Preserving and Writing Family History and Genealogy

Family History

Family History – “If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them, too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are.” Madeleine L’Engle

Preserving family history can seem like a huge undertaking and it is!  Getting started is the scariest part for me – not knowing how to begin. There are the facts that I have gathered so far, but a family history is more than just the names, dates and places.

So Far…..

I have researched family genealogies for over 10 years and have been able to gather thousands of names and dates.  I have been able to verify more names and locations as I continued my searching and improved my search skills.

I have met new cousins and heard family stories that helped to verify details that I had already found.  Hearing the family tales have brought to life those names – those people that were our grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins.

We have connected through family reunions and gatherings, encouraged and asked for any old pictures of the family.  Even if we did not know who each person was, we brought them along to the reunions and asked other family members if they recognized them.  We have been able to put faces with the names and added photos to our large family tree.  When they were identified, the stories started and family members would tell what they remembered or family “lore” they had heard about these people.  This made those grandparents and cousins more real to the younger ones.

Now what?

This helped us to think of what their lives were like.  The timelines of when they lived can help us understand their occupations, their way of life, and their losses in times of great illness.  History was never a huge interest of mine, but now I look for historical perspective to learn more about what my ancestors may have lived through.

For most genealogists and family history buffs, our attention and interest does not peak until we are older and our kids and jobs are not as demanding.  As we get older, maybe our realization kicks in that half of our life is behind us!  Maybe we have lived enough life that we understand better what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents must have had to endure in their journeys.  As tough as we think we have had to live, they may have had to fight many more battles to survive and raise a family.

So the first step is jut to get started!  Break it down into smaller steps!

Starting the family history……

1)     Journaling doesn’t have to be complex or scary.  Just make a few notes when you think of a topic you want to remember or write about.

2)     Make a list of those family stories you have heard over and over from your parents and grandparents.

3)     Think of and list the timeline of important times in your parents lives – their childhood, where they grew up, their schools, their churches, their maternal and paternal families, how they met, their courtship and wedding.  Then list their children, homes, jobs, grandchildren, pets, etc.

4)     Do the same for your grandparents and any other living relatives you may be blessed enough to share stories with.

5)     Ask the oldest living relatives to share their journeys, their stories, with you.  Use video on a camera, laptop, camcorder, or even write it down on paper if they are not comfortable with being on camera.  My first filmed video was with my mother, and I set up a laptop and a camcorder to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  If one method works better or has a better sound or viewing angle, then you can choose which to use when putting a family video together.

6)     Keep attention focused on your relative during the interview, suggesting topics, letting them do most of the talking, and make notes later of new questions you have or stories that came up that you want more detail about.  Break the interviews into a few sessions, so neither of you have to sit for too long or get too tired.

7)     Parents and grandparents tend to tell stories on each other, usually funny stories, sometimes touching ones.  Siblings are great at sharing stories about each other!

       My father’s “story” was of the time he made his daddy jump into a creek because he hollered “Snake!”.  He laughs now, but my grandpa wasn’t happy to be tricked!  He ended up with scratched up legs from hitting the rocks in the creek!     

        My “story” is about being pregnant with our  second child. We had mostly boys in our family and we had a four-year-old son.  He said our baby was going to be a girl.  We explained that we would love a boy or a girl, we just prayed for a healthy baby, a little brother or a sister.  He replied that he had already told God he wanted a sister – the faith of a child!  He got his little baby sister!

So, whether the stories are about how the old-timers grew up, how eccentric or special their cousins or uncle was, or how siblings got along, they are all stories that bring life to the family history.

One day, when we are gone, fifty years from now, when our grandson is 50, I hope he will be able to read about – hear on audio – or see on a video – the stories and journeys that we lived, our parents and grandparents lived, and know that he comes from a long line of love and blessings.

New Genealogy Television Program!

My passion for genealogy is not new, and some would think it can border on the obsessive!  So you will understand that I have to post about a new show I just heard about.  It is called the “Genealogy Roadshow“.

I have only seen previews online, on the PBS website.  I only found out about it because I was checking out a genealogy forum and read a post about a new show on PBS.  It will be a weekly program showing on most PBS stations, which is a great place to find unique programming.

