When is my family history finished?

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When is my family history finished?

Postby bimjim » Tue Nov 22, 2011 12:34 pm

http://www.petoskeynews.com/news/opinio ... 654.column

When is my family history finished?
Carol McWain Goodenough - The family legacy
November 11, 2011

A few weeks ago I was teaching a class to beginners in genealogy and I got an unusual question.

The woman wanted to know when to end the family history that she and her husband are preparing for their grandchildren. Typically the question that I get is "When is my family history finished?"

The obvious answer that I usually give to that is, "It is never finished!" Actually the question that people are asking is "How do I know when to finish my research and write up my family history?"

That is a different question entirely. One must decide what the primary purpose of their research is and if they have achieved the results they were seeking. To the woman that wanted to know how much to give to her grandchildren, I suggested that they only give information on parents, grandparents and possibly great-grandparents. Children can be easily overwhelmed with too much information. For children it is very important to include short biographies of the family members. Include when and where they were born, married and died; their occupations; religion; places they lived; facial features and personality; special information and personal stories about them; and other interesting facts.

Pictures are important, too. Include as many as possible. Put the information in booklet form for each grandchild or the intended recipient. Make it appealing with color and design. Children can be encouraged to read the book over and over to learn about their own family or have it read to them by their doting grandparents.

Most people, however, are trying to decide when they have gathered enough information on a family to conclude their search on a specific family line. Sometimes they want to know who their great-grandparents were; who the immigrant of the family was and what country he/she came from; or when an ancestor moved from one state to another. Maybe the goal can be to find all the siblings, brothers, sisters and cousins of the first several generations. When the primary research purpose has been reached, then it is probably time to write up the family history.

There is no standard format for writing a family history. Some genealogy programs actually "write" a book for you that you can edit and add or delete information as you please. The Family Tree Maker program that I use (currently Version 2012) does have this feature. There are some websites that can be consulted for suggested formats. Professional genealogists, such as me, can also help you assemble a book or do it for you.

Most family histories focus on the basic genealogical information -- names, dates, places and biographical information. Try to be consistent with the way that you write that information. It is most common to begin with the first ancestor in your family and then move forward generation by generation. You will develop a numbering pattern for the book so that it is easy for the readers to understand. Again most genealogy programs will help you do this.

You will want to include as many pictures as you can for your book. Include people, places, maps and documents, anything that adds interest to your book. Many genealogists today are not printing their books, but they are either putting it on a CD or DVD or distributing to their family members that way.

What is very clear is that your family history will never be finished. You will always want to be adding information to your family tree, both through your ancestors and through you, descendants. But, pick one family line that you want to finish and just do it!

Immediately after you finish that line you will probably find more information that you wish you had added, but don't fret about it. You can always add to the book later or make a new book, but at least you have created a wonderful memory to share with your family.
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Re: When is my family history finished?

Postby bimjim » Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:00 pm

I'm not sure I agree 100% with stopping all research at grandparents, or that children would be overwhelmed if given more to think about - we coddle and protect today's children far too much. In my opinion, the correct answer is that research never stops, and should if at all possible be handed to interested family members from generation to generation for continued examination, searching and recording.

Research will always come to a grinding halt at some point in every direction, whether at the "brick wall" of undocumented relatives, when people had no surnames, when people had no names, or when there was no documentation (or language), period. Behind every brick wall is - you guessed it - another brick wall, and at some point one of those brick walls will be impenetrable.

But I am not a traditional tree-keeper... my family tree does not start with one individual (me) at the top and flow backwards in a perfect triangular pattern, ignoring all outside of those directly involved in my being here. I am unselfish in that regard, seeking details about all sorts of people who are even indirectly related, following every twig and bud until I run out of data or that line ends. Yes, it is more work, but i have continually been surprised at the multitude of people I am related or distantly connected to.

Nobody can read more than one page at a time... if you hand a child "War and Peace" or a 10-page children's book, they will read as far as they see fit, whether there are just 3 pages or 3,000 remaining.

From another point of view, if you do research and print it, most copies of what you print will be lost in time (and disinterest), and just one or two copies survive. In MY opinion, you should ensure that all the time and money you spent on researching your family tree should go on through the ages... hopefully, one of those family members will keep that booklet and perhaps use it - or pass it on - as a base for further research, and having done all that work it is incumbent on you to ensure they don't have spend their time and money to cover the same ground again.
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