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Five Subject Categories to Include in a Family History

This list is meant to help jog thinking – obviously, subject matter will vary from one family history to another.

This list is aimed at an ancestral family history, but it should be helpful for current generation family histories, too.

This category is likely to be the most appreciated and viewed of all family history subjects.  Associated photos (see Category 2 below) will add value.

–         Writing done by an individual (e.g., my father’s early autobiography & my mother’s 47-year history)

–         Any other writings – newspaper articles, obituary, etc.

–         Remembrances and stories about an ancestor by descendants

–         What distinguished a person as a unique individual?

–         Idiosyncrasies are especially entertaining and illuminating

–         Someone may have to write based on a descendant’s spoken words

–         Occupational stories (e.g., a doctor ancestor made house calls using a horse)

–         Other reproduced writings (e.g., 1905 letter, Agreement to join group going to California gold fields, 1851 letter from California gold fields, etc.)

Each photo is more interesting if it is dated (at least approximately), individuals are identified and some family member can write a remembrance about it (e.g., “This was the last time that these brothers and sisters were together.”)

–         All the obvious – baby photos, marriage photos, photos of 3-4 generations, portraits, pets, etc.

–         Photos of home, workplace, schools, vacations, holidays, family reunions, etc.

–         Old cars, horses, toys, home town photos, war-related photos

–         Gravestone photos – accompanied by the writings on the gravestones

In this day of digital cameras, a photo can be made of anything physical.  In any family, there is a virtual treasure trove of various types of physical items.  A list from the A. E. Garden family history will help with any family list.

Civil War enlistment and discharge papers.  Photo of bullet taken from head of a Civil War veteran (who survived some 30 years).  Indian stone axe found on ancestor’s farm.  1905-1910 birthday and greeting cards.  Hand-made checkerboard.  Photo of book authored by ancestor.  Antique cedar chest and kitchen cabinet.  Old cars – or horses.  Old tools and cooking utensils.  Marriage license.  Tax receipts.  Old maps corresponding to a time or place in a family history (many old maps can be found by Interest research). 

Older family members will respond to your general question, “How were things different back then?”  A few variations to jog their memory are:

–         How were Christmas and other holidays different back then?

–         What are some things that no longer exist – skills, places, habits, old technology, daily routines, etc?

–         Community services that no longer exist – doctor’s house calls, the 5 and 10 cent store, ice boxes, milk delivery, etc.

–         Cultural differences back then – not locking doors, helping sick neighbors, importance of daily newspaper and radio, effects of a war, the depression, etc.

A few items that do not fall neatly into the above categories:

–         Time lines that follow important events in the life of an individual or a family (record a date and then write about the event opposite the date)

–         “A Typical Day in the Life of ____________.”  (Variations might include the housewife’s week of Monday washing, Tuesday ironing, Friday cleaning, Saturday baking, etc. or what the family typically did during the four seasons or did on vacations)

–         Family mysteries – an example is, “Where did he get the money to go to medical school?” or “…to buy that farm?” or “Did he father an out-of-wedlock child?” – followed by speculation from older family members

I help people learn to write their own online family histories. I provide learning resources for people to learn to do family trees, to edit and manage photos and to learn blogging as the best way to write and publish online family histories. And when justified, I offer personal one-on-one assistance.

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