Telling a good story often depends on asking the right questions while you discover the facts of the tale you want to tell. Keeping three questions in mind as you research your genealogy will help you to create an interesting family history which will engage your readers.
Begin by asking:
- How do you know what you know? What evidence do you have to establish the factual accuracy of the things you have discovered? Do you have more than one source to corroborate the veracity of family stories? Most family historians I have met recognizes the importance of documentation. That’s great, but it’s only the beginning.
If, as you gather the facts which will create the foundation of your family history, you are also asking yourself two other questions you will find that you have a much more fascinating story to tell.
- How does this relate to other things I know? Think about the context of the events you are documenting. How did what was happening to your ancestors connect to what was going on socially, culturally, or economically at their time?
For example, when you are documenting the story of your ancestor’s journey to America consider how their experiences were both similar to and different from those of other immigrants at their time. You have ancestors who settled in California, but did they do it during the gold rush, or to escape the dust bowl, or for a job in a Los Angeles defense plant during World War II? Their experiences would have been much different based on their context.
Discovering the context for your ancestors’ stories is not the end of the line. What’s the meaning of the events you have discovered and their context? As one of my favorite history professors always us, there’s one more question to ask?
So what? What’s the meaning of the facts you have gathered? What do the things you have found show about the values or beliefs of your ancestors? Are there themes that run through multiple generations? Discovering meaning often requires you to draw implications or make deductions based on the facts. Many family historians are hesitant to try to draw conclusions that go beyond the facts they have discovered. Don’t be. Professional historians are encouraged to draw conclusions based on inferences or deductions based upon the facts they have discovered. Family historians should feel comfortable doing the same thing. Just make sure to indicate to your readers that you, as the author, are drawing the conclusions as an expert on the facts you have gathered.
Maintaining a focus on these three questions from early on in your research process will help you produce a much richer family history when it comes time to turn your research into a book.