There have been a few television shows recently that have explored genealogy research.  They have included researching for family histories for celebrities and other high-profile personalities. The focus for this program seems to follow the style of the “Antiques Roadshow” episodes, which travel to different areas of the country to share their genealogy expertise and information with local folks.

The 2 trailers or previews can be found on their website, and the start date for the show seems to be Monday, September 23.  My dvr is already set to record in case I have to miss it.  It is apparently a weekly show.  I’m interested enough to check it out!

My hope is that this show will add more awareness of genealogy, what it is, why we are so in love with it, and why it can be special to explore where our families have been.  After all, where we are now is because of where our ancestors have been.

For better or worse, their paths led us to our journeys.

Check it out at

The video can be found at

Please share your thoughts after you check it out!


Other Television Shows on Genealogy    (check out the websites for viewing information)

  • Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   – PBS
  • Who Do You Think You Are      – BBC
  • Who Do You Think You Are      – NBC – US
  • African American Lives             – PBS
  • Ancestors: Getting Started With Family History – PBS and BYU
  • The Human Family Tree, narrated by Kevin Bacon- National Geographic Channel

Family Reunions – Time to Reconnect!

Family Reunions can be a great way to reconnect with relatives you don’t see very often!  They can also be a place to meet family cousins you never knew!

Reunions can range from a simple dinner at a restaurant for a few people to an overnight or weekend vacation for many.  Whatever the size of the family, the main goal is to reconnect, reminisce, stay in touch, and learn more about each other.

There are many different budgets out there, too, so keeping expenses down can help, especially if there are out-of-town folks traveling to a central site for a reunion gathering.  Many families travel to the hometown area, or where the most of the descendants have settled and are living.

Here are some ideas that might help in planning a special family reunion, one that won’t break a budget, and won’t be too hard to plan or keep going.


  1. The “Old Home Place” can be a perfect location to reunite, if it is still standing or in the family.
  2. Family members still living near the hometown can host a reunion if they have enough room.
  3. Hometown family can host a potluck at a local park or venue if budget allows. Our family reserves a covered picnic shed at a local park that is easy to find and fairly close to the home area where many family members grew up.
  4. Expenses for renting or hosting should be divided among the family as they are able.  Our hosting family reserves the picnic shed every spring, and at the reunion, a collection is taken to help pay them back, with everyone giving what they can.
  5. Help folks plan for the reunion date by setting the same weekend each year  Our family sets the third Sunday in July, and everyone plans accordingly.  Out-of-towners can plan a week or weekend getaway, and attend the reunion, too.  Some plan to visit familiar areas, where they grew up, cemeteries of their parents or grandparents, old homes and schools, or go sight-seeing while they are in town.  Some coordinate and meet up to visit family homes and gravesites together. It helps them to remember where those places were, how to get there, and brings up more memories they can share.
  6. Visiting family may choose to drive in for the day or stay overnight, depending on travel distance.  Some may stay with siblings or cousins in the area, making more time to visit and reminisce.
  7. Plan for a potluck, so everyone contributes.  Our hosting family provides paper goods, ice, and hot dogs.  Everyone else brings a dish or two, side dishes, different meat dishes, casseroles, salads, desserts, and drinks.  People can bring extra chairs for comfort, blankets if they like to sit out on the grass, and toys or games for kids or adults to enjoy. Our family reserves the space from 10-4, so everyone has plenty of time to enjoy, rest, eat, visit, play, share stories, photos, and add news to the family tree.
  8. The hosting family can keep a list of names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, with copies for others in the family. If it is kept on a computer list, the names and contact information can be updated as needed.  This list can be used to mail out reminders and flyers each year.


Family Reunion tree trunk with 15 branches for 15 children!

Family Reunion tree trunk with 15 branches for 15 children!

Grandchildren's leaves on the branches

Grandchildren’s leaves on the branches


Leaves with a lot and some with a little!

Leaves with a lot and some with a little!

