In this lesson, we'll discuss how to document your findings. This is one of the most exciting and fun parts of the whole genealogy experience!
Creating a family tree
A family tree tends to be a holy grail for many genealogists, with the goal to fill in all of the branches. Whether that's your priority or not — you may only be interested in researching a specific part of your heritage — creating a family tree is a nice way to start documenting the "who's who" in your family.
A family tree structure is fairly straightforward, but if you want to go back several generations, it can quickly grow. This is where using a digital tool is preferable. Try using a free one such as FamilySearch.org to compile your family tree. There are many other tools and programs, but if you don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars on this, a free tree builder is perfectly fine.
Filling out your tree can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like. If you'd like to keep it simple, I recommend including this information as the minimum:
- First and last name
- Maiden name (if applicable — this is really important for continuing your research)
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Location of birth
- Location of death
It's OK if you don't have all of that information for everyone you've traced, but it will help you later on to be as thorough as possible. Software makes it easy to plug that info into in each field. You can certainly create a tree in a notebook, but digital tools are much easier to create and update, and you can more efficiently view many generations at a time.
Regardless of what you choose, try following this format, with your name in the bottom box:
Other ways to document your findings
A family tree is an important and logistical part of the genealogy process, and professional genealogists go into great detail when creating them. However, I strongly believe that genealogy is about more than just names and dates on a diagram. Once you create your tree, you may want to add more to your family story.
Create a scrapbook
You don't have to have learned about every single family member for the past five generations to start making a scrapbook. In fact, it's better to start it while you're starting your research, because you won't be overwhelmed with a bunch of documents. It also helps put all of your research into perspective — what are some of the missing pieces you'd like to fill in? Do you have a lot more information about one part of the family, but not another?
A genealogy scrapbook may be simple: pictures placed in slip-covers, and annotations next to each one, with notes about that person (such as birthdays or weddings). You may not have photos of the actual person, but it's likely you've uncovered some sort of document, such as a birth certificate or immigration paper.
You may also consider creating a scrapbook digitally, and get it printed using a service like Shutterfly or Artifact Uprising. If you've done most or all of your research on the computer, this is actually easier than having to print everything out to paste in a print book.
A genealogy scrapbook, no matter the format, is a priceless gift that can be shared with your family — and you can encourage them to add to it to create a living, evolving document.
Write a Narrative
A fun way to delve more into your family history is to write a story to go with your findings. This may take the form of a memoir or biography, or you may go even further into historical fiction territory. Writing a narrative helps put dates, events, and people into context, giving you a fuller picture of who your family members may have been. It's also a great way to learn more about your own heritage.
Historical narratives can be tricky, even for experienced writers and historians. So it's best to think of it like a campfire story — how would you explain a family member's life in a compelling way? What rich details can you include about where they were born or what they did?
While doing my own family research, I learned that my great-great-parents may have started one of the first grocery stores in San Francisco. From this, I could write an engaging story about a young Russian immigrant couple building a business in America — a classic American story! I could speculate about what San Francisco may have smelled and sounded like. I can read about other Russian immigrants to learn about what they may have ate or drank. From the National Archives, I can find pictures of San Francisco from that the late 1800s to help me envision what they may have seen. And from my own experiences — as a newlywed, for instance — I can add some additional details about the joy and struggles of marriage. Of course, much of this I'll never know for sure, but I can use my research findings for context while creating a fact-based family legend.
Record oral history
If you have members in your family who have aided in your genealogy project, do not miss the opportunity to record their lives. It's important to consider the generations who may come after you, and what they may want to know about these people. There is nothing like hearing the voice of a loved one long after they've passed, and letting them tell their stories in their own words means that you're getting valuable details straight from the source.
You don't need fancy equipment to record. All smartphones come equipped with free recording apps (usually just called "Voice Record") and most laptops have built-in microphones. An inexpensive voice recorder can also be found on Amazon.com or Walmart for under $50.
In the lesson projects below, I've provided a worksheet for each of these documentation mediums to help you get started.
LESSON #5 PROJECTS
Pick one of these to start documenting your findings!
Creating your family tree
This worksheet is intended to be used in conjunction with a digital tree-making tool, but it will help organize your data.
Creating a scrapbook
This worksheet provides some tips and cut-outs for starting your scrapbook.
Writing a narrative
This worksheet provides some writing prompts so you can start forming your narrative.
Recording oral history
This worksheet has some tips and sample questions for your first oral history recording.