Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life as we know it on its head, including the holidays.
With rises in Covid cases, for the second year in a row, many of us won’t travel or gather as we traditionally do to see friends and loved ones. And as such, we may be on the hunt for ideas that forge a connection, despite separation and miles during what should be a cherished and memorable time of year.
Here are some ideas that might help you stay close at heart
to the ones you love and cherish the most.
According to an article in the JSTOR Daily, the first commercially produced holiday card was designed in 1843.
It featured an illustration of people toasting the holidays with the message along the bottom that read, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Soon after, the idea of sending holiday cards near and far caught on as a way to celebrate the season and connect with friends and loved ones. Holiday greeting cards became a convenient, cost-effective way to stay in touch.
Over the years, the concept of sending and receiving holiday
cards has become somewhat of a lost art, especially with the advent of e-cards
and social media. However, this year might be the perfect time to restart this
You can purchase cards or make them yourself. Regardless,
sending a card is an easy, affordable touchpoint and a way to say “hello” and
“happy holidays” to a close friend or relative you may not be able to see this
Winne Parks, CEO of PaperSource, a popular cardmaking and stationery company, was
recently interviewed for an article in Bloomberg News about the spike her business has experienced
in greeting card sales since the pandemic began.
“One of the great silver linings out of this is the time for
people to slow down and go back to the basics,” she said in the article.
So, if you’re looking to supplement those video chats with a little something extra, consider sending holiday cards to let others know you’re thinking about them.
Taking the time to handcraft a gift is another way to feel connected as we continue to quarantine and socially distance ourselves from others this season.
Homemade gifts aren’t something novel, but they may hold more meaning than something purchased.
CNBC recently reported
that online searches on sites like Etsy and Pinterest suggest that people are looking for gift ideas that are
more personalized or for gift ideas they can craft themselves.
If you’ve picked up an old hobby or started a new one during the lockdowns, you could put it to good use, making one-of-a-kind treasures for your friends and loved ones.
What about giving a gift that tells a story? Have you ever
thought about giving your mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or close friend
the gift of their personal history?
It may sound like a daunting task: gathering anecdotes, collecting photos, and capturing quotes. Don’t let this stop you, though. You can enlist a writing service to put together this keepsake your loved one and future generations will cherish for years to come.
They will do all the work for you – interview your loved one, transcribe the notes, and produce a professional, personalized custom book that captures favorite moments, life wisdom, and funny stories.
The end product is sure to make you and your loved one feel more connected.
Impact on Mental Health
Without a doubt, the holidays are going to be strange again this year. We will not be able to partake in many of the holiday traditions we have in years past, and many of us may feel out of sorts.
Engaging in activities like sending holiday cards, making
handmade gifts, and giving a loved one a treasured keepsake of a personal
biography are all ways you strengthen bonds with family and others you hold
“A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better.” — Barbara Walters
A family history book is very much like an onion. There are many layers to uncover. Each layer comes off one at a time. Often, individual family members and close friends hold the essence of each layer. It would be impossible to put together a faithful rendering of the family’s history without that essence.
An effective technique used to peel back those layers is conducting interviews.
Interviews can help collect first-hand accounts and corroborate information. Moreover, interviews can fill in the gaps left by documentary evidence. After all, papers can only reveal so much, and photographs do not tell the entire story.
With family members spread out across the country, or even the world, remote interviews are a viable alternative for face-to-face communication. But what is the best way to conduct those interviews?
Five Tips for Conducting Remote Interviews for a Family History Book
Tip #1: Have a game plan.
Often, family historians intend to cover as much ground as possible. They seek to get as much information as they can. After all, time is precious, particularly with older relatives.
However, trying to cover too many bases may lead to losing focus. Therefore, it is essential to have a clear game plan before conducting the first interview.
A game plan consists of understanding where the book is heading. For instance, a family history book may center on the family’s journey to America.
As a result, the information needs to home in on that specific episode in the family’s history. Any other information, while useful, may digress from the main story. Ultimately, deviating from the book’s focus may defeat its purpose.
With a clear goal in mind, interviews should aim to shed light on the book’s purpose. Forbes Magazine columnist Shel Israel recommends preparing before an interview. In his view, being prepared saves wasting time. Focusing on the conversation allows the interviewer to focus on the relevant information. This approach begins with careful preparation.
Family historians need to prepare before going into an interview. That preparation begins with understanding who the family member is and what they have to offer. From there, family historians can craft interview questions that will help them peel back one layer, or even multiple layers.
A good rule of thumb is to evaluate what all relatives have to offer. Often, each member has a piece of the puzzle needed to articulate the full picture. Then, conducting interviews just becomes a question of fitting each piece. In the end, the whole puzzle will begin to take shape.
Tip #2: Embrace remote interviews.
Traditional interviews involve a face-to-face sit-down. However, circumstances may not allow an old-fashioned in-person talk. Therefore, family historians must embrace the use of remote interviews.
In the past, remote conversations took place over the phone.
While that approach continues to be valid, technology has afforded family historians new tools.
For instance, video conferencing technology can facilitate a more intimate conversation.
One very important reason video conferencing calls are pivotal is that video calls allow interviewers to create a more comfortable and personal atmosphere.
“There’s a great deal of hand-wringing over all that’s lost when screens intermediate our interactions. But there is a certain intimacy that screens can actually facilitate. During a remote interview, the interviewer and interviewee are sitting inches from one another’s faces. The screen creates a sense of psychological safety that may allow people to open up more than they might in person.”
Indeed, a video screen can provide an unparalleled sense of closeness. Moreover, a screen can provide enough proximity to make things more personal, despite the physical distance.
Please bear in mind that the subject matter has a deep connection with each individual. Every life story has a profound significance to everyone connected.
Thus, it makes sense to approach remote interviews with the same warm touch a face-to-face discussion would hold.
The most powerful angle to a remote interview lies in utilizing video to convey facial expressions and physical gestures. A phone call cannot replicate these features. Consequently, using video conferencing to its fullest allows the interviewer to build rapport with the interviewee.
Tip #3: Prepare interview questions in advance.
A successful interview begins with preparing questions in advance. The questions must help the interviewer focus on the information needed to cover the topic at hand. As such, questions should focus on particular points. Painting with a broad brush may lead the conversation astray.
This tip opens the discussion for two specific situations.
The first situation pertains to delivering interview questions before the interview. The rationale behind this approach lies in giving the interviewee advance notice to prepare.
This approach works well, especially with busy people. Additionally, providing interview questions in advance sets the tone for the interviewer’s expectations.
As a result, the interviewee will be aware of what information the interviewer seeks to obtain.
The second situation pertains to allowing freedom throughout the interview. This school of thought allows the interviewee to speak their mind freely. Consequently, the interviewee can take the lead, providing the information they consider relevant to the question and conversation.
When considering both positions, it is best to find a balance between freedom and directing the conversation. The interviewer must be proactive in guiding the conversation to avoid losing precious time on irrelevant or perhaps repetitive items. Ideally, the interviewer should be tactful in bringing the conversation back to its main objective.
Author and photographer Brandon Stanton offers this highly insightful thought: “Interviewing someone is a very proactive process and requires taking a lot of agency into your own hands to get past people’s general self-preservation mode.”
Undoubtedly, some folks may feel defensive when talking about their lives. This “self-preservation mode” might become active, particularly when meeting someone for the first time. Thus, a good interviewer must allow the speaker enough freedom to feel comfortable but become proactive enough to avoid losing focus. Therefore, preparing interview questions in advance can provide the structure needed to avoid losing direction.
Tip #4: Take as many notes as possible.
In-person or remote interviews have the potential to deliver copious amounts of information. However, once the information is out in the open, the interviewer must capture it before it disappears. This phenomenon underscores the need for notes.
When taking notes, it is crucial to let the interviewee know about them beforehand. Otherwise, the interviewee may become defensive and enact their 'self-preservation mode.'
After all, it is one thing to speak one’s mind. Nevertheless, it is a completely different thing to have their words on record.
Initially, interviewers must communicate their intention to take notes. In doing so, the interviewer can provide forewarning so that the interviewer feels comfortable providing their answers.
Consider this situation:
Therapists always manifest their intention to take notes. The rationale is to provide the patient with a comfortable atmosphere. This atmosphere should be conducive to open discussion. Nevertheless, there are instances in which patients may feel self-conscious. As a result, they may request that their therapist refrain from taking notes.
Based on this scenario, what should an interviewer do?
First, interviewers must communicate their plan to take notes. The interviewer must ask the interviewee if they feel comfortable with notetaking. In some cases, it may be necessary to sign legal paperwork, particularly a non-disclosure agreement, due to the information’s sensitivity.
Next, interviewers need to be honest and transparent.
There is nothing wrong with sharing the notes’ contents. In doing so, the interviewee can feel more comfortable about what they are sharing. It may also be necessary to take a break to share notes. Moving forward, the interviewee can relax and continue with the interview.