Leaf shape with Velcro square to attach to tree

Leaf shape with Velcro square to attach to tree

  1. We created a large physical tree design on posterboard to display leaves on the different family branches.  Our large family took 6 posterboards and we lay them out on a large table top each year. Each branch represents a child of the main/focus family.  In our case there are 15 child branches, and large green leaf shapes that represent the 46 grandchildren.  On each leaf is printed the family tree outline with the descendants to the present day.  We have added small thumbnail size photos of descendants on the leaves (the ones we have).  This makes the tree more personal, putting faces to names, especially helpful seeing those who are no longer with us or can’t attend the reunions.
  2. Ask family to bring family photos they can share, especially of older family members.  Have a digital camera or portable scanner there to make digital copies to add to the family tree and share with others.
  3. If genealogy research or online family tree information has been done, ask family to bring flash drives/thumb drives if they want copies.  Take a portable laptop with USB slots to transfer family tree, genealogy or photo files with others.  This is a great way to back-up family information, in case of computer crashes or in the sad event of a family death.  Otherwise, the information or photos might be lost or inaccessible.  For those that just want to see the information, a binder with genealogy or family tree information can be displayed for family to look through.  Add photos, stories, family recipes, or anything that might be fun to remember and look through.  From the laptop, family can look at selected photos in a continuous digital slideshow.
  4. Make sure someone is taking photos at the reunion.  Each year, there may be different family able to come, and as loved ones pass on, these photos can be a source of comfort as we remember the great visits we have together.
  5. If you have a really good techy-type family member who can help with video, you can even video some of the reunion memories, if family agrees. Ask permission to video, since it’s a little more personal.  Video great memories, and don’t video people just to embarrass them.
  6. If someone agrees to be taped as they are talking, telling old stories, that’s a great source of family history.
  7. There are many little ways to make the occasion fun and inclusive, reminding everyone that they are all of one family.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  We took a simple tree shape on plain white paper (printed from the computer).  We laid out 4 colors of stamping ink next to the tree, and everyone at the reunion picked a color and placed one fingerprint somewhere on the tree. And of course, we had some wet wipes nearby.  Another way to show we are all from one family!  We’ll keep taking the tree back each year and hopefully add more fingerprints from those that weren’t able to come this year!
One fingerprint from children of all ages - One Family!

One fingerprint from children of all ages – One Family!

Most important – make it fun, enjoy the visiting, the stories, the memories, fellowship, learn more about each other, and keep it going!  Keep Family Close!

Cherish them now while you can, and cherish the memories when they’re gone. I recently found a quote from a Native American writer, Linda Hogan, who wrote:

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.                                                             Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.                                                                     Be still, they say.                                                                                                       Watch and listen.                                                                                                           You are the result of the love of thousands.”


How to Begin Family Tree Research

My first rule of research:  You don’t need to spend money to begin discovering! 

When I began, I knew very little about genealogy websites and had no extra money to pay for special websites or research.  I was excited to find great advice and tips for free online, and there are some basic guides to be found in genealogy magazines, bookstores, libraries and online.  Some websites are totally free; some use trial periods and then charge; and some offer graduated plans, by the month or year. 

Genealogy societies and libraries can be wonderful help, and exist in all 50 states.  Many are organized by counties.  They are independent, usually depend on volunteer staff and donations, and have different types of resources, records and cost of dues.  Some offer research time for free, some have hourly costs, and partial year plans.  I personally joined the genealogy society in my county because much of my family originated here and I live here as well.  I have joined and paid dues most years, unless I did not have time to research and access their resources.  There are volunteers available to help you decide how to research your family. 



Many new upgrades to this site, making it more user-friendly and easier for beginning research, many databases that can be searched….

This part of gives free access to online family trees, tips for getting started, search engines and databases, links to resources, and the extensive World Connect Project….search but verify what you find, since trees may have mistakes or not be “sourced” well….

National Genealogy Society, with resources and training, dates for conferences….

Great place to find graves of loved ones, search through grave records, search for cemeteries, and some listings have additional family information and links to more people…..

Old Buncombe County Genealogy Society – Local group that covers most of the western part of North Carolina, with extensive library of resources and great volunteers to help guide your research, bookstore, and several great speakers to present genealogy information during the year….

Volunteers working to keep research free, with links to each state genealogy project, which link to more local websites and resources…Click on your state, then to your county for more local resources….

National Archives and Records Administration – resources for genealogists, tips, tools, free databases….This is where national records are housed, information on site for obtaining specific records (at a fee for locating and printing)….

Cyndi’s List, just what it says, lists under categories of aids for genealogy, supplies, forms, magazines and journals, websites for all things related to genealogy…


GENEALOGY MAGAZINES:  Some on store shelves, some online

Family Tree Magazine       

Family Chronicle                

Internet Genealogy            

More magazines and journals are listed on Cyndi’s List, especially if you are interested in research in countries outside the US.


