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Write Those Stories!

One of the biggest problems genealogists seem to encounter is that we all seem to like the chase, that is, we like to do the research, but we don’t always do anything with what we find.  We get excited when we find information on our families. The information usually gets recorded in a genealogy software program or on family groups sheets, but for many, this is a far as it gets.

How many times have you, or other genealogists you know, said, “Someday, I’m going to write a book on my family history.”?  Have you done it?  Have they?  I look at the number of people in the genealogical societies I belong to and then I look at the number of family histories I’ve seen written by them.  The number of written family histories is much smaller than the number of people researching their families.

Do your relatives ask you when you’re ever going to write the family history so they can read it?  Chances are that they stopped asking.

A couple of the lectures I present are more historical than genealogical.  The only thing genealogical about them is that they are based on events which were significant in the lives of my ancestors.

One of my lectures is Copus Hill: A Tragedy in Ohio History.  It is the story of two massacres that happened during the War of 1812 and the events that lead up to them.  My fourth great grandfather, Reverend James Copus was a leading figure in the local history of Richland and Ashland Counties in Ohio.  He was killed by Indians in a massacre that occurred on his property.

The other historical lecture I do is Prisoner of War Experiences of Two Union Soldiers.  The lecture is actually a means to teach others about the prisoner exchange system that was used during the first half of the Civil War.  My second great grandfather, John Malin Carder and his brother-in-law, Nelson F. Dobbins were teamsters in the 71st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and were captured by Confederates just outside of Nashville.

I do the first lecture as the only living daughter of Reverend Copus looking back at and telling the story of the massacre seventy years later.  In the POW lecture, I don’t just get up and talk about what the prisoner exchange system was, how it was developed, and the pros and cons of such a system versus putting prisoners of war in prisons.  I tell it as the first-hand experiences of two men who lived it and the effects it had on their lives, both during the war and later in their lives.

The point here is not about my lectures, but that the ideas for them came out of stories I had written about my ancestors.  Whether it’s for a lecture, a book, for your family, or yourself, taking the research you’ve done and putting it into a story makes it more interesting than learning about a historical topic in the typical “textbook” style or sharing what you’ve learned about your ancestors in a genealogical report of facts and dates.

When you take those facts and dates and other information you’ve found during your research and write stories about your ancestors, you accomplish several things.  First, you show your ancestors as real people with real lives, not just names and dates on paper or in a database.  Stories about your ancestors let you and other descendants see glimpses of the lives of your past family members and what their world was like.

Writing the information you’ve gathered into stories puts your ancestors’ lives in perspective.  They help you and your living family relate to those who came before and to the historical events in which they may have had a role or that took place during their lives.

Your ancestors may not have been killed by Indians or been a prisoner of war, but every pioneer experienced life in the wilderness and everyone was affected in some way by the wars that took place during their lives.

Take the information you’ve gathered on an ancestor, make a time line with the dates and events you have on that person’s life.  Look at your database and family group sheets.  Who else would have been present at these events?  Who was a part of your ancestor’s life?  Look at what you know about them and what roles they played in your focus ancestor’s life.  What happened in their community and locally or nationally that would have affected their lives?  Connect your ancestor with other people.  Now, you’ve got the foundation for your stories, so write them!

You don’t have to wait until you’ve got enough for a book.  Write your ancestors’ stories one at a time.  Don’t wait until the research is done, because it will never be done.  History happened one day at a time.  The present is today, but yesterday is now history.  So, just pick out an ancestor and start.  History is at its finest when it’s made personal and that’s what family history is.

                                                    So, write those stories!

 

 

 

 

About Deborah Carder Mayes

Debbie is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Beyond the Obituaries. She also writes a blog, Rambling Along the Ancestral Trail, (http://cardermayes.weebly.com/blog.html).

One comment

  1. Superb advice, Deborah! Thanks for encouraging us all to get to work and reminding us that those stories will not write themselves!

    Pat Biallas

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