While note-taking is a great tool, it can be time-consuming and distracting from the conversation. As such, some interviewers prefer recording interviews. Nevertheless, this approach opens up an entirely new set of considerations.
To begin with, recording an interview requires due authorization from stakeholders. As such, interviewers may need legal paperwork to proceed. Specifically, privacy laws apply.
Consequently, consent on the interviewee’s part is essential. Also, all sides must determine who will hold the rights to the recording. Generally speaking, the rights should belong to the book’s author. In the event of co-authors, then rights may be shared.
Additionally, all parties must agree on the recording format. For in-person interviews, audiotape recordings are the norm. Nevertheless, videotaping may also be an option, particularly if there is a video component to the story. The same rules apply to remote interviews.
Please keep in mind that the worst approach is committing information to memory. Much of it can fall through the cracks when there is a great deal of information swirling around. Thus, leaving vital information up to memorization will essentially lead to lost details. Therefore, the best approach, whenever possible, is to record interviews for later review. Alternatively, taking notes is the best way to go.
Tip #5: Hire a ghostwriter.
Family historians may need a helping hand at some point in the process. This is where hiring a ghostwriter comes into play.
Professional ghostwriters come with varying skill sets.
Some ghostwriters are adept at putting pen to paper. Others may have experience in conducting interviews.
Although the question begs, why hire a ghostwriter in the first place?
Ghostwriters are professional writers that can help family historians bring their projects to fruition.
Particularly, family history projects can become quite extensive. Therefore, bringing on a ghostwriter can help facilitate the process.
A ghostwriter can provide support in two main ways.
First, a ghostwriter can help conduct interviews. Involving a ghostwriter in the interview process is important. After all, the ghostwriter might end up writing the bulk, if not all, of the book. Thus, involving a ghostwriter in the interview process makes sense.
In contrast, some family historians prefer to give their ghostwriter only the material they need. That approach is fine, especially when there are privacy concerns.
Second, a ghostwriter may have experience conducting interviews. For example, ghostwriters with a journalism background may have the sort of expertise necessary to conduct interviews. Then, the ghostwriter can get to work on drafting the manuscript.
Please remember that hiring a ghostwriter is an investment in time and effort. Often, family historians may not have the time or the availability to conduct interviews and then sit down to write. As a result, hiring a ghostwriter can save time and effort, leading to a finished family history project.
Completing a family history book requires time devoted to research. Research is crucial to peeling back the layers of the family history onion. Without adequate research, it may be nearly impossible to uncover the full details of a family’s true history and identity.
Conducting interviews is an integral part of the research process. Therefore, careful attention is necessary when going about interviews. Given today’s circumstances, embracing remote interviews may prove the best approach, especially when family members are in various locations around the country and the world.
Nevertheless, the scope of a family history project may require the assistance of a professional ghostwriter.
Beyond writing, a professional ghostwriter can help conduct interviews, as well. An experienced ghostwriter may have the skillset needed to conduct interviews, collect information, and put a manuscript together. Ultimately, a ghostwriter’s help can take a family history project and bring it to fruition.
Maybe you’ve been on a deep dive into it for some time now and you’ve turned your dining room table into an absolute mess of documents, folders, photo albums, and post-it notes.
Maybe you’ve uncovered a treasure trove of information worthy of the evening news, a book deal, an HBO documentary, and a sizeable museum wing.
Maybe you’ve simply made a few interesting little discoveries and you have no idea what to do with them, but you know you’d like to share them with the rest of your family in a fun way.
Whether your situation falls into either of these camps, or more likely somewhere in between, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in the following ideas for fun and creative things to do with your family history research.
7 Fun and Creative Things To Do With your Family History Research
1. FAMILY TREES AND TIMELINES
Family trees, or pedigree charts, are great starting points for family history research.
A simple diagram of ancestors, marriages, and the children they produced can act as the foundation of a larger family history project.
If you choose to hire professional genealogists and historians to assist you with your family history research, an established pedigree chart will provide them with material to work with and a great jumping off point.
For many families, however, anything beyond just a few generations back is a complete mystery.
Simply filling in the branches of your family tree could be the whole research project in itself. Incorporating some artistry into your family tree’s final form would be a great way to commemorate the achievement.
Sites like Family Tree For You and Etsy allow you to connect with artists and craftsmen capable of creating elaborate drawings, paintings, and even wood carvings.
You can custom order giant wall hangings to decorate your home or beautiful miniatures to hand out as gifts.
However you may picture your ideal family tree in your mind, there’s a talented individual out there who can make it a reality. Maybe that talented individual is you!
Timelines differ from pedigree charts by allowing for visuals and details beyond birth and death dates and simple lineage.
A family history timeline can highlight anything and everything deemed significant by its creator:
Establishment of family businesses
Achievements of notable ancestors
Historical events and their impacts
Your timeline can be a permanent, museum quality fixture in your home, akin to the examples provided in this slideshow from the Society for Experiential Graphic Design.
Utilizing framed photos and wall decals, your family’s timeline can also take the form of a temporary, but no less impressive installation at a family gathering or reunion.
If you don’t possess the skills yourself, a professional graphic artist can help you design your family tree or timeline for both physical display and/or publication in a family history book.
2. COFFEE TABLE BOOKS
A common end goal for many family history researchers is a self-published book of some sort.
Exactly what that book will look like can remain nebulous at best, even well into the research phase.
If you’ve gathered a lot of great family photographs in your pursuit, consider putting out a coffee table style photobook.
A mainly visual record of your family’s history can be a literal page-turner cherished by those who receive a copy of it.
While assembling a collection of classic or rarely seen family photos is a fantastic method of recounting your family’s story, a diversity of content will make it even more comprehensive.
Search for images outside the family collection.
Libraries and town halls are great resources when it comes to searching for historic photographs of hometowns.
Another often overlooked tool for potentially finding photographic treasure is Facebook.
It seems that almost every small town has its local historian—official or otherwise. If your family’s hometown has one, he or she will mostly likely be found connected to a Facebook group that is in one way or another associated with the region.
Even if this community outreach approach doesn’t produce any new images for your collection, you’ll be sure to pick up at least a bit of usable information or local lore, so give it a shot!
Digital scans of old handwritten letters or high quality, interestingly staged photos of family heirlooms can also be visually captivating and meaningful for the reader.
Be sure to include them if you have them!
Lastly, if you don’t personally have the greatest way with words, consider hiring a ghostwriter to create captions for your images to lend an air of credibility and sophistication to your completed project.
3. NOVELIZE IT!
Is there a creative writer in the family?
Do you have an interesting ancestor whose story deserves to be told?
If so, perhaps your family history, or at least a portion of it, should be presented in the form of historical fiction.
Though sometimes dismissed as just making it up, when carefully executed, historical fiction is an art form that can provide a deeply satisfying read.
Maybe your research has unearthed a few concrete facts, some correspondence, and an intriguing diary entry that tell a fascinating story when they’re linked together:
A grandfather who climbed the ladder from war refugee to CEO
A great aunt who tracked down a long-lost love after 40 years of separation
A cousin, homeless at one point, who eventually achieved a great success
Great untold stories like these are all around us and woven into the fabrics of our families.
A family member with a talent for writing or a hired ghostwriter could take the known facts, combine them with informed assumptions and conclusions, and craft a dramatization of a favorite family story that would serve as a compelling addition to any family history project.
4. SCRAPBOOKS OF NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS
When our family members make the local paper, we tend to save the clippings.
It’s not uncommon to find them intermingled with the Polaroids in an old photo album:
A humorously worded report, now yellowed and fragile, about a local kindergartner (who grew up to be your burly uncle) winning the local fishing contest
A grandmother voted Teacher of the Year by her students
A glowing editorial on the family business when it was at its peak
Items like these can serve as colorful additions to your family history project, as they add a great deal of value both visually and for the information they convey.
But don’t stop the search with whatever you happen to find preserved behind the cellophane!
Consult the archives at your local libraries for more mentions of particular family members or for reports of incidents that affected the family as a whole:
The big flood that forced a relocation
The worker strike led by your father
The factory closure that jeopardized everyone for a time
Including the documentation of events like these will make for a very well-rounded family history presentation in the end.
5. A FAMILY RECIPE BOOK
A family that eats together stays together!
Sometimes the strongest bonds that tie a family together are the dishes that they enjoy the most.
Some families are extraordinarily talented when it comes to the culinary arts. Maybe you are lucky enough to belong to one of these fantastic clans.
Whether or not your family recipes are numerous enough to fill a whole cookbook, they are more than likely enough for you to assemble into at least one delicious chapter.
Gather up the recipes of family members who are no longer with us before they’re lost.
Collect the favorite recipes of your oldest and youngest living relatives and everyone else in between.