There are several more websites that provide varying amounts of helpful guides on how to research.  They have examples of forms you can start with.  Although you can record a lot of details on your computer software, you still want to have some initial worksheets to start from.  This gives you a back-up in case of computer problems.


  1. I found a simple family tree chart and started with my own details – my name, my dates and places of birth, school, marriage and children.
  2. I added my own parents information, along with their brothers and sisters. 
  3. Work backwards one family at a time with as much personal information as you already think you know.
  4. As you work on your close family, gather copies of birth certificates, school diplomas, marriage and death certificates. It may seem unnecessary, but sometimes you find mistakes or differences in dates or spellings of names. And you may know the info, but others won’t when you’re gone.
  5. Record sources of documents, when and where you found them or who has possession of them.  (Who has the family Bible or copy of the grandparents marriage certificate?)  This is a good way to check back if other sources don’t agree.
  6. When talking with family and asking questions, I found some who did not want to share for emotional reasons, and sometimes that has to be okay!  If someone experienced childhood trauma of some kind, it is not always welcome to bring it up.  For example, one relative didn’t want to share the name of his birth father who abandoned him and his mother. Out of respect, his name is not in our family tree.
  7. Any information on a living relative should never be made public without their permission.  Many websites offer to help you build a family tree online, but details on living relatives should be off-limits.  I use my family tree software on my computer, but I have not published it. I have only made personal copies for our parents and siblings and other family members that want a copy.


For more on how to create a gift for your family, see my post Family Tree Binder.



Recording Cherished Family Memories

My husband and I were blessed with 2 beautiful children.  Our first child, our son, was born 28 years ago and our daughter was born almost 5 years later.  There were 4 grandparents, 4 great-grandparents, and one very lively great-great-grandmother who shared their young lives for many years.  Our children got to know these special people along with aunts, uncles and cousins.

During my journey to explore our family trees, we learned about many experiences that had not been shared until I asked!  I only wish I had started asking sooner before many loved ones were gone and their stories were gone.  Knowing dates and places are great, but it is fascinating to know more about the journeys your loved ones have taken!

Something that is mentioned a lot in genealogy circles is taping or at least writing down personal stories.  Sometimes people are hesitant to share family stories because of embarrassment, or concern over social or illegal behaviors.  Reassure them that the reason for sharing is only for personal use, and these special memories for them make them special to those that follow behind……   These stories may even help one of their loved ones to understand who they are and who they were along their journey.



  • If your loved one agrees, video them talking, answering your questions and telling stories.  Keep it informal so they won’t get nervous and clam up!
  • People remember fun stories when reminiscing with other family and friends.  I hear better stories with more details if 2 or 3 family or friends are just talking. Try video taping them while they talk naturally.
  • Family REUNIONS are great times to get a few family members together and talking!  If they agree, video them talking and remembering!
  • Have a list of questions or topics that might get them started.  I usually take some written notes if a major family story is brought up, but their words make it more real!
  • 2 or 3 people are going to remember different versions of a story, and that’s great!  It’s more real and more interesting!
  • If you have an old-fashioned hand-held tape recorder, you can use that, too, so you have a back-up.  You might hear something that you didn’t notice in the video.
  • If someone really refuses to be taped, jot down some topics, and questions and interview them.  But keep it relaxed and informal.  This might be better with one person at a time.  If they go off on a tangent, let them finish their story.  You might discover a gem of a story you did not expect!  Let them talk and lead the conversation instead of “grilling” them with lots of questions.
  • Try using topics to get them started, like “did you like school, have any favorite teachers or interesting bus rides?”.  That kind of question usually lets them bring up stories they haven’t thought about in a while.
  • I have asked direct questions, when the person could not think of anything to say, but when a natural conversation mentions a familiar person or place, then I would hear a long detailed story about them.
  • Most important, get permission to share their stories!  If you are planning a “family only” notebook or tree, usually there is no problem.  If you want to formally publish something to distribute more widely, make sure they understand where it’s going…….
  • For my family tree binders (see post from 5-6-13), I asked each of our siblings and children to write memories of our parents.  Some were paragraphs, some were 2-3 pages, and some were lists.  They were all great memories that reminded our parents of special times with their kids and grandkids.  They ALL brought tears and smiles!
  • Don’t wait till someone is gone before you let them know how important they are to you…….AND how much their story —  their journey — means to you!!

