Why Write a Family History if No One Wants to Read it?

Why Write Family History When No One Cares

Have you ever thought about writing a family history? Do you fear that no one will want to read it? You are not alone, but that shouldn’t stop you from writing a family history. Many of you have asked me at conferences, emails, and other social media this one question,

“Why write a family history if no one wants to read it?”

Writing a family history makes you a better researcher

Due to my journalism background, I prefer writing in a style that falls between lifestyle feature for a newspaper to a biography written for middle school and high school students. Regardless of your style, writing a family history forces you to analyze details and explain your rationale thereby enhancing your researcher skills.

I have written the first drafts of over 120 of my direct ancestor. These drafts cover my direct ancestors to the 6th generation, who are my 4th great-grandparents. I’m in the process of taking those drafts and turning them into published books, having completed two thus far.

As I have reviewed each document for supporting details to enrich the story of a particular ancestor, I discover missing sources that I thought I had. I discover inaccurate conclusions and correct mistakes on my family tree. In short, writing has made me a better researcher faster than any other training I have experienced.

If you enjoy genealogy and you want to become a better researcher, start turning the facts you find into stories.

For more discussion on this topic, and some additional tips, watch this video.

Your Family History Adds to Your Country’s Common History

The New York Public Library website shares several reasons regarding the importance of writing family histories, which include:

  • There is a need for diverse family histories about individuals underrepresented in history texts.
  • More family histories need to document female lines.
  • There is a need for more histories about families who are not affluent.

History is based on the writings of the past. We know a great deal about the Great Depression because reporters went and recorded the stories of those in the Dust Bowl area. However, there are others around the country who didn’t realize the Great Depression happened because they were just as poor, before, during, and after the era. Tell these stories.

The Great Depression did not significantly affect plenty of individuals at all. How can that be? The Great Depression impacted people differently around the country, with some areas of the United States having a reduced impact on their economic situations. All aspects of an event should receive pages in books on shelves of the countries collection history section. In so doing, citizens gain a better perspective of the past and learn how to improve the future.

Libraries and Archives May Welcome Your Published Family History

If you have few family members interested in their legacy, libraries, archives, genealogical societies, and history museums may welcome your published family history.

Publish your family history in a softbound or hardbound copy (avoid comb bound books) through a service, such as Lulu.com. Then donate the finished works to entities that collect family histories and family narratives.

Determine which library, archive, or society serves the area where your family lived or worked. Often these entities have special collections for individuals with connections to their areas. Additionally, look for repositories that serve a special connection your ancestor may have. If your ancestor is African American, look for ethnic based repositories that welcome family histories for individuals with African American heritage. If your ancestor worked for a university, consult the special collections division if they would like a family history about one of their former employees.

Don’t limit yourself to close connections for depositing your published family histories. Some locations welcome donations even if the link to a location is non-existent.

I’ve learned from a collector of Books of Mormon that it’s not wise for historical books to only be in the place where you would expect to find them. If all the historic copies of the Books of Mormons appear in Utah repositories which are then destroyed by fire, all copies would disappear. So, this collector deposits his collection at Harvard, Princeton and other archives around America. The same thing can happen to you. Donate your family histories to the logical place and then any place willing to accept family histories.

A copy of my memoir, From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown is part of a genealogical library collection in Arkansas. Although I never lived there, the library wanted to preserve my pageant perspective and asked for a copy.

Writing Preserves the Work You’ve Completed

After my Ohio research trip in 2012, I returned with so many facts, stories, and documents. I feared that if I died on the return trip to Iowa (where we were living at the time), I would take the discoveries I had made to the grave with me. Writing dispersed this fear.

In writing about those 120+ ancestors, I gathered all of the photos, stories, and discoveries in one place. Should I die before publishing these books, my family members can pick up where I left off. I could breathe easier having processed all of the details.

Ultimately, the ‘why’ of writing family history centers around preserving your family history. If no one wants to read it now, they may want to read it in the future. Start today.

If you’re afraid you don’t have the skills to write, watch this video.
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

10 thoughts on “Why Write a Family History if No One Wants to Read it?

  1. Nice post. Totally agree that writing a family narrative helps preserve a family’s history and leaves valuable research findings for those interested family members who one day decided to take up the research challenge.

  2. I agree with all of these points, but adding to the common history really resonates with me. We’re so used to those “extraordinary” stories as well as the stereotypical stories. All of us adding our own histories adds to the composite of history. Plus, I think the fear that people won’t read your stories or your profiles leads to an unrealistic standard of what you expect out of yourself. Just write. (Then edit.)

  3. Great points! I believe that even if someone doesn’t want to read it now, eventually down the line someone will. I hope in the future someone will keep researching my family and keeping the names alive.

  4. I’m a retired librarian and now encourage everyone to write about their family history and also about their own childhood years. For my family books, I’ve done some draft copies using Shutterfly, but make my final books using Blurb (print-on-demand similar to Lulu).
    It’s true that some family members show little interest in family history but they are less likely to toss a book than they would a folder of family notes).

    1. Those are great services for crafting your books. I agree that family members are less likely to toss out the books than the folder of family notes. When something is published, it becomes a prized possession, even when folks fail to crack open the cover!

  5. Excellent article. Yes, the prospect of producing something others will read makes us better researchers. And someday somewhere our work will be read – if it’s available. I too think it’s particularly important that we document what we’ve found or remember about ‘ordinary’ families, including those less documented – the women, the unsuccessful, the poor, the forgotten family members. If we don’t remember them, who will?

  6. A great post. A lot of people think they have to wait until they are finished researching. It is better to write as you research. The prospect of finishing your book is greater. Plus you really see the holes in your research and analysis.

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