Compiling and writing your family history book may take a lot of work, but it is a very rewarding experience, and a great gift for future generations. Here are some ways you can get started.
Gather Your Material:
The first thing you will want to do is to sit down and interview the longest-tenured (oldest) members of your family while you still can. Start with a few basic questions about their early life and where they grew up, and ask them to remember everything they can about the generations that came before them. The key to these kinds of interviews are to record them. As people talk, more and more tangential material will come up, and this sort of thing can turn out to be golden when you are conducting other types of research, or simply on its own. If your generation is the oldest remaining, contact your siblings and cousins to see if they have any information that you may have forgotten, old photo albums, family records, diaries or journals, and anything else that may be of use to you. The more material you can get, the better, more accurate story you will be able to construct, so don’t be shy about asking them to dig around in their attics, or see if they will let you do some digging yourself, if they don’t seem too enthused about the project.
Visit the towns your ancestors lived in and search local records for their names, and any news stories that may have involved them. You can also use materials from the period they lived there to paint a picture of what daily life was like for them in the region in which they lived. This sort of information can prove interesting on its own and will help set the context and background of your family story.
Writing it Out:
Keep in mind that you don’t have to start at the beginning and end at the end. Some of the best narratives start in the middle and work outward and inward from there. The key is to not fear the writing part. Start with an outline, and fill your story out from there. Don’t judge your first efforts too harshly. Just write from the heart, get words on the page, and edit and organize from there.
Since you can’t know what was in your ancestors’ minds when they did certain things, you will have to fill in the blanks as best you can with historical information and the like. Perhaps old Uncle Zeke left his stable banker’s life and headed out west because of the great incentives offered by the government at the time, or simply to join the gold rush. Historical information will be invaluable for putting pieces like this together.
You will, of course, want to use a lot of photographs. These can also be very helpful when you are doing your interviews, as they will help your jog subjects’ memories.
Whatever you do, please make sure that you save your document often and back it up onto an external drive or uploading service on a regular basis. There is nothing more disheartening than losing you work.
You should consider purchasing your own thermal (hardcover) binding machine for this project. They are very easy to use, and inexpensive. You will save money over a printing service, and can create your books on an on-demand basis.