For more ideas and information, you can check out any number of genealogy websites, many for free!  A few resources I’ve used……..

Most libraries have a great collection of genealogy information and resources, with free access to genealogy websites.  Check with your local library for more information on those services!



Family Tree Binder

My original idea for a Christmas gift for our parents had become huge! The family tree information I found and organized was too much to write by hand and very time consuming. I found a great software program available at the time, which I still use after nine years. There are many more options and programs out there now, and reviews are available to find out the best style to fit your needs.

I entered my family information and the program organized a history page for each family, and then created a family tree with names and dates.

I realized I would need to constantly change the pages when I found new details, so I decided to use a 3-ring binder and loose leaf format. I also found out that after a family tree is shared with your family, it sparks more old memories that will change and add to the family tree binder. Both families were excited to learn more about their own families, and it especially reminded them how important they are to us!

Scripture Added to the Beginning pages of the Family Tree Binder

What I used for my project:

  •      White 3-ring binder (with clear cover to insert personalized title)
  •      Clear sheet page protectors
  •      Dividers for sections of family, photos, etc.
  •      White and color copy paper

I designed a cover or title page that I inserted with the famly name, and nice border, and the date. I created a title page note for each family, explaining what information had or had not yet been verified.  Not all internet genealogy information is going to be true!  I have not even had time to find real sources of evidence for all the information I have. That’s my next step!

For the binder, I found verses that spoke to the special connection between family and that our histories are part of who we are.

Lessin quote for Family Tree Binder

Section 1:     Printed the direct ancestry list with names and dates of births, deaths, and marriages that I had found so far. That included my parents and all of their direct grandparents and great-grandparents.

Section 2:     Probably the most important part of the binder (at least the one that brought lots of tears, even to the fathers!) was a collection of letters and lists. I asked each child and grandchild to write something about their memories of our parents. It was harder for the guys, until we helped them get started! Each son and daughter, their husbands and wives, and all the grandchildren wrote about the things that made their parents and grandparents special to them, individual memories of special times and places. This was a great opportunity to thank our parents for all they had done for us and our children!

Section 3:     Printed all of the Descendants (that I could find) from the oldest identified ancestors. That included uncles, aunts, cousins, distant cousin! This history contained all other details I could find, such as places of births, deaths, marriages, burials, schools, etc.

Section 4:     Paternal Section – Divided out my father’s family ancestry, along with photos I had found of several grand and great-grand parents. I included extra photos of my father as a baby or young child with some of those relatives. As a bonus, I had a special handwritten recipe from his mother, my grandmother, who had passed on 2 years earlier. I had a few copies of birth, death and marriage certificates, included the marriage certificate for my father’s grandparents in 1919.

Section 5:     Maternal Section – Included the same as for my father’s side of the family, with her relatives, with photos, copies of documentation.

Next:  I will try to share more information on software and resources for beginning family tree research.  There are many free options out there!



The Genealogy Puzzle

Genealogy is really a puzzle that never ends!

As a teenager, I wanted to know more about my family tree. I was blessed to know many living grandparents and great-grands. I met my great-great-Aunt Dora from Tennessee, and a few months later she surprised me with a blue notebook in the mail.  After we talked about my interest, she had handwritten all she knew about my maternal grandfather’s family tree back to the 1800’s in Mississippi.

That was it!  I was hooked!  She left my own family details blank for me to fill in. Over the next few years, I only dabbled because I had school, college, a new job, and then became a wife and mother of two. I would occasionally lightly research so I could share something with my children.

In the 80’s and 90’s, I would talk to my parents and grandparents, but after my children were grown and independent, I had time to discover internet resources and genealogy libraries. I innocently thought I would make a simple family tree as a Christmas gift for my parents and my husband’s parents. That project became huge and the details I found eventually filled about 4 file cabinet drawers!  So that part of my journey began in 2004. Once I got started, I could not stop!  It is exciting, rewarding, and amazing to realize details of the lives of ancestors we might take for granted.  I seemed obsessed, but I just could not stop without finding the next pieces of the family tree puzzle!

Next:  I will describe the Gifts I made for our parents with family trees, recipes, photos and more!