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3 Ways You’ll Benefit from Writing Your Unique Family History As You Research

You’re struggling with how to tackle writing your unique family history, so you keep researching instead. There is always more to discover, right? You reassure yourself that you’ll document your findings when you finish that.

Done is better than perfect. Have you heard that saying? I used to strongly disagree with that until I realised that I wasn’t finishing many projects. Or any projects, if I’m honest. I’d started multiple stories but never considered any to be complete enough to be shareable.

Or I’d tell myself that I’d start when I’d exhausted the “researchability” (is that a word? ????) of an ancestor. But thanks to technology, new records and techniques continually kept me busy, so that never happened.

It was overwhelming and frustrating.

So I set a goal. For one week, I’d write one story a day, focusing on a single event. Surely I could do that?

Turns out I could. Not only was I flush with success at reaching my goal, but I also discovered that there were other benefits to this process. Significant benefits that you can experience too. You can expect to gain confidence, hone a new skill, become a better researcher and a finisher of projects.

Benefits to writing your unique family history as you research

Benefit 1. Build confidence in your writing skills

The number one reason people tell me that they don’t write their ancestors stories is that they don’t feel confident writing.

Writing is a learned skill, like painting or baking. And yes, some people indeed have a natural talent for it. Yet they still need to learn technique and practice regularly to improve, just like you.

The truth is that the more you do something, the better you become at it.

Writing your unique family history as you research is a great way to hone your skills and find your voice as a writer. You don’t have to show anyone until you’re ready. Those early pieces can be for your eyes only.

Start small. Tackle shorter writing projects such as the story of one ancestor or discovery. You’ll find this more manageable and less daunting than tackling an entire book. Therefore making it easier to motivate yourself to do it.

Benefit 2. Gain a better understanding of your discoveries

A critical step in discovering your ancestor’s stories is to interpret what you’ve found. Usually, the best way to do that is to dive in and explore the data from every angle.

You can do this in several ways, such as reading it repeatedly, talking it through with others, or—my favourite—writing it out in your own words.

Writing out each discovery—so not just transcribing it or adding it to your genealogy software—has multiple benefits. It helps you to 

  • Remember (various studies show that writing things down makes it easier to remember them)
  • Examine (take the time to look at each fact individually and the discovery as a whole)
  • Explore (capture your initial thoughts and theories as you review each discovery)
  • Connect (how does this discovery fit in with what you’ve previously found)

Try spending a few minutes at the end of each research session to record your thoughts on what you did or didn’t discover. Then schedule time weekly to go through each discovery in detail to capture your ideas, cement your understanding and connect the pieces.

Benefit 3. Finish more writing projects

You might think that you need to finish your genealogy research before you start writing the stories. I get it. It’s logical to assume that you can’t write about a topic when you haven’t discovered everything there is to know.

After all, what if you write what you know and then find out something that completely changes the story?

The truth is you will never be “done” with your genealogy research. Nor will you ever finish writing your family history. You’ll always have another story to tell, another ancestor’s life to explore.

Therefore, drafting each ancestor’s story as you discover it means you will make progress writing your unique family history. You will finish multiple writing projects and create shareable case studies or snapshots of individuals or families.

And the bonus? You’ll have a first draft ready for editing when you decide to tackle a family history heritage book instead of feeling overwhelmed by the mammoth task ahead.

Take action writing your unique family history.

Both research and writing are integral parts of creating a shareable and engaging family history. Instead of viewing each as an individual, non-related tasks, try to do them in tandem to see how much progress you make. 

  • Start small to build your confidence as a writer. Treat each ancestor or discovery as a writing project and focus on that. 
  • Gain a deeper understanding from each discovery. Writing things out helps us see things that weren’t obvious at first glance and make it easier to remember them later on.
  • Create shareable stories faster to engage your relatives. Tackling smaller projects, such as one individual or family, means you’ll have shareable content more quickly. Family histories don’t have to be a 200+ page book. 

Writing your unique family history as you research means you’ll become a confident writer, learn more from your research and have many stories that you knit together in editing later on.

How to take action

Ready to gain these benefits in your family history research?

  • Take time at the end of each research session to capture your thoughts and theories.
  • When writing, focus on one discovery or ancestor to keep the projects small and manageable. 
  • Schedule time weekly to write out your findings in story format. You don’t need to worry about fancy techniques; just capture it as you’d say it. Using a recording app on your phone is a great way to start. You won’t overthink what you are saying and can always transcribe it later.

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