that as soon as you publish, new information becomes available to you. But it won't reveal itself until you publish.

Most family historians agree that research is the fun part. For some, just entering data into a computer software program is a sufficient and effective way to leave their genealogy for their descendants. But to sit down and actually write a family history is—OK, I admit it—scary. Besides, you're sure your family will be enthralled with all those names, dates and places you've gathered, right? Unfortunately, I doubt it. If you don't believe me, show your charts to a nongenealogist. Then time how long it takes before she politely smiles and hands the charts back to you. Now put a narrative account of a family history in her hands, and I'm certain you'll get a different reaction.