Easy Project to Write Your Family History: Publish a Q&A

This 3-step project will help you capture a relative’s life story in plenty of time for the holidays!

Reconstructing the life stories of our ancestors can sometimes feel like squeezing water from a stone. By comparison, gathering the life stories of the living can be like turning on a tap. All you have to do is direct and catch the flow.

Turn your family history interviews into a beautiful book–just in time for holiday sharing–with this three-step project. Simplify it or doll it up, depending on your time, talents and what you have to work with. Just do it! Write your family history! Here’s the basic outline:

1. Record an interview. Invite a relative to chat with you about his or her life stories. Decide together what the relative WANTS to talk about: childhood memories? Stories about a certain loved one or a particular time period? A little of everything? Consider using a list of life story questions or memory prompts like those you can find in my book, My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.

Before you begin, be clear that your goal is to write these stories up for the family. Meet in person, over the phone or by Skype (click here to learn how to record a Skype conversation). With permission, record the conversation. Ask plenty of follow-up questions, but otherwise keep your own comments to a minimum. For more interviewing tips, listen to this free Family History Made Easy podcast episode.

2. Transcribe the interview. After you’ve finished your chat, go back and type up the interview. Give yourself plenty of time: this takes longer than you think. Consider asking a fast-typing relative to help or hire a transcription service (here’s one option). Type things just as you hear them, incomplete sentences and all. Don’t include anything your loved one wants to keep “off the record.”

3. Print the transcript. Save an unedited copy of the typescript in your permanent files. Edit it a little to make it “reader-friendly” if you want to. Print it out. Add any extras, like family tree charts or copies of photos. Bind it however you prefer. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members can check out Lisa’s 3-part Premium podcast series on self-publishing: episodes 52-54). Share copies with loved ones: they make great holiday gifts.

Here’s a page from a sample project I did. It’s a simple stapled book, printed in landscape (sideways) format on regular-sized paper. I left the narrative in the format of a simple Q&A, just like it was spoken. I did edit slightly for clarity and flow. My questions are in italics and the speakers are identified (I was interviewing a husband and wife together). I added a few photos.

I shared copies of this book with every family member as holiday gifts a few years ago. Now everyone has a special legacy gift featuring this couple: their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.

Now is the time for you to write a portion of your family history, and I’m here to help and support you. I will be conducting a fun and productive one-week workshop called the Genealogist’s Essential Writing Workshop at Family Tree University starting October 19. You can do this and I’m here to help!

Additional Family History Writing Resources from Genealogy Gems

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Are You Ready for a Genealogy Travel Adventure?

If you would love to take a genealogy travel adventure to your ancestral homeland, consider who might help you make it happen. Get inspired and ready with these tips!

genealogy travel adventure

Map: Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

Recently Joyce, a Genealogy Gems Premium member, wrote in to thank me for the new Premium video, Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Then she asked a great question:

“What I would really like to know is if you have any travel agent/agency that is great for Europe travel to do my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ Any help or direction you can give would be much appreciated.”

I have just the thing for Joyce’s travel question! In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 115, I interviewed Kathy Wurth, who specializes in family history tours of Europe. (You will find her contact information here on the show notes page for the episode.) Even if she doesn’t go to the locations you want to visit, I’m sure that she could help match you up with a travel consultant who does. Tell her “hi” for me!

Before you set off on your own genealogy travel adventure, get inspired and get ready! Here are some great resources for doing just that:

Get inspired! Listen to or read about these genealogists’ travel adventures to ancestral homelands that I’ve covered on Genealogy Gems in the past:

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen to an excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.

Three Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. A popular genealogy expert’s story of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.

Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters  by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants. I profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.

Get ready! Here are some free travel tips for genealogists from our friends over at Family Tree Magazine:

More Resources from Genealogy Gems on Family History Travel Adventures:

Family History Travel with a Non-Genealogist Companion: Tips and Laughs on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 124 (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required to access; click here to learn more)

Look for Genealogy Records in a State Capital When You’re Traveling There

Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum

If you want to take a genealogy travel adventure–or invite someone else to–please share this article with them! Just email a link or It’s easy, it’s free–and maybe you’ll pick up a travel companion! Happy travels!

 

Annie Barrows Talks Family History and The Truth According to Us

Annie Barrow interviewIf you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you know how brilliantly co-author Annie Barrows stitched together letters, conversations and history in her fictional love story and account of the Nazi-occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. I love that book. So I was super excited to hear her talking on The Diane Rehm Show recently about her new book, The Truth According to Us: A Novel.

