Sunday, October 13, 2013

Picture Charts

It’s so wonderful if you can find pictures of your ancestors and paste them on a chart. It helps you to see family likenesses, and helps you feel connected in a more tangible way. 

For blank templates that you can decorate or draw on yourself, and other picture charts, go to and check them out under the sidebar heading: Genealogy picture charts. 

It would make a fun family project.

Below is an example of one of the charts.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Saving Letters

 Letters and postcards saved in a loose-leaf binder

Y you’ve heard of saving stamps? Well, saved letters can be even more important to a family historian. My grandmother saved my mother’s letters from the time she left home until the very day she died. Those letters tell of my mother’s daily life, and more importantly, they showcase her attitudes. Grandma had no way of knowing how important those eleven years worth of letters would be.
            Another reason to save at least a few letters is for the sampling of a loved one’s handwriting. For some reason, we love to see how people write. There are even those who say handwriting can give the beholder clues about the writer’s personality.
            Letters often contain more personal information than journals. Grandma told all in her letters—more than you wanted to know, if you know what I mean—and for that reason were tossed out. (This is why they should have been kept.) In her journals she kept laundry lists of what she and grandpa did, who came to visit, what they ate, where they went, and how they got from one place to another. There’s little mention of how she ever felt about anything, and there are no circumstantial details. Because she was writing to herself, she even failed to mention such things as the name of her “dearest friend” who died. (Grandpa)
            Now we have email instead of handwritten letters, and while email doesn’t give us a handwriting sample, it is still as good as a letter in many respects.
            You can save emails in a computer file to glean one day for history, or you can save print-outs of emails in loose-leaf binders.
n  Just another idea for preparing personal and family history.

DNA Samples

                      Saved hair samples in Mother’s book

T here is no way to save samples of DNA in a printed family history book. But with all of the amazing things our scientific world can do today with DNA, saving a strand or two of hair in a safe place could be a good idea. The mention and whereabouts of saved DNA could be put in the printed history.
            In the old days, strands of hair of a loved one were often saved in a locket for sentimental purposes.
            In my mother’s scrapbook, she saved strands of hair from all of her children; a practice she learned from her progenitors.
            DNA tests are now being done to either link people to, or rule them out of, the family line in genealogy. Who knows what else DNA may be used for in the future?
            Perhaps hair samples of each family member could be put into small labeled envelopes or baggies and saved in the back of the genealogy book, Bible, or in a fireproof safe or lock-box.
            Our family reunion is coming up. That would be a good time to take along a pair of scissors, a permanent pen, and a pile of envelopes. Look out everyone, here I come!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Active or Passive Voice?

Passive and Active Sheep

P eople may use the passive voice in their writing, or mix passive and active voices without knowing the difference. Should you use the active or passive voice in writing your history—and what is “voice” anyway?
“Voice” is the way verbs express action—either in the active or passive voice. Note the following examples:
I read the story. (Active voice)
The story was read. (Passive voice)
She told me to leave and never come back. (Active voice)
I was told to leave and never come back. (Passive voice)
The man chased Anna down the dark alley. (Active voice)
Anna was chased down the dark alley by the man. (Passive voice)
The passive voice subdues emotion and obscures the doer of the action. It’s used mostly in scientific and technical writing. The passive voice stresses WHAT is done while the active voice stresses the DOER of the action.
            It’s best to use the active voice in your history writing, (and most writing), because it’s more vibrant, interesting, forceful, and alive. It’s less likely to put the reader to sleep and is more personal and human.
            If there is a particular incident you’d like to subdue on purpose, there could be a use for the passive voice. For instance, maybe you’ve married into the family of a long-ago enemy and you want to soft pedal an incident to avoid offending family. Instead of using the active voice and writing this: “The guards lined the captives up against the wall and killed them.” You could use a less active verb and write in the passive voice:  “The captives were lined up against the wall and shot.” Or simply, “The captives were shot.”
                        If you’re in doubt, stick to the active voice. It’s one more way to hang on to your reader, infuriated or not. J

Point of View

My Point of View (up close and personal)

T  here are two best viewpoints for writing a family or personal history. You can write in the first person, “I,” viewpoint, or you can write in the third person, “he/she/John/Mary” viewpoint. Each has its challenges.
            The first person point of view is personal and interesting. You tell the story according to how you think, hear, know, see, and feel. But that is also your limitation. You can’t step out of your own skin and into someone else’s without creating confusion. The temptation is also to get caught up in telling the story and forget to include description, action, and even dialogue.
            In the third person perspective, you have broader control and have the advantage of changing your focus from one character to another, but this point of view is less personal and interesting. You are telling his and/or her story and may be tempted to switch into your own first person viewpoint. Don’t do it, it will confuse your reader.
            It’s best to pick a viewpoint and stick with it.
            Here are some examples of first and third person writing:

First Person
            I spent the summer watching Dad build the extension on the living room. I always seemed to be in his way and got stepped on or clunked on the head many times before I learned.  Dad asked me to bring him tools, and though I tried, I took him the wrong tools so many times that he nick-named me Second-Time Tilly. It was funny but I was determined to be a First-Time Tilly. Eventually I learned the correct names for all of his tools and felt quite proud of myself as a helper.

