I’ve heard the tip that writing your genealogy research into a narrative forces you to organize your information and for theories about what your ancestors did. I’ve even suggested this tip to people—but I never took my own advice.
Until recently, that is, when relatives started asking for copies of records, and I started feeling guilty that I haven’t already shared them.
But I don’t want to just hand over a stack of papers (or more likely, a CD with a bunch of PDFs) and leave people to interpret them on their own. I wanted to tell the family’s story and provide a framework for the records I’ve found.
And even though I’ve looked at these records a million times, in creating my narrative I’ve spotted some holes and tweaked my timeline. A few examples:
- I realized (duh!) that I had the 1930 census schedule for my great-grandfather and three of his children, but one wasn’t listed with the family. I found him lodging in a nearby town.
- I realized my great-grandfather didn’t check in at the state prison until after his sons were placed in an orphanage. That’s the reverse of what was on my mental timeline.
- It occurred to me that I should see if the Lions Club that sponsored part of my grandfather’s college education has minutes from the meeting he attended to thank the group.
I didn’t think I’d accomplished much in my research. But now that I’ve laid it all out, I realize how far I’ve come—and I’m inspired to rev up my efforts.
My narrative isn’t anything fancy. I just reviewed my records and notes chronologically, and explained what each document is, what it says about our relatives, and any theories and questions it inspires. I’ll update it as I learn more.
A timeline or a research journal also can help you analyze your work. Try these resources: