However, after all those years of researching are done, you’ve got to write it all up and leave the best possible record of your work, and of your family. But, this isn’t easy. Many people out there aren’t the best writers and in an effort to stick to the facts, the family history that you treasure often comes out dry and boring to another reader – even to your children. Part of the problem might have to do with your methods.
Most people who are writing family histories tend to want to single out their family. You dig through archives and church records and you find your most distant relative. Let’s say, John from
“The first known member of our family was named John. He lived in Suffolk County, England and was born in 1765. We know this because his name is written in a Church register.”
Typically, this is followed by who John married, what children he begot, and then proceeds to the more recent family history for which more information is available.
It can be frustrating, faced with only one little signature in a church register, and seemingly nothing else to go by to find out who your ancestor was. However, John didn’t think of himself as a man who left a single record for future generations, he thought of himself as a part of a community, living in an even wider community. So, when faced with this shortage of information, put your family in context.
You know John lived in
Questions like these can bring to light new information about John and his neighbours that can bring him to life. The brief and boring factual account becomes:
“The first known member of our family was named John. He lived in Suffolk County, England and was born in 1765. We know very little about John, but we do know quite a lot about the county he lived in. At the time of John’s birth, it was known as a center of weaving, and produced mainly for the European export market. Most rural families were in some way connected to this cottage industry, and it is quite possible John’s family was too. Around the time John turned twenty-five, Napoleon blocked this export trade and the people of
The major religion in
This context lets us feel like we know John just a little bit better. Even though we don’t know exactly what he did, thought or said, we know what his home might have been like. And you’re not doing him a disservice by lumping him in with his neighbours, you’re giving him life on the pages of your family manuscript that a one-time record of his signature does not.
Our ancestors thought of themselves as a part of a broader community. So there’s no harm in representing them as such. And hey, with a little context, you might even write a history that someone else might want to read it.
Adam, "John" is a lot like the central character in Corbin's Life of an Unknown.
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