Third Person
            Mike built an extension on the living room of his house that summer. His little daughter always seemed to be under foot, and got hurt many times. He often asked her to bring him tools, but she brought him the wrong tools so many times that he nick-named her Second-Time Tilly. By the end of the summer he’d trained her to know all the names of the tools and to be quite a helper.

Decide what viewpoint will best help you tell your story, and either one, enjoy making it as interesting as you can.

His or Her Point of View

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life Sketch Approach . . .
To Writing Personal History

Quilt of Many Squares and Triangles

            Quilters understand the importance of each square in a quilt, even though there are so many. It takes a variety of many squares or shapes, each one equally holding its place, to make a beautiful quilt. So it is with the people in each of our lives. Our circle (or quilt) of people are important in the make-up of our lives. We only understand how important if we take the time to think about them and pinpoint the lessons we’ve learned from them.
This brings us to the “people approach” to writing personal history. If we were to write a life sketch of each of our immediate family members and then branch out from there to include our dearest acquaintances, we would be well on the way to having a personal history. Then we could flesh out our story by stitching the patches of sketches together with narrative about places, events and things.
People are what life is about.
My father wrote a book about his family in this form. He wrote a nice-sized sketch of each of the lives of his siblings and how they influenced him. He included a full-page picture of each one, and gave the book a catchy title—“Baker’s Dozen,” indicating the large number of siblings he had. It’s packed full of wonderful details that will be appreciated by researchers and historians one day, as well as family.
Later in life, as Dad grew older and was left behind by family and friends passing away, he wrote a life sketch of each of the people he knew as their obituaries showed up in the paper. He sent a comforting greeting to the family of the deceased along with his write-up about the influence that person had on his life. He has kept all of his original write-ups together in a book which could one day be included in a local history, as well as a family or personal history.
The lessons we learn from the people in our lives are legion, both things we want to emulate and things we want to avoid. Either way, they are helpful to us, and give us a rich patchwork of knowledge and passed-on experience that we keep for eternity.
However you write your personal history, don’t forget to include the people in your life.

Treasure People

                                                            Dressed up and on the way

T  here was a time in my life when I loved high heels, or “pumps,” and looked forward to wearing them one day. About the time when I would have worn them for real, chunky platforms were all the rage and regular pumps were nowhere to be seen—unless I wanted to wear stilettos—which I didn’t. The shoes of my choice passed me by and since I wasn’t a shoemaker there was nothing I could do about it.
We sometimes find ourselves in circumstances we didn’t choose. Sometimes life forces us into making choices we don’t want to make, or into choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, having made a bad choice, we are stuck with the unpleasant task of trying to do damage control. And sometimes we make a bad choice and can’t do anything but live with the consequences all the rest of our lives no matter how much we’d like to take it back.
Writers understand and treasure the human conditions people face. So do readers.
My sister and I have had the conversation, “If only I’d known better at the time, maybe I’d have made a better choice.” Bad choices and unfortunate circumstances are a reality in all of our lives. It’s often down the road, when it’s too late as we suppose, that we really gain understanding.
As you write about yourself and the people in your life, look for the reasons behind the actions in order to understand the actions. Was the person lonely, angry, in a difficult situation? Did they understand what they were doing? Were they caught in a moment of weakness? Were they in despair, or were they victims of low self-esteem? There are as many reasons for what we do or don’t do as there are actions. That reasoning is what sheds light on the story.
The mistakes we make, generally speaking, are universal. Most types of problems people have are found in any era of the world. People have always fought natural disaster and weather elements, pride problems, financial problems, family and people problems, health problems, self-esteem issues, and so on.
In writing my own personal history, I can write more clearly when I have thought about why I either did or faced what I did. How was I in a position to fall into that trap? Did I choose it?
Writers understand and treasure the conflict in peoples’ lives. So do readers. It’s the difficult times and the bad choices that move people on through growth and understanding.  If there were no problems in our lives, there would be nothing to write about that would interest another human being. We love the hero or heroine who makes a mistake and goes on to overcome it. However, the mistake is not the gist of the person.
The gist of each of us is how we go on from the big problems, and how we keep on in the face of all the little problems. It’s how we turn our mistakes into blessings for ourselves or someone else, or learn and help others learn that really tells who we are. Don’t forget the heart of the person and the heart of the matter when you write about people. Facts are good proof of a thing, but they don’t tell the whole story, the human story.
In your writing about people, include such things as descriptions, thoughts, words, wishes, intentions, favorite things, and so on—if you’re lucky enough to know such things or are in a position to draw conclusions. Look beyond the facts, but let the fact that you treasure people show in your writing, for writers understand and treasure people. So do readers.

