[an error occurred while processing this directive]The Family History Book
By Ronnie Aungst, Kent County GenWeb Assistant Coordinator
If you're new to genealogy or if like me, you started awhile back but with no real idea of what you were doing, these ideas may help you to develop a family history that will be both informational and enjoyable.
Though I have not been researching long, I have found there are two types of genealogists: one who wants to go as far back as possible and collects names and dates with proper documents, of course and those that make their ancestors come alive with proper documents, of course.
After reviewing the materials I have collected, I realized I fell somewhere in between these two. I suspect most of us do. Oh, we have the vital records and perhaps some pictures and military records. And we may even, through luck, have some Bible records or an occasional letter or journal entry. I decided that it was less important to travel back 10 generations if I didn't know anything about these ancestors beyond the name and date than to have 4-5 generations and really know something about them and the way of their lives.
I started out by collecting all the forms I could find on the internet. You know the ones for census records, pedigrees and family groups. This is something we should all have! I filled out each family on a family group sheet and then using the Resources Checklist from Rory's Genealogy, proceeded to fill in each family with all the resources I could find. Ancestors also has a nice checklist to work with. Any resource I did not have that applied to my ancestor, I put on my priority list. Not only is this a great way to organize our material, its the foundation we have to work from. When finished, I have a complete checklist of resources for each family group. Granted, not everything could be found but now each family group is fuller because I have copies of (or transcriptions) of all the census records, military records, vital records, medical records, obituaries, etc. including at least one picture wherever possible of each ancestor.
But, I did not stop there. I "went visiting" every county/state that my ancestors lived. I collected town or county histories, downloaded maps of the area, and in some cases of migration, created a map that shows the most likely (or known) path of migration. If an ancestor was a business owner, I looked for a picture and information about that business. I sought out pictures of the homes they lived in. Yes, a couple still stand. I made notes about who their neighbors were (you can find these in the census records) and what schools the children attended along with information about the teachers, pictures of the school, etc. After finding out the locations of their homes, workplace, schools and churches, I drew a map showing the locations and having some idea of the paths they traveled each day. In addition to getting a picture of the headstones of my ancestors (and sometimes there was none), I obtained a picture of the front gate/entrance of the cemetery they are buried in. If an ancestor belonged to an organization or political party, I collected a brief description of it. I did the same with the church that they belonged to...when it was established, etc. Did your ancestors come over on a ship? How about getting a picture of the ship or at least a description of the ship, to go along with the immigration records? Then just to remind myself and anyone reading our history, I included a timeline of events for the periods I am working on. I've even included some information on how my ancestors would have dressed and the uniforms of my ancestors' military service. Easily found on the internet. At this point, I write up a brief history of each family group; more like a biography of the family that ties everything together.
Boy, that's a lot of work, right? Yes, it does slow some things down and I am no where finished with mine but each family is more than just a collection of names, dates and locations. I know them "personally." Some I've come to know so well that if they were to walk through the door, I would know whether to offer them tea or a cold brew! Obviously, you would not want to do this for every aunt, uncle and cousin but for me, I now have a fuller knowledge of each set of grandparents going back each generation.
The upside to all of this, my children have taken a deeper interest in our family because they can have a better understanding of the family and their connections within it. Even my parents who merely chuckled when I first started, have taken a new interest and a certain pride in knowing so much more about their families. And one other little note: be sure to include a pedigree chart. You may remember who and where every ancestor is but others have a harder time. A pedigree sheet helps them visually to see where an ancestor falls in the line of descent.
Many of the items I have mentioned above (ex: town histories, organization/ political parties, fashions, maps and pictures of cemeteries and towns, timelines) can often be found right on the internet. Some things may be found at the USGenWeb sites like here at Kent County and some things you will find under history, military and such sites. And of course, there are the libraries! You can find the forms I mentioned at the addresses below. If you don't have a printer for printing them out, you can also find forms through libraries and bookstores.
And we at Kent County USGenWeb, will continue to bring more and new resources to you to help you develop a full history of your ancestors. Good Luck and Good Hunting! ~Ronnie Aungst.