Showing posts with label writing family history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing family history. Show all posts

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Who We Are and How We're Related

List of Larimer ancestors written by Brice Larimer McClure
"I am Brice McClure, a son of Margaret Larimer McClure and Wm. McClure," begins the scrap of family history above. It was written by my husband's maternal grandfather (Brice Larimer McClure, 1878-1970) in the first half of the twentieth century.

The family treasures this scrap of paper in Brice's handwriting, listing what he was told about his Larimer family's history. It also demonstrates Brice's pride in his family's background and his hope that these ancestors would be remembered for generations to come.

Brice set a wonderful example: He told descendants (1) exactly who he was and (2) exactly how he was related to his ancestors.

I've been putting my name and the date on every family history booklet I write. Now I realize that's not enough information about me.

When I wrote my most recent booklet about my late father-in-law's musical life, I added a longer note to the title page:
"Written by Marian Burk Wood, daughter-in-law of Edgar James Wood, in December, 2019."
In a decade or two, when some descendant pulls this dusty booklet off the shelf, he or she will see both my name and my relationship to this ancestor.

Although I could add even more info to explain how I fit into the family, I want to keep things simple and leave the spotlight on the featured ancestor in my booklet.

Now future generations will at least know my name, my relationship to the ancestor I'm writing about, and when I prepared the booklet.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Writing Ed's Musical Family History

Page 2 of illustrations to accompany "Music in the Life of Edgar James Wood"
In the previous episode of "obsessed family historian," I said I was going to write a brief biographical booklet introducing the sheet music fake book created by my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986).

Brief? Good grief. My original estimate was a couple of pages. Once I got going, I found more and more to say and show.

To create a narrative about Ed's musical life, as an intro to the fake book being given to his grandchildren this holiday season, here's what I did, step by step.

Start with the Research

What do I know about Ed and his piano-playing? I have a great deal of info on his life. Some of the sources I consulted included:

  • My paper files on Ed (including his copyright documents, passports, etc.)
  • My trees on Ancestry and MyHeritage (to check what happened when and locate passenger lists and other documents) 
  • A new Google search for his songs, which turned up published copyright notices like the one above!
  • My digitized photos of Ed's life (ranging from his Roaring Twenties period to the year before he died)
  • My archival boxes, which held treasures such as Ed's photo album from his 1926 European tour with the Dick Bowers Band and Ed's album of negatives (with captions!!) from his 1928 European tour, again crossing the Atlantic on Cunard's R.M.S. Berengaria.
  • Interviews with Ed conducted by my husband in the mid-1980s and later transcribed (easy to search for key words).
I typed out a few notes from these sources, showed them to my husband to get his recollections and any corrections. Then I arranged my notes in rough chronological order.

Create a Time Line


Next, before I began to write, I put together a simple two-column table of years on the left and events on the right. This timeline kept me on track and forced me to expand my research and add notes when I had little or nothing for a particular period.

Also, the time line revealed a conflict between what Ed remembered when interviewed in 1984/5 and what Ed's passenger lists revealed from my research. How did I resolve this conflict? I opened one of the archival boxes where I store Ed's photo albums. There, in his own handwriting, were captions dated 1926 for the trip I was referencing. It's not surprising that Ed was a year off when trying to recall events from nearly 60 years earlier, is it?

Write and Insert Subheads

I wanted to tell Ed's musical story chronologically, a sneaky way of spoon-feeding some of his family's history. But too much text can be daunting. To break up the pages, I inserted subheads that guide the reader through each stage of the story--and lead to the eventual reason for this musical bio, Ed's fake book:

  • Playing [piano] at home and at school
  • Playing at college
  • Playing all summer
  • Playing after college
  • Playing for Gershwin
  • Playing for his wife and his family
  • Playing from the fake book
Include Lots of Illustrations

Younger relatives, in particular, always enjoy illustrations. I had some they'd never seen! I scanned Ed's photo albums from the 1920s to show him with the band on the Lido in Venice, in Paris, on board the S.S. Rotterdam and the R.M.S. Berengaria.

I also included his passport, some news clippings about his musical exploits, and copyright publications. I arranged the illustrations with captions as shown in the sample page at top. Page one is a title page with a large, full-color photo of Ed playing piano for family caroling on Christmas, 1985. These pages all include a touch of color, and I'll have them color-laser-printed at the local copy shop, to catch the eye of younger descendants.