Of course, Annie read from the opening of her book, which made me put it at the top of my reading list. Then she talked about how history can be so different, depending on who is telling the story and from what perspective. I loved her take on small-town history and family history: how it’s remembered so deeply and passionately by its own, and often so mis-remembered or mis-represented by outsiders.

Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

“In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.”

Annie did talk about the Guernsey book, too. I hadn’t realized her aunt wrote the original manuscript, then became too ill to do the rewrites her publisher wanted. So Annie took on the task. As the author of the acclaimed Ivy and Bean children’s series, clearly she was up to the task. But she didn’t dream it would become an international best-seller!

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryThat’s my latest recommendation as the “curator” of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We recommend mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles that resonate with people who love family history. Up soon on the Genealogy Gems Book Club schedule: our interview with author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) (we’ll put the link up on the Book Club page when it’s ready). We also recently published this new companion list of how-to genealogy books we love.

 

Be a Hero! 4 Ways to Rescue Military Memories and Artifacts

Remembering the stories of our veterans–both the living and the dead–is an important way we can all honor their service and sacrifices. Here we offer four ways to do that.

heroic rescue artifactsIn our countdown to Veterans Day, we are honoring veterans and recognizing efforts of those who help document their lives and legacies. How might YOU put yourself in the right place at the right time to preserve a veteran’s story?

  1. Collect and preserve the stories of living veterans. Use a tool like the free StoryCorp app to record a veteran’s story. Invite a story-preservation organization like  Witness to War to a veterans’ reunion near you, or upload combat-related photos to their site.
  2. Collect “orphaned heirlooms” you may come across and return them to their families or to a museum or archive where others can appreciate them. For example, a garbage collector rescued more than 5000 WWI artifacts from the trash bins he collected. Another rescuer spent years tracking down the heir of heirlooms found in an attic. A third buy medicine online pakistan found a lost dog tag and returned to it the family.
  3. Take images of veterans’ grave markers and upload them to sites like Find a Grave or Billion Graves. Be sure to include in your photo(s) clear images of military markers. This makes it easier for descendants to find and honor their own. For example, last summer, FGS and BillionGraves invited the public to post War of 1812 grave markers on BillionGraves. Why not keep up that effort?
  4. Document and display the stories of veterans in your family or community. Lisa created a beautiful display

Here at Genealogy Gems, we {heart} veterans and honor their service. Veterans Day in the U.S. is coming up. How can you honor the veterans in your family or community? We’d love to hear about your heroic experiences doing that! Tell us about it on our Facebook page with the hashtag #CountdownToVeteransDay or contact us with your story. How many days until Veterans Day?

Ancestry Publishes HUGE Collection of U.S. Wills and Probate Records

US Wills and Probate AncestryMore than 100 million people are mentioned in Ancestry’s newest database of U.S. wills and probate records, an exclusive collection spanning over 300 years. To celebrate, Ancestry is offering free access through September 7.

This morning, Ancestry launched an enormous–and enormously significant–new online records collection. According to its press release, “More than 170 million pages from the largest collection of wills and probate records in the United States is now available online exclusively on Ancestry. With searchable records included from all 50 states spread over 337 years (1668-2005), this unprecedented collection launches a new category of records for family history research never before available online at this scale the United States.”

Wills and estate records are one of those record types that have been less-accessible online. First, the records themselves are not easy to digitize or even index. They are often thick files, packed with various kinds of documents that may be fragile and of varying sizes. Several people may be mentioned throughout the file, but finding and picking out their names to put in an index is time-consuming.

Furthermore, the U.S. has no central will or probate registry. This happens on a county level, generally. Compiling a centralized database from all those county offices or archives is a huge undertaking.

According to the Ancestry release, “Ancestry spent more than two years bringing this collection online, working with hundreds of different archives from individual state and local courts across the country and making a $10M investment to license and digitize the records.”

Better yet, “the documents cover well over 100 million people, including the deceased as well as their family, friends and others involved in the probate process. Ancestry expects to continue to grow the collection, with additional records available over the next several years.”

Todd Godfrey, VP of Global Content at Ancestry, loves the fact that wills and probate records can reveal not just names, dates and family relationships, but stories. “Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors…providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Godfrey. “Reading these records you will find a deeper level of understanding about who your ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived.”

Learn more about this collection in Finding Your Family in Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry’s new in-depth guide) or click here to search the collection. Great news for those without Ancestry subscriptions: The U.S. Wills and Probates collection is free to access on Ancestry, along with all U.S. birth, marriage and death records, through September 7 (10pm MT).

share celebrate balloonsPlease share the great news! Click on your preferred social media channel on this page or copy the link into an email and send it out to your family and friends!

Resources: More Great U.S. Records Online!

U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses

NEW! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy 

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