Each month, the editors of Family Tree Magazine will bring
you a genealogy challenge to help you use your research in new and
In November, we embarked on the 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge. Each day in November, we shared a writing prompt on the front page of FamilyTreeMagazine.com that helped readers use their research in a new, creative way. The prompts are below. Try following along during one month as a challenge or pick and choose prompts you want to respond to. Share your responses on Facebook
using the hashtag #30DayFHWChallenge.
Spend as much or as little time on each prompt as you can—after all, it's your family's story!
Day 30: Write a brief biography of yourself—everything an ancestor might want to know about you. After all, someday your ancestors will want to know as much about you as you do about yours! Learn more about recording your memories in the Story of My Life workbook.
Day 29: Imagine a typical day for a female ancestor. What time did she wake up, and what did she do throughout the day?
Day 28: Imagine your ancestor had access to the internet during his lifetime, and write a Facebook post or series of tweets describing something he’s witnessing in real-time. Is there a contemporary (historical) issue he would feel strongly about or an event he wants to respond to? Or maybe he wants to air a family grievance?
Day 27: Record a memory of one of your ancestors that you want to pass down to future generations—a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. Set the scene: How old were each of you at the time? What happened? Why is this a memory you treasure?
Day 26: Pitch a movie about one of your ancestors. What interesting event do you want the film to portray? What kind of film will it be (drama, comedy, science-fiction, adventure)? What actor/actress would play your ancestor, and who would play the other characters? Be sure to give your film a title and tagline. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, write the movie’s preview and “hire” a director.
Day 25: In honor of Black Friday, review historical resources like the Sears Catalog and “buy” three Christmas presents for an ancestor. Why did you choose those three, and how would your ancestor respond to them?
Day 24: Write about how your ancestors celebrated Thanksgiving. Is it their first in America? What did they eat, and who were their dinner guests? What are they grateful for? Get other family members to collaborate.
Day 23: Come up with a pitch for your ancestor’s biography. Is it a sultry tell-all, or just-the-facts? What major theme(s) does it cover? Be sure to give the bio a title and sub-title, and write the book’s summary as it would appear on the back cover.
Day 22: Look over your research for an ancestor or family and create a timeline of his life. List the date for each record, where the person or family was located at the time, and what they were doing. Notice any gaps in your research (such as the glaring absence of the 1890 census)? Use those to make a to-do list.
Day 21: Select an ancestor who served in the military, and write a letter to him or her from the perspective of a loved one on the home front. Ask about his or her health, or the conditions in the war. Read real-life wartime letters for inspiration.
Day 20: Write a paragraph describing three items your ancestor would never leave home without.
Day 19: Identify a major event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime, and (as your ancestor) write a first-person journal entry describing it. What would your ancestor have thought about it? Would he have found it exciting? Frightening? Frustrating?
Day 18: Who was your ancestor’s best friend? How did they spend their time together? Write a paragraph or two about an adventure they had (real or imagined) based on what you know of their childhood and the time period and place they lived.
Day 17: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative from its perspective. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?
Day 16: Imagine one or more of your ancestors as the characters in a fairy tale or fable. What role would they play, and what is the setting? What would be their fate?
Day 15: Pick an ancestor from the 1800s, drop him into today, and (as your ancestor) write a letter to family members still in the 1800s. How would he describe today? What surprises him? What questions would he have?
Day 14: Write a diary or journal entry that details your immigrant ancestor’s journey. What are their impressions of their fellow passengers? Research passenger lists and ship descriptions to make your description more accurate.
Day 13: Describe your ancestors’ wedding. Study marriage certificates, wedding banns and photos, and contemporary clothing and rituals to fill in details.
Day 12: Craft a poem or love letter from one of your ancestors to his or her future spouse—or, if an ancestor was divorced, write a letter from one to the other explaining why he/she wants to leave.
Day 11: Describe the first meeting between two of your ancestors who would later get married. What are their first impressions of each other? Include any details you know about your ancestor’s appearance, occupation, age at that time, etc.
Day 10: Using your location research from yesterday, describe your ancestor’s walk down the street. Invent his destination (work, church, market, etc.) and use a city directory and your imagination to describe who/what he might see on the way there.
Day 9: Pick an ancestor’s hometown and do some research on how it was during your ancestor's time. Use historical pictures/postcards and city directories to learn about the town, then write a brief tourism ad for the locale highlighting the town’s attractions.
Day 8: Imagine the first time your ancestor got to vote. Write a letter from them to a relative detailing their impressions. Where was their polling place? What was the process like? What about the other people in line?
Day 7: Select two ancestors who lived in different centuries, and describe a scene of the two interacting with each other. What do they talk about? How are they different from one another?
Day 6: Select your favorite family photo, and write about the moments just before and/or after the photo was taken. Why was it taken? Was your ancestor happy to be in it? Read Family Tree University's Vanessa Wieland's response to this prompt.
Day 5: Write a scene that describes a block party in your ancestor’s hometown, and invite everyone who appears on a page in a US federal census record. Use census data to learn ages, occupations, and relationships, and tap into your imagination for the rest. Who’s talking to who, and what’s the hot gossip? What games are attendees playing, and what are they eating or drinking?
Day 4: Write an obituary for an ancestor. Be sure to include information about any surviving ancestors, the deceased’s occupation, and his age at death. Use contemporary obituaries as a guide.
Day 3: Imagine your ancestor getting the keys to his first house or car. Write a
journal entry from his point of view that describes the car/place and
his feelings about it.
Day 2: Think of your ancestor as a character in a novel, and describe him or her in a few short paragraphs. What color are her eyes? What is she wearing? How does she carry herself? What kind of voice does she have? Read The Classic Preppy's response to this prompt.
Day 1: Write a letter to an ancestor you've never met. Include questions you've always wanted to ask him or her, plus some that reflect what you've already learned about your ancestor (for example, "Do you enjoy your new job?" or "How are you coping with your father's death?"). Read editorial intern Madge Maril's response to the prompt if you need inspiration.