Present in an Easy-to-Keep Format

All pages (bio and sheet music) will be three-hole punched and inserted into a small loose-leaf binder, ready to be saved for posterity. Of course I'll use my trusty label-maker to add the title "The Musical Life of Edgar James Wood" on the front and "Ed Wood's Fake Book" on the spine. The binder is easy to flip through and easy to store on a bookshelf.

In all, the brief booklet I envisioned as a couple of pages turned out to be eleven pages: four pages of text, two pages of time line, and five pages of illustrations. But because I did this little by little over the course of a couple of weeks, it was fairly easy and very satisfying.

I can't wait for the family to open their fake books this holiday season and peek into their ancestor's musical life!

Friday, April 26, 2019

At Family Tree Live!

Today and tomorrow I'm presenting at the new genealogy show in London, Family Tree Live. Sponsored by the UK magazine Family Tree, the show has dozens of lectures and workshops for genealogy enthusiasts at every level.

I can't wait to visit the exhibit hall and meet representatives from local family history societies all around the country, as well as top genealogy firms and genealogy buddies like mystery novelist Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

On Friday, my topic is "How to use social media for #genealogy and #familyhistory."

On Saturday, my topic is "Do you have a genealogical will?"

Also on Saturday afternoon, I'm joining Gill Blanchard and Diane Lindsay for a special panel discussion, "Crash course in writing your family story."

I'm planning to tweet (@MarianBWood) during the show, but won't have any recaps here on the blog for a little while.

Any comments left by readers won't appear for a few days. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

See You at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27

Family Tree magazine has cooked up Family Tree Livea big new genealogy show in London on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27!

There will be more than 60 lectures, with three choices of expert speakers or panels per each time slot. For hands-on learning, the show also offers dozens of workshops, including a special track about DNA for genealogy.

You can buy tickets and prebook your seat in lectures and workshops right now!

It's new, it's live, and I'm thrilled to be on the program as a speaker and panelist during three sessions. Please say hello if you come to one of these talks:
  • #Genealogy and #familyhistory: How to use social media for genealogy (at 12:15 pm on Friday, April 26) - I'll decode the hashtags and show you how to get the most out of using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest for genealogy, whether you want to join the conversation or follow to lurk and learn.
  • Planning a future for your family's past: Do you have a genealogical will? (at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 27) - After a brief overview of organizing genealogy files so they look like a legacy, I'll explain why and how to prepare a genealogical 'will' to keep old photos and documents safe for future generations.* 
  • Crash course in writing your family history (at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 27) - Gill Blanchard, Diane Lindsay, and I will offer practical ideas and tips for writing your family's history so descendants will know the more about the lives lived by their ancestors--not just names and dates.
* You can find out even more by reading my best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Save the Dates: Family Tree Live 2019 in London


Have you heard about the new genealogy show--Family Tree Live--coming to London in April?

Friday and Saturday, two days packed full of interesting, informative, and entertaining talks and panels about #Genealogy and #family history.

Please take a look at the lecture program, downloadable and printable by day.

On Friday, April 26, I'll be presenting #Genealogy and #familyhistory: How to use social media for genealogy, at 12:15 pm.

On Saturday, April 27, I'll be presenting Planning a Future for Your Family's Past: Do You Have a Genealogical Will? at 10:00 am.

Then on Saturday at 11:30 am, I'm part of a panel talk: Crash Course in Writing Your Family Story. "Four experts in forty minutes! Get top tips from those who know in one crammed session."

Save the dates. Hope to see you in London in April!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Family History Month: Start Writing About Ancestors Now!

Family History Month is a good time to start writing about our ancestors. Genealogy research is never complete, in my humble opinion, but we can make headway on writing about family history if we focus.

This is not about the big picture--it's about sharing one specific aspect of our family's past with relatives and descendants. Not a formal genealogy, but something that conveys both the facts and the human face of our ancestors.

Here are some quick tips to prepare:
  • Choose one of the above to focus on. Maybe you want to write about your maternal grandparents or about a set of siblings in your father's family. Or you have an heirloom, like the ceramic zebras above, created by my late mother-in-law, with a backstory of interest to children and grandchildren.
  • Gather your info (documents, photos, etc.) and your memories.
  • Write bullet points of what you currently know. 
  • Rearrange the bullets into a logical organization (chronological order, for instance).
  • Make notes about each bullet and also jot notes about what you want to double-check or ask other relatives.
  • Create a quick timeline if it will help guide you through the story and help readers understand what happened when. Or use a timeline as the basis for writing about a couple or an event.
Now . . . start anywhere in the story and write. Really, it doesn't matter where you begin to write because you can move sentences and paragraphs around after you get words on paper.