Preserve the taste of the past and a connection to your shared heritage.
Including your family’s favorite recipes when telling their larger story will help to paint a more vibrant picture of them. And with all of them lending a hand, they’ll be collectively invested in your project.
6. CUSTOM COMICS AND ILLUSTRATIONS
In every extended family there is, at the very least, one of the following:
A comic book enthusiast
Someone who has been on an adventure
Maybe your family is lucky enough to have all three!
Incorporating hand drawn, visual arts when telling your family’s story will kick up the appeal of your project more than just a notch.
The artist in your family could illustrate stories for which there are no photographs.
You could honor your comic book loving relative by having him or her conceptualize the layout and action of a visual retelling of your family’s greatest tale of adventure.
If you’d like, with the help of a professional ghostwriter in charge of storyline and dialog, you could present your entire family history in the form of a graphic novel!
Did you know that custom comic books are a thing now?
Whether the story you intend to tell is light hearted, highly dramatic, or anything in between, companies like Your Comic Story, Custom Comic Story, and the numerous artists accessible through Etsy are ready and able to bring your comic vision into living color.
Small, printed keepsakes are a great way to add a further touch of class to your larger family history publication:
Bookmarks depicting noteworthy ancestors
Patriarch and/or matriarch broadsides worthy of framing
Family history trivia games
Family member trading cards or even playing cards (Who in your family would you designate as The Joker?)
What will your completed family history project look like?
Let’s say it’s a book.
On the first page there’s an intricate ink drawing of your family’s pedigree chart or there’s a photo of the family tree that hangs in your home.
Along the bottom of each subsequent page lies a timeline outlining significant events and developments that draws closer and closer to the present day.
Flipping further along, the reader finds never-before-seen photographs, handwritten letters from long lost lovers, diary entries from the Great Depression, newspaper headlines from sunnier times, a novelized immigration story, recipes from the old country, and a comic book that graphically recounts a wild vacation.
On the cover is a watercolor painting of a house that your grandfather built with his bare hands.
It comes packaged with a bookmark in the shape of a long defunct company logo that bears your family’s name and a pack of poker cards in which your mom is the Queen of Hearts.
Maybe it sounds like a mess. Maybe it sounds like perfection!
The history of your family is about much more than names, dates, and places.
It can be difficult, however, to compile a family history that’s more than just a dry recounting of bare facts without access to the holy grail of the family historian: things like diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories.
Luckily, there are other ways to fill in between the lines of your family tree.
Combining historical research with more basic genealogical research is an excellent way to add color, depth, and context to the lives of your ancestors and craft a family history that future generations will enjoy for years to come.
Genealogy Versus Family History
When you think of family history, your mind probably goes straight to genealogy. And while the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions we are making in this article.
Genealogy is the pursuit of lineage, genetic connections between individuals that span centuries and are most commonly illustrated through a family tree.
Family history goes deeper, incorporating historical research and storytelling to allow future generations to understand their forebears and the formative events of their lives on a more profound level.
A family tree typically includes names, dates, and places of birth and death. A family history will also include your ancestors’ biographies, descriptions of the towns they lived in, personal anecdotes, historical context, and a recounting of the events and experiences that shaped the course of their lives.
Many people conduct genealogical research themselves, while others hire a genealogist to help them navigate the endless resources and rabbit holes that are an inevitable part of genealogical pursuits.
Likewise, some individuals seeking to compile a family history may choose to hire a ghostwriter to help them arrange their genealogical and historical research into a well-organized and compelling narrative.
Why Historical Research Is Important to a Family History
Provides Depth and Context
Your ancestors’ lives, just like our own, were shaped by the events and customs of their place and time.
Doing research into the history of the towns where they lived, the wars or natural disasters that took place during their lifetime, and even the popular fashions and cuisine of the time can tell you a lot about their day-to-day lives.
For instance, let’s say you’re interested in sketching out a biography of your great-grandmother Loretta but living relatives have little knowledge of her life before the age of thirty.
Your genealogical research, using vital records and census data, shows that Loretta was born in Mississippi in 1895 and that her father was a sharecropper.
This is where historical research comes in. Basic research into the area where Loretta was born can give you information, such as the population and demographics of her hometown.
Local newspapers from the turn of the century can provide you with not only major and minor news events but also town gossip, ads for local businesses, editorials and commentary on hot-button issues, and more.
What was the life of a sharecropper and his family like at that place and time?
Undoubtedly, there are books, articles, and personal histories that can tell you everything, from the day-to-day obligations of a sharecropper to the social contexts of racial and class discrimination that made the lifestyle toilsome and ultimately untenable.
Photographs from around the same time and place can even show you what type of clothing Loretta and her family likely wore.
You may never know what subjects Loretta liked in school or what thoughts crossed her mind as she drifted off to sleep at night, but historical research can help you understand Loretta’s early life on a deeper, more personal level than a family tree could ever do.
Provides Structure for Your Narrative
If your goal is to produce a book out of your family’s history, you may struggle to find the best way to structure your story to keep your readers (and yourself) interested and engaged.
Historical research can unearth interesting details that help you zero in on a certain event or person in your family’s history that you want to arrange your story around.
For instance, perhaps your great-great-grandfather was one of the thousands of Chinese-Americans who helped construct the transcontinental railroad.
You may have little knowledge of this topic, but research will quickly reveal a rich, fascinating, and often tragic history.
This experience could provide the central focus for your narrative, from which you can move forward chronologically to show how your great-great-grandfather’s grit and sacrifice shaped the lives of future generations.
If no event or individual jumps out to you during your research, never fear. Hiring a ghostwriter can help you not only compile and organize your research but also highlight the information that future generations are likely to find most compelling.
How to Combine Genealogical Research with Historical Research
Step 1: Complete your genealogical research.
Before you embark on the historical research phase of writing a family history, you’ll want to complete your genealogical research first.
This can include a wide range of tasks, from interviewing family members to tracking down vital records. At the very least, you’ll want to decide the scope of your research, i.e., how many generations you want to cover, and build a family tree.
Though you may be tempted to dive right in by joining one of the popular online genealogical sites, be warned that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the vast number of resources and information available out there, not all of which is trustworthy.
Thus, consider first consulting a book on genealogical research for beginners, or better yet, hire a genealogist to complete the groundwork for you.
Step 2: Take notes and set research goals.
As you conduct your genealogical research, jot down the names, places, dates, and any random details that intrigue or surprise you. If you hired a genealogist for this initial phase, you could make these notes as you review their research.
Use these notes to set goals for your historical research.
Ask yourself: What information is most interesting to me? What information is missing? What do I want to know more about?
There may be specific events or tragedies that stand out to you, like an ancestor’s death in a war, or a particularly notable person, like a politician or an artist or even a single mother who ran a successful business while raising her children alone.
Step 3: Dive into the historical research.
Once you’ve set your research goals, it’s time to dive in and learn more about the people, places, and events that will collectively make up your family history.
A wide variety of sources exist for the purposes of family and historical research. Here are just a few:
Newspaper archives: Local newspapers can turn up valuable information like birth, marriage, and death announcements, but they also provide a glimpse into the character and idiosyncrasies of the places your ancestors called home.
Town histories: Published town histories include an abundance of information about buildings, businesses, and inhabitants over decades or even centuries. Even if your ancestors aren’t mentioned by name, these histories can give you a strong sense of the communities from which they hailed.
Maps: Historical town and county maps can help orient you to the layout of the localities of interest to your family history, while plat maps and fire insurance maps may help you actually pinpoint where a specific family member lived.
Photographs: Even if you are unable to locate photographs of your ancestors, images of others from around the same time and place or in a similar profession can indicate the style of clothes they likely wore.
Cookbooks and restaurant menus: Looking through old cookbooks and menus from a particular time and region is not only fun, it also gives you an idea of what your ancestors ate on a day-to-day basis.
Local historical societies: Many local historical societies maintain an archive of items—unpublished family histories, oral histories, photographs, letters, travelogues, diaries, and other ephemera—that provide firsthand experiences from the people who have lived there over time.
Your local library: Reference librarians are an excellent resource to help you find history books that deal with a particular time, place, and/or social group, providing insight into everything from religious and social customs to popular modes of transportation.
National Archives Research on Ethnic Heritage: The National Archives maintains a section of its website for those researching ancestors from historically oppressed or displaced groups, including Black and indigenous Americans. For the former, the site includes not only resources for locating ancestors but also an array of materials documenting the Black experience throughout U.S. history.
Step 4: Find a focus and start writing.
Based on what your genealogical and historical research turned up, decide on a focus for your book.
Maybe it will be chronological, beginning with an event like your ancestors’ arrival in the U.S., or maybe you’ve run across a fascinating individual in your family line who you want to serve as the focus.
Writing a family history should be fun, but it isn’t always easy.
If at any point you’re stuck, or perhaps need help organizing or finding a focus for your research, hiring a ghostwriter is the perfect way to help transform the disparate anecdotes, characters, and experiences of your ancestors into a rich, fascinating family history.
It always puts a little smile on your face when your noteworthy reputation precedes you, as when you’re introduced to friends of friends as, say, “the gal whose grandmother worked for Walt Disney,” or perhaps “the guy whose dad built a plane in the garage.”
Maybe your uncle’s gripping tales of life as a young man in World War II Europe never failed to put a dramatic edge on those otherwise boring barbecues.
Or perhaps your aunt’s hilariously juicy stories of celebrity encounters during her days as a touring backup dancer were always the hit of every block party.
“You should write a book!” some captivated listener would always exclaim. But your relative’s practiced response was always something like, “Oh, there isn’t enough there for a whole book,” or any number of other shy but flattered dismissals.
Honestly, they were probably right to wave off such a notion.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Not every life comes standard with enough intriguing anecdotes to fill a solid inch of library shelf.
But the collected stories of an entire family, on the other hand, most certainly are enough for a book — a rich and colorful tome at that!
These histories are as unique as the individuals that make up our families and they deserve preservation. They deserve to be written down, handed down, and added to with time.
Everyone who sets out to document their family’s history has a starting point. Usually, this is the impetus to begin the journey in the first place.
Classic family stories like the kinds suggested above are often enough to get the gears in motion. But sometimes would-be family historians are inspired to begin their projects with actual, physical pieces of family history:
A leather-bound photo album, found tucked away in a cabinet after a grandparent’s passing, filled with dozens of black and white prints dutifully annotated with names, dates, and locations.
A charted-out family tree, found folded up in a desk drawer, branching back through centuries and linking up to majestic looking coats of arms from a dozen different countries.
An old black trunk, the kind so many carried through Ellis Island, discovered during an attic cleanout packed with documents that haven’t seen the light of day in decades.
Unfortunately, despite the passion behind them, the quests that are born from discoveries like these often come to an early end exactly where they started.
Between roadblocks in genealogical research and a simple lack of time, most family history projects end up on the back burner. However, with the help of a professional historian or genealogist, your endeavor can turn from a simple pipe dream into a reality.
Seven Great Reasons Why You Should Consider Hiring a Professional Historian or Genealogist
1. DEAD ENDS AND BRICK WALLS
Dead ends and brick walls exist in research just as they do in the physical world.
A dead end is exactly what it sounds like: the end of the road where there’s nowhere else go and nothing else to do but turn around and head back to where you came from.
A brick wall on the other hand, while seemingly solid and formidable, hints at the possibility of another side or an interior.
A brick wall could be the apparent end of a paper trail, a language barrier when tracing back to your ancestral homeland, or misplaced documentation.
An experienced researcher will know the difference between a true dead end and a brick wall.
They’ll know when to quit and when to continue on, and they come equipped with workarounds when the potential for further investigation is there.
When it comes to our most precious commodity, you will definitely save a great deal of it by hiring a historian to help you write your family history book.
Obviously, two heads are better than one and four hands are better than two. With a professional researcher at your service, your progress will accelerate exponentially. You could work together step by step or tackle multiple tasks simultaneously by delineating the work most suited to each of you.
Historians and genealogists bring an entire career’s worth of expertise and research skills to the table.
When taking on a family history project solo, you’ll be starting out literally years behind where you could be with the help of a professional.
On another note, your family history book might have a built-in deadline.
Maybe you’re hoping to have it completed in conjunction with a certain milestone, such as an elderly family member’s birthday, or the big family reunion next year.
When working with a professional historian, they can take these factors into account and advise you on the best course of action to create the most comprehensive final product possible within your given time frame.
The cost of producing your family history book will vary, depending on numerous factors, such as its length, breadth, and final trim size or design.
Taking on a project of this scale completely uninitiated will definitely result in at least a few financial setbacks.
First off, you’re likely to waste a lot of time. And, as the saying goes, time is money.
Also, you’ll inevitably find yourself burning cash on postage, shipping, fees for document procurement, and various subscription-based services. Not to mention a lot of unnecessary personal travel.
A professional historian or genealogist will have connections, a plan, and a proven method in place that produces the desired results within your budget.
While hiring a professional is likely not going to be less expensive than doing the work yourself, you will get a lot more bang for your buck going this route.
Historians and genealogists live and breathe this kind of research, so they will be able to streamline your project and avoid a lot of the hiccups that would be encountered without their help.
People tend to move around a lot. Here in the United States, especially, it seems that most of our ancestors were quite mobile. It’s the norm for Americans to have many miles between their current locations and their points of origin.
Our shared heritage of migration is a veritable fountain of captivating history, but it’s also a source of frustration when it comes to tracing our family’s moves backwards in time.
Our forebears crossed seas and oceans and, in many cases, spread out across the country.
Retracing their movements, finding evidence of their presence in one location or another, and locking down the documents that they left behind can be incredibly time consuming and even overwhelming for a first-time researcher.
An experienced historian or genealogist will know exactly where to dig, and can travel to the places your ancestors once lived to do the nitty gritty research for you.
5. DIGITAL LIMITATIONS
The advent of the Internet was undoubtedly a massive leap forward for human ingenuity. Eventually, it will probably be credited as a catalyst for our continued evolution as a species.
It’s been said time and again that anyone who owns a smartphone is carrying around the entire catalog of human knowledge in their pocket. When it comes to sleuthing out your family history, however, Google will only get you so far.
The various online ancestry sites may find a few recent birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses.
And you can use satellite imaging to take a peek at what’s left of the old family homestead on the other side of the planet (if you happen to know its coordinates), but that’s about all.
Up until very recently, the entirety of human documentation existed in the analog world of ink and paper.
A qualified genealogist will know when, where, and how to contact churches, town halls, libraries, and hospitals in the pursuit of documentation that will help you paint a vibrant portrait of your family’s history.
Sadly, many modern families do not have a firm understanding of exactly where their ancestors originated.
Thanks to the Human Genome Project and DNA analysis—a relatively recent addition to the arena of genealogical research, such mysteries can finally be solved.
If the plan for your family history book includes a deep dive back in time and a wide scope, professionally interpreted DNA tests will add to the richness and diversity of the story it tells.
Your family’s DNA will provide direct, scientific confirmation of a heritage that previously could only be presumed.
The results are often unexpected and illuminating. And your hired historian or genealogist will know exactly how to take those fascinating results and use them to find fresh routes to investigate.
Recruiting historians and genealogists to help tell your family’s story will ensure that you end up with a comprehensive and polished final product.
All interesting avenues will be explored.
The reporting will be accurate in its entirety.
If you aren’t confident in your abilities with the written word, many historians and genealogists are associated with ghostwriters who can help you dial in the diction to your exact preferences.
They can even connect you with artists who will design your book’s cover, so it mirrors how you see it in your mind.
Your family history book should be perfect. The lengthy and emotional adventure from concept to print should be free from even a single regret.
Its final form should be exactly as you’d hoped it would be, if not even better. And it should stand as a cherished heirloom that makes you burst with pride each time you hand out a copy.
“Rap comes from the oral tradition. The oral tradition gives voice to those who would’ve otherwise been voiceless.” — Benjamin Zephaniah
It is easy to overlook oral tradition because it has always been there.
Our families contain a plethora of stories, anecdotes, and tales that migrate from generation to generation. These stories make their way across time in one way or another. However, the richness of their details tends to fade year after year.
This is the fundamental issue with oral tradition. Over time, family history gradually dissipates, eventually leaving very little of previous generations. Thus, preserving family and community history becomes a difficult task.
The solution to this phenomenon is to chronicle oral tradition in a written format.
Indeed, recording oral tradition textually serves to preserve it forever. Consequently, the previous generations’ voices can endure for eternity.
What is Oral Tradition?
Virtually every culture in the world has some form of oral tradition. In general, oral tradition “refers to a dynamic and highly diverse oral-aural medium for evolving, storing, and transmitting knowledge, art, and ideas.”
Oral tradition is much more than just talking, though. It is about either giving or receiving valuable information. Many times, this is information you will not find in history books.
Oral tradition is the foremost way in which people transmit knowledge from one generation to the next.
Think about the stories you heard from your parents or grandparents. These stories often contain a message or lesson. The lesson encapsulates what your family or culture’s values truly are.
Celebrated author Edwidge Danticat offers this wonderful insight: “These were our bedtime stories: Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown, and they became our sole inheritance.”
The marvelous quote above refers to three key elements pertaining to oral tradition.
First, oral tradition is a part of our childhood. These stories permeate our upbringing and ultimately define most of our identity. As such, these “bedtime stories” mark much of our makeup throughout our formative years. The lessons contained in these stories help mold who we become.
