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    « Enhancing You Memoir or Family History with Digital History | Main | Tools for Memoir and Family History Book Discussion Groups »

    The Scope of Your Family History Book

    A frequent question at our workshops is about how to organize a family history book. This can be problematic because you are working with multiple generations with both differing content and differing sources of information. Defining the scope of the project is often a good first step toward organizing your book.

    There are often three distinct types of content you are working with in a family history:

    • The Distant Past – We define this as more than four generations ago. It’s beyond the living memory of anyone you might talk to. You must rely on historical research and documents as your sole sources of information. As a consequence you are often developing factual sketches of people but uncover almost know stories which might reveal their character.

    • Living Memory – You may have living relatives who knew the people you are writing about who can tell you stories of events which they personally experienced that will embellish the detail of your content.

    • Personal Experience – The stories of people and events that have occurred in you own lifetime. Your knowledge is first hand, so it is much richer and more detailed than that generated by research alone.

    One way to deal with these very different types of content is to use an early chapter or two to move quickly through the distant past, presenting the facts you have to provide a snap shot of your family tree. As you have more stories, slow the narrative down and provide a much richer and more textured portrait of your family members. As you reach the lives of people you have known personally you can include your own observations and feelings about the people.

    It is important to know that the space in your family history book need not be balanced. You don’t have to devote the same number of pages to the distant past as you do to things you personally experienced. By summarizing where appropriate and slowing down and expanding the story where the richness of the stories available allow you will have a much better book.

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