People treasuring people 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beginnings and Endings

In or Out? Beginning or End? (An illustration I did for my book, The Elements and Principles of Design.)

B eginnings and endings cause writers the most grief. I have sat struggling over the beginning of a story many times. What am I trying to say? How should it be said or shown? What type of person would be reading this? And what would grab the interest of that type of reader? I sit at my computer and feel the blood rising in my head trying to feed my brain. I close my eyes, try to block out the distractions around me, and think. I write until I’m either satisfied or time runs out. Usually the time runs out—well—the time always runs out in my case.
Most writers write out the whole book or story from beginning to end. Then they make several passes back through the book fixing things—such as adding or subtracting details, rearranging things inside chapters, making sure of verb and pronoun agreement, and etc. Then they go back and rewrite the beginning and the ending. Here’s why.

·         Because beginnings should accomplish the following:
1.      Catch the interest of the readers.
2.      Introduce the characters.
3.      Set the stage—time, place, social atmosphere, era, situation.
That’s a tall order, and it applies to writing personal and family history as well as to books and articles.
            There are three approaches you can take with beginnings:
1.      You can start with an anecdote or little story that will generate interest.
2.      You can start with dialogue that makes the reader curious.
3.      You can make an interesting statement or raise a question that hooks the reader in.
Obviously, you have to decide which approach will work best for what you’re writing. And then the fun begins!

·         Because endings should accomplish the following:
1.      Wrap up loose ends.
2.      Answer raised questions.
3.      Make the reader feel satisfied.
There are three approaches you can take with endings:
1.      Create a summary.
2.      Conclude with a comparison of times, places, or people. (Harry was like his grandfather in that . . . .)
3.      Draw conclusions or submit final findings.
You need to make the work look, feel, and sound finished. And what a great place for a writer to finally be! Good Luck in your work.

Can you find the beginning or end to this one? (I did this a few days ago for a project I'm working on.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Journal Jar History

Salad dressing jar full of journal questions

            A  Simple but fun way to approach writing your history is to make a journal jar and draw out a topic to write about each week. What a fun read it will make in a few years!
            I made a journal jar in an evening by washing out a plastic salad dressing jar and filling it with strips of paper containing questions.
            I made it colorful by printing the questions on different hues of paper. (Not that it matters what the jar and etc. looks like, except for the artist in me or you.)
            You can find journal jar questions on the internet, or you can make up your own.
            As you write out or type your questions, look them over and add topics that are important to you. You can change typed questions into a pleasing font and size.
            I have also seen journal question books. In fact my husband and I have been writing responses to questions sent to us by our daughter who found them in a book of that sort.
            This journal jar idea is an old one I used many years ago, but is still around because it’s a good one. It’s another really fun approach to writing your history. Try it and enjoy!

Making Maps and Drawing Diagrams

My Canadian Grandmother’s Stomping Grounds

            M y dad and uncle both wrote history about their families and included pictures where they could. But one of the things that charms me most is their maps and diagrams. Dad drew a picture of his hometown neighborhood as it looked in his childhood. It’s fun to see how things have changed in that town. He also drew pictures of farm equipment they built by hand. Wonderful history! My uncle made sketches of home floor plans, and yards equally interesting.
            I can guarantee you that history buffs and ancestors will appreciate any maps, floor plans, or diagrams you can provide. I’m sure my daughters would rave over anyone’s home floor plan—especially if it includes the placement of furniture.
            Below is an example of a map I drew of the small town of Cockersmouth, Cumbria, England where my grandfather grew up. The town is very old, and was built around Cockersmouth Castle. By looking at the map, you can also learn many other things about the town. You can see a river runs through it, and there was a mill and a brewery there.
            The name Cockersmouth is also a clue as to how the town got its name. It used to be the gathering place for cock fights, even after cock fighting was outlawed—say the history books.
            Don’t be shy about including drawings of rooms, homes, yards, towns, or anything else you don’t have in a picture. It will only add in the interest to and understanding of your history. Make it fun, I always say!

Cockermouth, Cumbria, England