Second, the stories contained in oral tradition also marked our parents’ lives. As we understand these stories, we can comprehend who our parents truly were. Eventually, we can gain a better sense of our parents’ generation. These tales shed light on our parents’ psyche, thereby allowing us to see them in an entirely new way.
Third, we only truly begin to understand what oral tradition truly means when we are older and more mature. Life experience helps us perceive the importance of our oral tradition. Hopefully, our maturity allows us to distill the valuable teachings and incorporate them into our lives.
Eventually, we, too, become transmitters of our ancestors’ oral tradition. Nevertheless, we also have a chance to add our particular flavor. In doing so, the next generation can get a renewed sense of stories that, in some cases, are hundreds if not thousands of years old.
Why Does Oral Tradition Matter?
Academic and author Patricia Leavy drops this impressive thought on oral tradition: “Oral history interviews allow us to document and chronicle people’s stories; stories that might otherwise not be included in the historical record.”
Indeed, oral history is about recording stories, tales, anecdotes, and experiences that would most likely not make it into the history books.
Sadly, many mainstream historians dismiss oral tradition due to its lack of accuracy or evidence. However, oral tradition provides priceless clues into major historical events.
Think about your family’s stories. Perhaps you heard about your grandparents fighting in a war. Maybe you heard about your parents emigrating from a foreign country. Or, you could have heard stories about how your ancestors lived through major historical events.
Sure, these tales might lack the depth that history books provide. Nevertheless, these stories impart knowledge not found in the history texts.
Thus, the case for oral tradition boils down to first-hand knowledge and experience. This first-hand experience allows the recipients of it to build their own understanding of oral tradition’s contents based on their experience. In the end, recipients can articulate a much broader link between stories and recorded history.
Naturally, there will be some divergence between one account and another. Nonetheless, this contrast is what provides greater depth to our perception of our historical context.
Undoubtedly, the importance of oral tradition lies in filling in the gaps that mainstream history cannot possibly fill. Consequently, chronicling those unrecorded stories provides a valuable contribution to the overall historical record of our families and communities.
Oral Tradition and Genealogy
Oral tradition and genealogy are inseparable. We cannot talk about oral tradition without talking about genealogy. After all, our families’ histories stem from oral tradition. Without the oral tradition, we would have very little knowledge of our ancestors.
American poet and genealogist Laurence Overmire makes this stunning contribution: “History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”
Definitely, history recalls extraordinary individuals. However, seemingly average folks frequently fall through the cracks.
Genealogy makes sure that does not occur.
By way of oral tradition, genealogy goes beyond the study of family origins and history. The narrow-minded view of genealogy reduces this study to a mere compilation of ancestor names and birthdates.
And in the best of cases, genealogy produces family trees. However, family trees do very little to reveal the true people behind the names and faces.
Those who claim they know their genealogy can only cite names and dates. Unfortunately, they may not know who their ancestors genuinely were.
As a result, this situation leads to a lopsided understanding of family genealogy.
This is where oral tradition comes to the rescue.
Oral tradition allows people to mesh traditional genealogy with sociology. Indeed, oral tradition helps incorporate details into family history. Just as Laurence Overmire remarked, “Genealogy remembers them all.” However, we cannot expect to accomplish this goal without oral tradition.
Critics may point out that many accounts in oral tradition are apocryphal. True, many accounts are virtually impossible to prove. But therein lies the beauty of oral tradition. Oral tradition does not intend to be a collection of actual data. Oral tradition seeks to breathe life into our past.
After all, we are not looking to prove a murder case. We are looking to recreate our ancestors’ identities.
The Role of a Ghostwriter in Recording Oral Tradition
So, what can you do if you are serious about chronicling your family’s genealogy through oral tradition?
If you have the time and expertise, you can endeavor to record your family’s genealogy.
This enterprise, while time-consuming, is also a labor of love.
After all, sifting through old photographs and mementos and talking to relatives can be quite rewarding.
However, there are occasions when going about this project may become overwhelming.
For some, taking on a project of this nature exceeds their experience. Naturally, not everyone is a trained genealogist and writer. Furthermore, the time needed to go about research can become increasingly demanding.
Many people choose to forego their desire to chronicle their family’s genealogy due to the obstacles to recording oral tradition.
But here is where a ghostwriter can bring this project to fruition.
Professional ghostwriters can tackle the heavy lifting. Ghostwriters have the tools and experience required to make family genealogy projects a reality.
Please bear in mind that a ghostwriter’s role can be as broad or limited as you would like it to be. For example, you can enlist a ghostwriter to handle every aspect of your family’s historical record. The ghostwriter can do research, conduct interviews, and cross-reference with official documents.
In contrast, you can give your records to a ghostwriter who can then go about translating your information into a working text.
Novelist Pearl S. Buck once remarked, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” As such, a ghostwriter can help you make this seemingly daunting task much easier to complete.
A ghostwriter can help you sift through the noise that comes from reams of information and articulate it into a coherent narrative of your family’s history.
Once you have completed your project, you will find that the finished product is much more valuable than you could have ever fathomed. The outcome will be your contribution to preserving the record of your community’s history.
How to Hire a Ghostwriter to Record Your Family’s Oral Tradition
On the surface, it might seem relatively straightforward to hire a ghostwriter.
Professional ghostwriters are adept at several topics and disciplines.
Great ghostwriters can tackle virtually any project that comes their way.
However, when it comes to recording your genealogy, it is not quite so simple.
Therefore, we must consider the following elements when hiring a ghostwriter to record your family’s oral tradition.
Area of Expertise
Initially, it would be best if you ascertained what the ghostwriter’s area of expertise is. If you contact a ghostwriter specializing in business or technology, they may not prove to be the best choice. In contrast, a ghostwriter who is also a trained historian may turn out to be the best choice you could make.
Also, please consider the ghostwriter’s portfolio. Suppose they have a track record in writing about history. In that case, you can rest assured they are familiar with the research that goes into a project such as this.
Conversely, it is not advisable to risk such a delicate project on someone whose expertise is not in history or genealogy.
Experience goes hand in hand with expertise. Ideally, your chosen ghostwriter would have plenty of experience writing about history, genealogy, and even oral tradition.
Nevertheless, those are highly specialized areas. Therefore, there may not be too many ghostwriters with that specific experience.
When hiring a ghostwriter, take the time to interview your candidates. During the interview, focus on projects they’ve completed. Ideally, your ghostwriter of choice should have experience in genealogy. Otherwise, make sure to discuss their previous projects.
If the candidate has relevant experience, then you may consider moving forward.
Additionally, please ensure the candidate has experience conducting interviews. Experience with interviews is highly desirable, particularly if you have elderly relatives. Moreover, you may want them to conduct interviews with other older folks in your community.
Consequently, experience with interviews is a great asset.
The best ghostwriters out there do not have a lot of time on their hands. In fact, many have a long waiting list. Therefore, you must ensure your chosen ghostwriter’s schedule can meet your expected timeline. While you may be keen on waiting for the right ghostwriter, waiting too long may kill your momentum.
A great rule of thumb is to have a shortlist of ghostwriters. A list of two or three ghostwriters will help you manage your project. As such, you can always go with someone else in case your first choice is unavailable.
A good alternative is to go with a ghostwriting company. Ghostwriting companies enlist more than one writer. Thus, a company could make the entire process much easier to manage.
If you do choose to go with a company, please ensure your point of contact is knowledgeable about your project’s scope and aims.
And whenever possible, maintain contact with the ghostwriter. In doing so, you can communicate your thoughts and intentions directly. This approach will greatly enhance your project’s chances for success.
Wrapping it Up
Our genealogy is a wonderful aspect of who we are. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. Thus, it is only fitting that we uncover who we truly are.
Oral tradition plays a pivotal role in discovering who we are. Moreover, it helps reveal the basis of our true identity.
By choosing to chronicle our family and community’s oral tradition, we can gain a much deeper understanding of those who came before us.
Naturally, this endeavor takes time and dedication.
While you surely desire to make it happen, you may not have the time or expertise to take on a project like this. Therefore, hiring a ghostwriter to record your genealogy can make a significant difference.
Hiring a professional ghostwriter can ease the workload that comes with a genealogy project. An experienced ghostwriter can take your ideas and translate them into an articulated family history.
Moreover, a great ghostwriter can conduct research, do interviews, and produce a finished product.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide on the best ghostwriter for your project. Therefore, finding the right ghostwriter boils down to experience, expertise, and availability.
Please bear in mind that your chosen ghostwriter’s personality also influences the overall outcome. So, make sure you both click on a personal level. After all, this ghostwriter will take your precious family history and transform it into a lasting record. So, it makes sense to find someone who can relate to who you are.
The internet is a great tool for family history research. Unlike the “olden days” when research consisted of searching through a card catalog in a library, and then spending hours thumbing through stacks of books, you can now find seemingly endless information with just the click of a mouse.
However, with family history research, there are times when the internet just doesn’t have the information you need. That doesn’t mean that you should give up on your search, though. It just means you may have to look a little harder–and actually leave your house.
To get started, here are eight great resources to help you locate those hard-to-find records and information that is not available online.
1. The Family History Expert
If your grandparents are anything like mine, they probably have a box somewhere full of old family documents and information.
And, if you’re lucky, that box may contain things like birth certificates and baptismal records, death certificates, or even old family bibles that can help you fill in the missing pieces of your family tree.
Or, if your grandparents are no longer living, check with your parents or your aunts and uncles.
Chances are the box of family treasures was passed down to one of them at some point.
While you may already know some of the data stored in those boxes, you may just get lucky and learn some new information!
While some would argue that libraries are slowly becoming a thing of the past, there is no denying that they are still a great source for family history research.
Not only do libraries contain books full of historical information, many of them also offer free access to membership-only sites such as Ancestry.com.
3. State and National Archives
Are you looking for your ancestor’s military records from World War I? Census records from 1910?
Or how about the land records for the farm that your family owned for generations?
All of these can be accessed with a visit to a state archives or the National Archives.
The National Archives—which house a plethora of historical documents, including census records, ship manifests, land and title records, military records, and more—can be accessed by writing or calling ahead to make an appointment, and then obtaining a research card upon arrival.
Just make sure that you do your research in advance, to confirm exactly which archive facility houses the information you are looking for.
And, if you are seeking records from countries other than the United States, you’ll need to contact their local or National Archives for access information.
4. Ellis Island
If your ancestors immigrated to the United States between 1855 and 1954, chances are they —along with more than 12 million other immigrants— may have gone through Ellis Island.
The island, which was once used to process incoming immigrants hoping for a better life in America, is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. And the building there that once handled thousands of optimistic immigrants a day is now the home of the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
If you’re hoping to find information about your ancestors who passed through the famous island, check out the Family History Center, located on the first floor of the museum.
There you’ll find 65 million searchable records, which include ship manifests as well as immigration documents.
5. Church or Parish Archives
Believe it or not, there was once a time when birth certificates, social security cards, marriage records, and death certificates did not exist.
If you’ve managed to research your family back as far as the early 1800s, you are likely to run into problems finding vital records for them. That’s because things like birth certificates were not required by most states until at least the late 1800s (and sometimes later).
So, without those important documents, how do you find out when your ancestors were born, when they got married, or when they died?
Luckily, prior to official vital records, church or parish archives kept track of a lot of that information. And a lot of those archives still hold those records today.
If you are able to track down the town in which your ancestors resided, there is probably some sort of record of them in the local church’s archives.
Just contact the church to see if they allow public access to those records. Or, if that is not possible, ask if they have someone there who can do a search for you and make copies of any relevant documents.
When most people think of courthouses, genealogical research is not usually what comes to mind.
So, it may come as a surprise to hear that courthouses can actually be a great resource for finding information about your family history.
While most courthouses don’t house vital records, (those can generally be found in a separate office within the state’s Department of Health), one thing that they do have is land and tax records.
They also frequently house estate records, probate records, and property records.
As long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do some page-by-page digging, these records can help you discover how much land and property your ancestors owned, what kinds of things they willed to their children, and frequently even the names of all of their children (as well as their spouses and children!).
Cemeteries may not be a popular place to hang out, but they really are chock full of valuable information. Not only can they give you peace of mind knowing where your ancestors’ final resting place is, but the gravestones can also give you hints about their dates of birth and death.
They can also frequently clue you in to other things, like military service or religious and cultural associations.
But, before you can go sleuthing through the cemetery, you first need to figure out where your ancestors were buried. This information can frequently be found in obituaries, death certificates, and family bibles, or through sites like findagrave.com.
If those resources don’t turn up any answers, check the local library for books on cemeteries in the area (and who is buried in them).
Once you have determined where your ancestors were buried, check with the cemetery’s office (if it has one) or the local city hall for a map of where the graves are located.
Just be aware that many smaller cemeteries do not have offices to help, and not all city halls are able to provide this information. In those cases, you may just need to dust off your hiking shoes and take a walk through the cemetery. Luckily, once you locate one family member’s grave, it’s likely that the others are somewhere nearby.
8. Genealogical and Historical Societies
For ancestry research, genealogical and historical societies can be a true goldmine of information.
These societies are charged with researching, preserving, collecting, and interpreting historical information for the areas in which they are located (and frequently beyond).
Many of them are staffed with experienced genealogists and historians who are happy to help you track down your long-lost ancestors.
And sometimes they even host free events and classes with tips and tricks for conducting genealogical research.
Just be sure to give them a call before you show up, to make sure that they are open for visitors.
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” —George Bernard Shaw
Researching family history is a sublime endeavor. All individuals are the product of their ancestors’ path through life. After all, every generation compounds the legacy of previous ones.
Indeed, family history is an indispensable element in everyone’s identity.
Family history is often an abstract concept, though. It can be quite complex to translate one’s ancestors into a tangible form. Naturally, photographs and video help capture family history. However, documentary evidence does not always exist.
There’s a plethora of reasons why chronicling family history is a worthwhile exercise.
Here are some of the reasons we think that writing a family history book is a marvelous way to preserve genealogy.
Top 10 Reasons to Write a Family History Book
1. Family History Matters
Undoubtedly, family history is a crucial element in a person’s identity. After all, understanding one’s roots is a fundamental element that comprises personal identity.
In a 2014 study, more than 60 percent of subjects surveyed indicated that “it has become more important than ever now to know their family history.” Moreover, the respondents indicated that “the past is important to understanding who they are today.”
As renowned American author Alex Haley once said, “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from.” For most people, deciphering their genealogical roots is at the forefront of their identity. Thus, uncovering family history fulfills this purpose.
Also, people who come from immigrant families often yearn to piece together their genealogy. Unfortunately, many details regarding ancestry get lost over the years.
However, the internet has now facilitated research. Additionally, companies specializing in genealogy have aided millions of individuals in piecing together their family histories. Indeed, family history matters now more than ever.
2. An Ongoing Narrative of Family History Connects Past and Present
When a person lacks knowledge of their ancestry, they tend to feel isolated in the world. Knowing one’s family history can remedy feelings of separation and disconnection.
By discovering ancestry, people can reconnect with their past. In doing so, they create an ongoing narrative.
The concept of an ongoing narrative suggests the need to preserve the past while writing new chapters in the present. Moreover, there is a sensation of projecting the future within the mesh of an uninterrupted continuum.
Finally, this continuum provides individuals with a sense of collectiveness.
American author Liam Callanan offers this pearl of wisdom: “We all carry inside us, people who came before us.” This statement is true both genetically and culturally.
All people walking on Earth today carry their ancestors’ genes. In addition, every human being is the result of cultural consciousness. This consciousness continues from generation to generation.
The sum of both culture and genetics leads to every unique human being. Whether aware or not, every individual on this planet is part of an ongoing narrative. Those who consciously add to the narrative can create wonderful chapters at every turn.
3. Documenting the Narrative is Worthwhile
Penning a family narrative may seem like a presumptuous endeavor. Some may feel that family histories belong to wealthy households. However, all families have a narrative that unfolds over time. The exciting part is documenting this narrative.
Current generations have a fantastic opportunity to document every aspect of their lives. After all, modern technology has made it easier than ever to record all facets of life.
However, previous generations did not have this luxury. As a result, writing a family history enables current generations to document the lives, challenges, struggles, and victories of previous generations. Most importantly, current generations can leave a foundational document for future generations to build on.
Documenting previous generations may include photos, letters, accounts, anecdotes, and various artifacts.
For instance, jewelry, furniture, books, or mementos all possess unquantifiable value.
In particular, the stories attached to each artifact help build the narrative surrounding individual family members or the family as a collective entity.
Ultimately, documenting family narrative provides substance to anecdotes. Moreover, family history gains remarkable depth by establishing a deeper link between an abstract past and a concrete present. It is akin to bringing the past back to life.
4. Families Are Important to Individuals and Communities
It’s no secret that families are important to individuals. At a broader level, though, families are also important to entire communities.
Uncovering family history can fill in the gaps of collective history. Thus, it is a process that starts from the inside and moves toward the outside. In other words, single families become the foundation for broader communities. Then, communities build nations.
Bestselling author Michael Crichton once remarked, “If you don’t know your history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Indeed, every person is a leaf on a tree. Yet, sadly, many do not realize that their tree has roots deep into the ground.
In fact, descendants of immigrant families can frequently trace their ancestry back to a single family or group of families. By doing this, they can see the part their ancestors played in the development of entire towns and communities.
5. Family Trees Are Too Simple
Many families pride themselves on identifying their lineage. Indeed, having a clear and elaborate family tree can provide substance to an individual’s identity.
However, family trees are very simple devices.
While they require copious amounts of work to produce, they do not offer depth to a family’s history.
After all, family trees are names and sometimes pictures of people long gone. They cannot speak.
In contrast, a family history book can have as many voices as there are family members. A detailed family history can give voices to the names and faces on a tree. Moreover, family history books add a profound touch to an otherwise sterile genealogical exercise.
John Bond, the author of The Story of You, offers this insightful passage about writing a family history: “It makes names into real, live people. Family stories help you and your family become more than a birth and a death date.”
Unfortunately, seeing ancestors solely in terms of dates robs their right to a voice. A family history book provides a voice to the names and dates on the tree.
6. Memories Fade and Fragment Over Time
Oral tradition is a stalwart of human history. Without it, much of the world’s history and knowledge would have disappeared long ago.
However, with oral history, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of all accounts. Instead, the issue lies in the fragmentation of stories and accounts over time. When generations hand stories down to the next, these stories often become distorted. While this distortion is hardly intentional, it occurs, nonetheless.
There is, however, a way to stop fragmenting stories.
Putting family stories into black and white preserves their integrity. It offers future generations the opportunity to discover their ancestry through the eyes and mouths of their ancestors. This approach provides tremendous insight into history as told by those who lived it.
In fact, many of the world’s greatest books, such as the Bible and Koran, have their roots in oral tradition. At some point, someone took the time to write down those oral accounts to preserve them forever.
A line from Janice T. Dixon’s 1997 book Family Focused peers into the minds of virtually all people: “I am not famous or rich, but I still want to be remembered.” Undoubtedly, people from all walks of life want their memory to endure.
7. Giving Voice to the Misrepresented Delivers Justice
There are instances in which history paints families, or entire communities, in an unfavorable light. Such is often the case of specific ethnic and minority groups.
Family history books provide an opportunity for current generations to set the record straight and allow misrepresented groups to have their turn to speak.
For example, minority groups such as African slaves and Native Americans have historically received unfair treatment in mainstream history textbooks.
Such unfair treatment can change with an appropriate family history book. Part of social and ethnic fairness involves giving victims of past injustices the voice they deserve.
Judy Barrington, author of Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, provides this meaningful thought: “For members of marginalized groups, speaking personally and truthfully about our lives plays a small part in erasing years of invisibility and interpretation by others.”
As such, the time has come to give forgotten souls the voice they deserve.
Voices long suppressed by oblivion now have their turn to seek freedom. Today’s generation now has the chance to hear the other side of the story. Ultimately, doing justice is about returning the voice of those silenced by unfair history textbooks.
8. Representing Female Voices is Long Overdue
Traditionally, family histories take on a paternalistic tone. As such, lineage often follows male lines. After all, most families inherit male surnames.
This approach robs females of their rightful place in family histories.
Because of male-transmitted surnames, female presence tends to fade into the family genealogy.
Undoubtedly, female contributions are the backbone of all families.
However, simple diagrams like family trees cannot represent the scope of female contributions appropriately.
Therefore, family history books offer female voices the chance to take their rightful spot within the narrative.
Patricia Law Hatcher, in her book Producing a Quality Family History, offers this magnificent thought on female lines:
“The traditional descendants of genealogy usually begin with the immigrant and follows descendants for some number of generations. Often, they have a paternalistic bend and follow only male descendants who bore the surname.”
This line of thinking clearly emphasizes the skew toward male lines. Therefore, female voices lose their place. As Law Hatcher concludes, “In the future we hope to see less short-changing of maternal lines and collateral lines in published material.”
“Short-changing female lines” is an understatement. Modern family history projects must strive to provide maternal lines the importance they deserve.
9. All Family Histories Matter
Generally speaking, affluent families tend to chronicle their histories. Moreover, biographers and historians gravitate toward families within upscale social circles. However, focusing merely on such families is a gross injustice.
Poor families from less-privileged backgrounds have so much to offer. These families are the ones that offer substance to reality. After all, wealthy families account for a small fraction of society’s overall population. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on those less-than-affluent families. Their stories reveal the real world beneath the glossy surface.
Patricia Law Hatcher mentions the following ideas about family histories:
“Genealogical publishing was accessible primarily to the affluent. Modern genealogists are researching ancestors who are relatively recent immigrants, landless, illiterate, living on the frontier, or migrating. There seems to be a trend away from idealizing our ancestors.”
Indeed, the thought of romanticizing ancestors withers in the face of reality. For many people, their ancestry stems from adventurous folks who faced harsh conditions. These ancestors were the ones who laid the foundation for the prosperous lands known today. Consequently, they, too, deserve recognition for who they truly were.
10. Long Forgotten Ancestors Should be Reclaimed and Humanized
Forgetting ancestors is a sad reality. Unfortunately, the longer time passes, the easier it becomes to forget past generations.
Current generations tend to face recency bias; that is, they defer their respect to those family members they knew.
In contrast, current generations tend to let go of those ancestors they never met.
Family history books offer the opportunity to humanize long-forgotten individuals.
By humanizing them, ancestors re-emerge to claim their place within the family history. This allows current generations to truly understand those who came before them.
Janice T. Dixon had this to say about her experience with humanizing previous generations: “The generations slipped away as I shared her grief for a moment. In reading her words, I felt closer to my grandmother than I ever have.”
This statement encapsulates the human nature that envelopes all ancestors. By transporting readers to the past, they can figuratively step into their ancestors’ shoes. Ultimately, there is room for a deeply personal experience.
Undoubtedly, a family history of this nature allows readers to come face to face with those who blazed the trail they now walk on.
Writing a family history book is an exercise in reviving the past. This exercise enables current generations to see how their ancestors shaped today’s society.
Most importantly, a thorough exercise into family history allows forgotten voices to come back to life.
In particular, family history is an exercise in justice. A great family history book allows misrepresented voices to have their day. It is now possible to give long-forgotten ancestors the chance to tell their side of the story.
Ultimately, a relatively sterile exercise of chronicling dates and names can come alive by humanizing those names and dates.
In the words of British cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant, “If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.”
Unquestionably, those ghosts come to life when families come together.
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”—George Bernard Shaw
Deciding to produce a book can be quite daunting, especially when it is about personal or family history. It can prove to be an even more daunting task when the book is about an important family event meshed within history’s broader context.
Naturally, there may be a plethora of questions surrounding the process of producing such a literary piece. For individuals undertaking this process, choosing to hire a ghostwriter to aid in the process may seem like a viable alternative.
In some instances, the professional writer may come in the form of a co-author. In other cases, it may come in the form of a ghostwriter.
But is a hiring a ghostwriter really worth the expense?
In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages that come with hiring a ghostwriter and will also shed some light on the often misunderstood role of a ghostwriter.
Deciding to Write a Personal or Family History Book
Popular belief states that only wealthy and renowned families write books on their family history. Likewise, the common thought is that only celebrities and other notable people write books on their personal stories. However, this assumption could not be further from the truth.
People from all walks of life may feel inclined to chronicle their past experiences at one point or another in their lives.
These chronicles serve both an archival and didactic purpose. First, writing a memoir provides a record of a person’s experiences. This exercise helps to preserve personal history by way of first-hand accounts.
In addition, preserving personal and family history provides lessons learned for future generations.
In olden times, oral tradition—usually storytelling—allowed one generation to pass on its knowledge and experience to future generations. With the emergence of written language, preserving tradition was no longer limited to mere storytelling. The printed word enabled generation after generation to pass on valuable insights to the next generation.
Passing on knowledge, wisdom, experience, and lessons from one generation to another has been a staple of human society since its beginnings. Therefore, it is only reasonable to assume that this tradition would endure into the current age.
Thus, deciding to write a memoir or chronicle a family’s history isn’t an odd or even a new compunction; it is a desire as old as the human race.
Penny Stratton, Publishing Director at American Ancestors, offers this insightful tidbit into publishing family history:
“Think about the legacy you will be leaving if you write and publish your own family research: not only a legacy for current and future family members, but an important resource for current and future genealogical researchers.”
Indeed, there is no question that recording individual and family history is a valuable resource for present and future scholars.
When deciding to write about such personal details, many factors come into consideration. Initially, the most significant factor pertains to the type of information included.
For instance, will the book be a collection of family stories and anecdotes? Will the story center around a specific event or time? Will the book focus on one character?
Additionally, how many details is the family comfortable in divulging? Are there any secrets that ought not to be revealed?
Then, it is also necessary to consider the book’s theme. For example, the book could focus on a dramatic journey from one country to another. Also, the book might have more of a funny spin to it. Perhaps the book is meant to preserve cultural or ethnic heritage.
The book’s central theme should provide readers with an identity of the characters in the story. The aim should be to create a truly authentic experience.
Additionally, the book’s narrative style needs careful thought. Some memoirs have more of a storytelling feel to them. Others read like a history textbook in which dates are interlaced with anecdotes. Furthermore, some biographies tell specific stories within the overall architecture of a historical period. A good example of this would be the story of a well-known war reframed through the harrowing tale of a family escaping the conflict.
Elements of a Personal or Family History Book
Writing about personal family history may seem relatively straightforward on the surface. But beneath, there are multiple layers of complexity.
These layers pertain to the various facets surrounding a family's history. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the elements that make up a successful depiction of a family's history.
After all, a work such as this will become part of a family’s legacy. As such, it is crucial to consider the following elements.
When writing about family history specifically, the book’s genealogical format is highly significant. There are two types of genealogical formats to consider: the register style and the ancestor table.
The register style is a descriptive format that uses a paragraph-by-paragraph depiction of a person’s or family’s history. In this style, the aim is to provide as many factual details as possible. Here is an example of what this style would look like:
“John Doe was born in New York, New York, United States, on January 11, 1912. He was the son of Jack Doe and Jane Doe. He married Mary Doe on May 17, 1950. He died on September 27, 1989, in Atlanta, Georgia.”
The description above represents the information about John Doe. This example highlights factual data extracted from legal documentation such as birth, death, marriage certificates, or court documents. Newspaper reports may also serve as proof, though it would be worthwhile to ascertain their accuracy.
The ancestor table is a format in which a table shows the ancestry of an individual or family. The table attempts to go as far back as possible to establish the relationships between current members and past generations.
A family tree is the most common means of representing this table. Conventionally, the tree begins with the current generation and works its ancestry up.
Generally speaking, the number one person on the diagram is the subject of the work. From there, subjects two and three would represent their parents, while subjects four, five, six, and so on would be siblings. These numerical representations allow the reader to get a better sense of the lineage in each generation.
Organization and Scope
One of the most common issues with family history is casting too wide a net.
Some works attempt to capture stories regarding all members of a particular family. However, the family may be so big that it would be impossible to describe every member appropriately.
There are other families whose ancestry is so rich that they can trace their heritage back several generations, leading to a significantly broader scope.
Consequently, it is important to narrow the focus to one or two generations. This may imply multiple volumes in order to encompass all members and their generations.
When the work focuses on a single person, the issue then becomes about how many other members to include. Naturally, the most important members should be described throughout the work. Thus, any other members who do not play a significant role should be left out of the book’s scope.
Madeleine L’Engle, the creator of A Wrinkle in Time, had this to say about family history:
“If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them, too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are.”
The book’s aim should therefore be about preserving the ties that bind entire generations together. These links transcend individuals as they make their way through the annals of time.
Both the ancestor chart and the genealogical format tend to be somewhat rigid. As such, they do not necessarily lend themselves to a more narrative style.
If the book aims to share stories, anecdotes, and experiences in addition to factual data, a storytelling-type format will likely suit the book best. That way, the book can transition easily from objective to anecdotal information.
In this case, following an exact, chronological order is the most effective way to balance factual and anecdotal information.
Photos and Images
Whenever available, photographs, paintings, or drawings all serve incredibly well to highlight the information presented. Therefore, this material should be utilized as much as possible. Doing so allows readers to gain a clear vision, particularly when making references to past eras.
Moreover, entire discussions and narratives can be constructed around images.
Deciding to Hire a Ghostwriter
Seeking to produce a text, like a personal or family history, can easily seem like an overwhelming task. After all, the lack of experience in producing written materials may lead to procrastination—the issue of not knowing where to begin may ultimately delay the production of much-anticipated family history.
When it comes to memoirs or autobiographies, individuals may find themselves at a loss for words. In some instances, highly articulate individuals may find it challenging to put pen to paper. Some get lost in a sea of notes and materials.
It’s not unusual for people to retain a professional ghostwriter’s services. Especially for older people with a unique family history, or busy professionals, who just don’t have the time to write their own history.
These people often find that it is much more sensible to hire a ghostwriter than to take on a co-author.
To begin with, a co-author usually receives credit for the book’s production. Naturally, this entitles them to receive a portion of the proceeds from the book. Moreover, a co-author may hold copyright claims over some or all of the material included in the publication.
In contrast, a ghostwriter does not receive any credit for their work. They are simply paid for their writing services, thereby leaving them with no claim over any material in the book. The person hiring them is the author; the ghostwriter is just the person helping the author put their story on paper.
This arrangement provides greater peace of mind for the author, as they retain full control over their published works.
The decision to hire a professional ghostwriter facilitates the production process. As a professional, a ghostwriter can create the content needed for the book within a specified scope. Moreover, they can use the narrative style that best suits the author’s style.
Additionally, hiring a ghostwriter tends to be more cost-effective, especially considering they have no claims over the book’s content.
Yet, the thought of hiring a ghostwriter may not sit well with some people. There is a negative perception of the ghostwriting profession due to the prevalence of unscrupulous individuals. Some of these individuals produce low-quality work that fails to meet industry standards. In other circumstances, some of these individuals create plagiarized works.
To avoid such issues, it is always best to hire a reputable writing company. Professional companies hire qualified writers with proven track records. Additionally, like any other business, these companies stake their reputation on the quality of their output and their clients’ satisfaction. Hence, they offer a better alternative to merely hiring a so-called writer from a shady ad.
When hiring a ghostwriter, it is a standard practice to meet with the writer (or the company representatives) to request sample work. Often, samples may include the introduction or a chapter. This practice serves to gauge the quality of the work before committing to any contracts or payments.
Once the book’s author is ready to move forward, standard confidentiality and non-disclosure contracts must be signed to hold all sides accountable for the content. Additionally, waivers on any copyright claims need to become a part of this process. If possible, book authors should check with their legal counsel to ensure no potential legal issues may arise.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hiring a Ghostwriter
Using the services of a ghostwriter has both advantages and disadvantages. Thus, it is worth looking into both sides of the argument before making a final call on the effectiveness of hiring a ghostwriter to produce a personal or family history book.
Attribution of Work
The clearest advantage of hiring a ghostwriter lies in the attribution of the work. Mainly, the author gets to keep all rights and takes credit for the work’s production, which does not occur with a co-author. Hence, using a professional ghostwriter allows the individual to produce high-quality work without sharing any of the credit or earnings.
Protecting Family Legacy
Working with a ghostwriter enables the author to fully control the material and how it is written. This ensures that no surprises become part of the book. As such, having full control over the material enables the author to ensure that their legacy, as well as their family’s legacy, is protected.
While co-authors may not have free reign, they might make decisions without consulting the family. Such actions may lead to issues that could ultimately jeopardize the book’s publication.
Full Creative Control
Authors retain full creative control over every aspect of the book. If they dislike anything in the text, they can request a change. If their standards are not met, the author can fire the ghostwriter and start over. Naturally, firing the writer isn’t the ideal scenario. Nevertheless, the author has that option should they choose to exercise it.
By contrast, when working with co-authors, disagreements over style and prose could potentially lead to the author losing valuable creative control.
It is important to keep in mind that hiring a ghostwriter has disadvantages as well. Here are the most pressing concerns regarding this issue.
Ghostwriting Can Be Costly
Generally speaking, co-authors do not take an upfront payment. They usually get a cut of royalties or a percentage from book sales. Other co-authors do it for the exposure that may come from publication.
While this may not represent an upfront cost, it may represent a considerable payment down the road.
In the case of ghostwriters, they can command a substantial fee for producing the book. It may range from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars. Yet, the upfront cost would undoubtedly offset the book’s potential long-term earnings, especially if it is a commercial success.
Some Ghostwriters Are Unreliable
Unfortunately, there are unreliable and even unscrupulous individuals out there. In some cases, these so-called writing companies swindle unsuspecting clients.
For some, it might be just about money. For others, it might be about stealing intellectual property. Thus, it is essential for authors to vet any company, or individual ghostwriter, before working with them.
The most effective way of finding a reputable ghostwriter is through word of mouth. In addition, legal paperwork is a must. Any individual or company that balks at signing non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements should never be trusted.
Ghostwriting Can Be a Slow Process
Producing a professional book can be a laborious process. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect high-quality work in short order.
Individuals and companies that claim they can produce top-tier materials on a tight schedule might be attempting to fool their clients. Authors should be aware that creating great content takes time. While this does not mean it should take eons, it does mean that patience is necessary, especially when there are multiple revisions and changes.
Hiring a ghostwriter to produce individual or family history is a serious decision. After all, entrusting precious family stories to a third-party is an extremely delicate business. As such, it is crucial to find a reputable ghostwriter who has a track record of meeting their clients’ expectations.
The ghostwriting process could prove to be time-consuming and somewhat arduous, but the overall result can exceed expectations when done appropriately. Consequently, engaging in a trial run is the best course of action before committing to a full book deal.
In the meantime, legal paperwork must be completed to ensure the proper protection of a priceless family legacy.