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Transforming a Family Tree to a Family History

Nan Barnes

I have previously written on a number of ways to help bring the limited facts your genealogical research has produced into a textured and interesting family history. Drawing upon details of setting and historical context you can broaden and deepen the stories you have to tell.

Today, I want to recommend that you take a look at the advice of Terrick V.H. FitzHugh in a short article, How to Write a Family History: The Lives of Our Ancestors. FitzHugh, an Englishman, draws on examples of how he developed his own family’s history with examples from as far back as the Elizabethan Era (late 1500s) and the English Civil War through the Victorian Era (19th Century). He examines the kinds of mundane details a genealogical search might accumulate like birth, religion, education, marriage, private correspondence, leisure activities, sickness and death, funerals and even the weather. With each he shows how historical context can help bring the factual skeleton to life.

For example, he describes the circumstances of the pregnancy of Mary FitzHugh in 1642. The English Civil War was in full swing. Mary’s family was a staunch supporter of the Puritan side. They lived on the Southwark side of London Bridge. A Royalist army was approaching the city and the bridge was the only river crossing, so the likely focus of an assault. The FitzHugh home was just outside the city’s defenses on the other side of the bridge. The Royalists were turned back at the city’s outskirts, but the anxiety about the possibility of being swept up in battle no doubt made Mary’s pregnancy especially stressful.

A look at the ways FitzHugh used details like this one to enliven the family history will offer you some ideas of things to try in bringing the names and dates on your genealogical charts to life.