You want to write a factually accurate family history, but you want it to be interesting. You are facing a conundrum that confronts many genealogists when the decide to turn their research into a book.
There are rules to follow to insure that your book is factually accurate. The best guideline is the one created by the Board of Certification for Genealogists in its Genealogical Proof Standard which advises:
Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as "proved." Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:
- a reasonably exhaustive search;
- complete and accurate source citations;
- analysis and correlation of the collected information;
- resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
- a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Adhering to those rules will assure that your book will pass muster as an accurate record.
But will it be interesting? You have some wonderful family legends and lore that would engage readers. Should you include them or not? The best rule of thumb in deciding how to handle anecdotal material that cannot be factually verified is to indicate that it is a story that may be apocryphal or factually inaccurate. Having clearly informed your reader you may include the story confident that no one will mistake it for proven fact.
Employing the tools of creative nonfiction creates a similar obligation for a family historian. If you want to create scenes, speculate about what ancestors might have been thinking or feeling at a particular point in their lives or even employ dialogue, do so. All of these devices can create a more interesting account of your ancestor’s lives for your readers. Your obligation is to let the reader know what you are doing. If you are speculating, say so. If you are turning something you found in a journal or letter into dialogue in a scene, indicate what you are doing. Professional historian make these kinds of judgments all the time. When they do to play fair with their readers to say that this is based on their speculative view of what happened.
What is critical is that your book must have a sound factual base and that when you include things for which you don’t have solid proof you label them as such. If you do, you can walk the tightrope between accuracy and interesting.