If you like, pick a detail that seems particularly dramatic or interesting, write a few sentences, and then fill in the story around it. Every family had high points, low points, times of happiness and times of sorrow. Try to tell the story to show who these ancestors were, beyond mere facts of birth-marriage-death dates. The important thing is to share what you know now.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Write Family History Now, Add or Change Later


Thinking about writing your family history? There's no time like the present. Anything you write will be a real gift to your family and to future generations, whether you write about a special family photo or trace the life of a matriarch or patriarch.

If all you have is a photo and the names of some or all of those pictured, you've got enough to make a good start. The goal is to write as much as you know about who, what, when, where, why, and how. Today, you may only know "who" and "when" but tomorrow, when you discover "where" or "when," you can add that to your write-up or make corrections.

Always ask family members for help. Many times, cousins can identify people we've never seen or met. Photos can also trigger recall of a family story that adds color and personality to the family history.

Here's a photo taken at the NYC wedding of my parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978). When I was writing about their courtship and marriage, I asked several cousins to help identify the wedding guests. Unfortunately, we identified only four of my mother's maternal aunts and uncles shown here. Still, I kept moving ahead with my write-up.

A few weeks later, one cousin suddenly remembered the name of the lady seated fourth from the right. Based on this new info, I located the lady's son and ultimately connected his branch to my great-grandma's family tree in Hungary. Because of my cousin's memory, I now have more names, relationships, and stories to add to my family history.

Never give up! Eventually, we identified the last two "unknowns" in this photo as more cousins on my mother's side.

Please, do the "write" thing for the sake of future generations. There's no time like the present for starting on this gift to the descendants of our ancestors.

NOTE: This is part of my series about writing family history:

Friday, May 4, 2018

Do the "Write" Thing for Genealogy: Be Honest, Be Ethical


As family historians, how can we write about ancestors in a way that is both honest and ethical?

After all, every family has a secret or a story that the current generation knows nothing about. Maybe an ancestor hid an early marriage or had some other hidden relationship . . . or committed a crime . . . or behaved in a manner considered, then or now, to be shameful or questionable or downright wicked.

Our genealogy research can turn up things that families never expected would be known. Especially if we want people to share stories and documents with us, I believe we have an obligation to use that information in a responsible way. It's a balancing act between the honesty we genealogists owe to future generations and the ethical responsibility we owe to those living today.

My personal approach is: If disclosing something about an ancestor would be truly harmful to someone living today, I don't write about it, either on my blog or in any "public" family history.

This has been a real issue only once in my 20 years of genealogy research. In that instance, I put the information into my private genealogy files so the story won't be lost forever. This allows me to be honest with future generations and act responsibly by avoiding potential damage today.

My "genealogical will" leaves my files to relatives who will safeguard them for the sake of descendants. Years from now, when these genealogical heirs sift through the files, they can weigh the consequences of disclosure in light of how much time has passed and whether anyone would be harmed if the story is told then, not now.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts on this delicate balancing act.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Do the "Write" Thing for Genealogy, Part 3: Find the Drama

When you think about writing your family's history, look for the drama that may be below the surface (or in plain sight).

Remember: You know more than you think you know! Gather your Census data, vital records, Bible entries, photo albums, news clippings, and whatever else pertains to the person or people in the story you want to tell.

Jot notes about your memories and ask relatives what they remember about a particular ancestor or couple, a family occasion or situation, or a special photo (wedding portrait, for instance).

All of this will help you identify key points and people in your family's history, and uncover the drama that you can play up in your narrative.

If you're lucky enough to have letters, diaries, or interviews, go through and select quotes that add color and personality to your ancestors and reflect the drama in their lives.

Above, a quote from my late father-in-law, Edgar J. Wood, who said this 30+ years ago when my husband interviewed him about his earlier life and his love of playing the piano. The quote hints at the conflict between Ed and his father. It also explains why Ed had to play in so many jazz bands to make money for tuition, room, and board at Tufts, where he was in college during the 1920s.

The conflict came to a boiling point when Ed's mother, Mary Slatter Wood, died unexpectedly near the end of Ed's senior year. After Ed returned home for the funeral, he never lived at home again. He left college a few weeks later, not able to pass a language course needed for graduation. Then he moved to New York City and tried to make a living through his music. More drama!

What dramatic moments or conflicts are in your family's past? Look for them and use them to "hook" your readers.

This is an excerpt from my latest genealogy presentation, "Do the 'Write' Thing for Genealogy."

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Doing the "Write" Thing for Family History

In my first post about writing family history, I suggested picking one ancestor/surname, one occasion, or one photo as the focus for writing something.

When possible, try to turn any family history writing project into a family-wide activity. Use materials from your genealogy collection to get relatives excited about documenting that person or occasion and to stimulate their memories. The more stories they hear, the more stories they can recall, the better!

Here's the special occasion I'm using as the focus of my next family history writing project: a 1972 Venice trip taken by all the adult children, spouses, and young grandchildren of Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) & Edgar James Wood (1903-1986).

The family trip was intended as a reunion for the entire family, then scattered across the country. Marian paid for everyone's travel, hotel, and meals, using the modest inheritance she received when her father (Brice Larimer McClure, 1878-1970) died.

My first step was to photocopy Edgar Wood's diary entries from that period in 1972 and send to my husband's siblings and the grown children. These day-by-day notes helped spark memories as they thought back to the reunion 46 years in the past.

Next, my hubby sorted through several binders and a file box to select several dozen 35mm slides to transfer into digital images as possible illustrations for this booklet. Naturally, he concentrated on finding slides featuring family members, with just one or two famous landmarks to set the scene.

Before doing any writing, we'll print the images four or six to a page and send to the family for more comments and memories. Then we'll organize the booklet itself, devoting the majority of pages to the weeklong reunion.

Each of Marian & Edgar's adult children went on to other European cities after the family reunion in Venice. So I'm going to devote a page or two to each of those post-reunion adventures, to personalize the booklet even further and encourage story-telling within the family.

Stay tuned for more about doing the "write" thing for family history!

NOTE: For ideas about preserving family stories and planning for the future of your genealogical collection, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon and from the bookstore at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The "Write" Way to Write Family History

Thinking about writing your family's history? Here are the two most important words to remember: Start writing.

That's the "write" thing to do.

Maybe you feel you're not a writer or you haven't done enough research or you need more details or photos. Please keep in mind that as the keeper of the family history, you know more than your relatives. And your relatives and heirs don't expect Shakespeare--they will be delighted just to find out who their ancestors were!

Doing the "write" thing is, in fact, an excellent way to identify gaps in research and missing leaves on the tree. If something is wrong or incomplete (incorrect spelling, inaccurate dates, missing details), you can always fix it later. Really.

Case in point: In 2012, I printed a small photo book about my parents' wedding, which united the Burk and Schwartz families. The main purpose was to reprint the many family photos with captions, for the sake of future generations. Cousins helped me identify nearly everyone in every photo. But there were some "unknowns" and I simply called them that in the captions (see above). Better done than perfect. 

Fast-forward to 2017, when I smashed a brick wall and found second cousins who--wonder of wonders!--are descendants of the "unidentified cousins" in the photos. Needless to say, I immediately hand-wrote the new names into my printed photo book. Remember, the goal is to share family history with future generations, not to have an immaculate book. Earlier this year, when I saw a big sale, I reprinted the original photo book with corrections and additions.

So go ahead and do the "write" thing. Some ideas to get you in the "write" mood:
  • Pick a person or a surname or an occasion, spread out your research, and jot notes you can then flesh out into sentences and paragraphs. I wrote about one set of grandparents at a time, since their lives were intertwined, but I had a separate page or two about birth/early childhood of each individual.
  • Pick a photo and list the people in it. Then write a bit about each person and the relationships between some or all. Include what you know about where and when, or other details to "set the scene" for descendants who never knew these people. I found some photos so evocative that the words poured out almost faster than I could type.
  • Ask your audience (children or nieces/nephews or any other readers) who or what they'd like to know about. My family asked for a booklet about Mom and her twin sister. I'm making notes already. My sis-in-law wants a book about her parents. I'm scanning photos in preparation.
Our ancestors had real lives, personalities, hopes, problems. It's up to us, the genealogists of our generation, to get the next generation interested in tales of the past and keep alive the memory of people no longer with us.

You don't have to start at the beginning as you write. Sometimes the best way to get yourself going is to begin with something dramatic or humorous or characteristic of the person. My blog posts often serve as a rough draft of a family history booklet.

There's no one "write" way to write family history. You can write one page about one person, or a pamphlet about a couple, or a book about a family. You might decide to tell the stories in photos with captions, rather than using a lot of text. The important thing, as I said at the beginning, is to start writing. Enjoy the journey, and your family will enjoy what you write.