From the office: Is it time to write your family tree?

By Editor, 1 September 2016 - 10:32am

Turn writing your family history from a good intention into a successful reality. Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine editor Sarah Williams looks at some simple tips to get you started 

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 1 September 2016
Sarah Williams, Editor
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Start writing your family tree with a simple exercise
Put pen to paper and turn writing your family history from a good intention into a reality (Getty Images)

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We certainly all have plenty of good intentions but in my case they tend to pave the way to the sofa and a glass of wine (which some may see as heaven).

One of my recent good intentions was to write a mini family history book for my neice's 18th birthday. It was going to tell the story of her parents, grandparents and great grandparents and then include a list of notable women in her family tree with their achievements, big or small. I was going to enlist the help of my brother-in-law's parents and it was going to be a wonderful project that would have been a treasured heirloom and inspiration for my lovely niece.

I drew up a plan, I dreamt about it, I talked about it to my family (I thought that would definitely make me do it) and then my niece's 18th birthday suddenly appeared and not a single word was written on paper.

Why didn't it happen? It's not as if I didn't have time. I've been off sick fighting cancer for the past year so I could surely have spared a few hours to type up what I already know and compile my family photographs.

After her birthday passed I pushed the project to one side, yet another one of my good intentions that had come to nothing.

But reading Gill Blanchard's article on how to write your family tree in the current issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine has inspired me to think again. Even though I planned to create something small and manageable perhaps I should have started with something even smaller and allowed it to grow. Even though I'm a writer by trade perhaps the scale of the project daunted me (and the pressure I felt to make it perfect).

Gill's article is full of tips on format (remember, it doesn't have to be a book, a blog might be more manageable), structure and how to add historical colour (apparently people love toilets!) but she also includes a simple exercise to get you started which I'm going to share with you now. Anybody can do this four step exercise, even if you think you can’t write or don’t have the time to write.

Gill Blanchard’s quick exercise to get you writing:

1) Choose someone from your family tree. Write a couple of simple factual sentences about them. For example: “Miles Camplejohn was probably born in the late 1600s. He married Mary Abbott in Riccall in Yorkshire in 1707, and died there in 1722.”

2) Then add their children: “Miles and Mary Camplejohn had four children baptised in Riccall between 1708 and 1721: John, Robert, Elizabeth and Miles.”

3) Then move on to the next generation: "The next in this family line was their son Robert Camplejohn, who was baptised in 1711. He married Elizabeth Wright in Riccall in 1735. They had nine children baptised between 1736 and 1756.

4) Repeat this process until every person in this line, leading back to you, has something written about them.

Writing up your family history can be a great way to highlight where the gaps are in your knowledge but it also makes it much easier to share your research with other family members. I'm going to throw myself back into my project but this time it will be for my daughter's 18th. I'll probably add another generation and I might even manage to add some reference to toilets, but above all, I'll start small and let it grow, just like my family tree.

Read more about how to write your family history in the September 2016 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on sale now.


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From the office: A new addition to the WDYTYA? Magazine team!
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