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    « How Family Historians Can Use Creative Nonfiction | Main | Guided Story Recording »

    A Chasm for Family History Writers

    In a recent post on his blog The Ancestry Insider warned his readers of a “chasm” that exists between stages of genealogical research.

    He explained, “There are three time frames or stages of ancestral research.

    1. When we start, we fill our pedigree with people we know.

    2. We extend our pedigrees with people we know only through vital records. Vital records provide a complete picture of an ancestor.

    3. As we push further back, things take a distinct turn for the worst… Each genealogical record is like a …fragment that contributes to the picture. The careful researcher must find fragments that overlap—names, dates, places, and relationships in common—lest we merge photo fragments from the wrong person.”

    A careful genealogist discovers, says the insider, that “a chasm separates the record-based paradigm in the third stage from the people-based paradigm of the first two.”

    A family historian seeking to turn her genealogy research into a book faces a similar chasm. When working with relatively recent history, going back three or four generations, she can draw upon what might be described as direct sources, people who knew the ancestors she’s writing about directly or who heard their stories from people who did. She can pick up the phone, call Uncle Harry, and say, “Tell me the story about Great Grandma Mary.” She can draw on these direct sources to create a lively account of Mary rich in stories and details that bring Mary to life for her readers.

    However, once the family historian moves beyond what direct sources can tell her the Ancestry Insider’s chasm opens. Finding stories and narrative details becomes more problematic. She must rely on indirect sources, written records. These may be obscure and difficult to locate. The other alternative, when the records don’t materialize, or never existed, may involve speculating from the historical context of the ancestor’s time and place. How does the responsible family historian who wants to stick to the facts do that?

    We’ll look at bridging the chasm in our next post.

    Click here to read The Ancestry Insider’s full post

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