Banish the “But”s: Top 5 Excuses for Not Writing Your Family History

By Diane Haddad

A lot of us genealogists have a goal to not just gather names of ancestors, but to weave together all the records, newspaper articles, family papers, memories, local history, photos and random facts into a family history—one that summarizes our research, tells a meaningful story and shares a legacy.

But not a lot of us have actually started doing that. Why? Below are the five excuses I hear most often, which I offer along with what you can tell yourself to banish them from your brain.

1. But I don’t have time.

If writing your family’s story is important to you, you’ll find time for it just as you would for anything else that’s that important. Start with a modest writing goal, such as 15 minutes a day or an hour every Sunday before bed. PS: If you time your project to start with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, you can put in a month of concentrated effort with the support of thousands of other aspiring writers.

2. But I’d rather spend my time researching.

Back when you were in school, what did every research project include? A report! Believe me, I understand wanting to look for records forever and ever, but writing is actually an important step in doing family history research. Think of it as a way to take stock of where you are in your search and analyze the information you’ve gathered. You’ll spot holes, work through problems and formulate research plans.

Read: How to Write a Genealogy Research Report

3. But my tree isn’t finished yet.

And it probably never will be. If you wait until you find every record and answer every question, you’ll never start writing. Give yourself permission to start, even though there’s research left to do.

4. But I don’t know where to begin.

I hear two problems: The first one is “I don’t know how to organize all this information, whether to write about my entire family tree or just one branch, what order to put everything in, what to include and what to leave out …” and I could go on. It can be overwhelming. These six tips will help you break it all down into smaller decisions and create an outline to serve as your writing project plan.

The second problem is “How do I start my story?” The first instinct often is with the serviceable-but-not-very-interesting “Fred Smith was born Jan. 15, 1834 … .” If you’re having trouble with your first sentence, go ahead and start this way, then go back and change it once you’ve done more of the writing. You also could start somewhere in the middle, then do the beginning later. Or start with your most interesting ancestral story.

5. But I’m not a writer.

Then it’s a good thing that, unless you want to sell your story, you don’t have to be a great writer. Pretend you’re writing a letter or talking to a friend. Later on, you can edit that first draft or ask a genealogy friend to take a look at it!

Related Reads: