05 August 2012

Writing Up Your Family History: A Do It Yourself Guide

John Titford was the keynote speaker on Tuesday for the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His presentation on “A History of British Accents and Dialects” was delightful and entertaining. Naturally I hastened over to my next class to hear what he had to say about “writing up” my family history. Following are some ideas I gleaned from his presentation.

John Titford's book
Titford’s instruction is clear and I agree completely. If you are capable of writing a narrative family history, then do it! Family history comes in a relatively dead form—names and dates on a paper or even a parish register—and the much livelier version. This version was alive at the time the person was alive and by writing the story of that person, we can again infuse our ancestor with spiritual life. Collecting data is only a start. It is definitely more rewarding as we analyze and synthesize our data and make it into a story that helps the person live and breathe once more.

As if that were not enough, this type of research can also inform our gathering of data. As we trace a life, we realize there are things we don’t know, in fact, things “we didn’t know we didn’t know” until we started imagining a life.

Titford gave us answers to our excuses:
I don’t have time. Take a break from research or whatever else is so important. This is important too.
My research isn’t finished. That’s true enough, since our research is never finished. But we write for this moment, this point in time. Just as in a court trial, new evidence will emerge.
I can’t do a good enough job. That’s perfectionism talking—Don’t listen. If I’m not so good at writing now, I’ll learn as I go.
My software crashed. Time to get it fixed.
My family’s story is ordinary. That’s good, we’ll relate to it. The truth is that every story deserves to be told.

How about telling yours?


  1. Dear Joy,

    I ran into your blog while doing some research on genealogy sites; my son, Eli, is currently developing a product that we think may be helpful to genealogists, and other people interested in ancestry, called Storied.

    The goal of Storied is to make the process of capturing and sharing meaningful cross-generational family stories easy and accessible for people of all ages. It was inspired by hisfather-in-law Don's experience with Alzheimer's disease, and the photo book his daughter Kathy put together for him.

    Don was able to sit down with the book and reminisce about people and events that he would have trouble recalling in conversation; the family was able to capture stories from Don's younger years that would otherwise have been lost as his dementia progressed.

    Eli wants to create a digital version of this tool for capturing stories, and make it easy for people of all ages to capture and share their family stories. He hopes to be able to eventually integrate this content with sites like Ancestry.com, to make available some of the great stories behind older pictures.

    He is currently running a Kickstarter (crowd-funding) campaign to help us finish the product. If you have a few minutes to watch the video on our Kickstarter page which gives a background on Storied, and are interested in what we are trying to accomplish, we'd love for you to share the campaign with your network (and possibly on your blog if it's an appropriate fit).

    Thank you very much for your time,


  2. @Storied - Best to you and your family, Anina.