If you are blessed with an avalanche of information for a particular ancestor, do you include every last detail in their life story complication?
When I worked on my mother’s scrapbook, I had a pile of resources to work with sheets of her journal, a life history that she started but never finished, a personal history form, labeled photos, and other sources of information. At that time, she was also still living. So, I could keep building my source material.
As I was trying to mesh these sources into one story to be used in a family history book and a condensed story for her scrapbook, I kept asking this question: Should I include that?
- Should I include all the minutia about her early years? Do I include when she first sat up, first rolled over, and first walked as a baby? Her lifespan was 60 years. Does this information really matter? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
- During the mom’s youth, she had playmates. Do I mention every friend she ever played with? Do I just list them briefly and summarize what games they played? Do I include a few brief examples of the mom and a specific game with a particular friend?
- Humans go through a natural changing process during the teenage years. Should I include when the mom experienced those changes and her reactions?
- Now, my mother had several boyfriends and crushes. Some folks only have one love of their life. With the individuals who have many love interests in their life, do I include all of these details? Or do I highlight one or two and sum up that mom “had many crushes and boyfriends”?
- Mom was a baton twirler. She has a stack of photos of her participation in that activity Should I include all of mom’s band trips, twirling outfits, and awards in her family story? What if your ancestor was an athlete or had other massive documentation producing activities? How do you summarize all the events or do you create a separate book just about that part of their life?
How do you handle too much information:
Perhaps some things can be put into a table (baby milestones) and included on a page with other details.
Pair Charts with Anecdotes:
In the case of baby milestones, if there is a story associated with an event, that should be included. For instance, my grandmother commented that although my mother ‘officially’ started talking when she was 2, Grannie felt Momma was born with the gift of gab. This quip suggests that mom was quite the talker.
I later learned that my mother got into trouble at school, work, church, etc. for talking too much. These infractions coincide well with my grandmother’s belief that her daughter was born talking. That makes a great piece for a narrative. It’s richer than, “started talking at 2.”
Edit to the important details
What about the ancestor with the numerous associations with the opposite sex (aka boy crazy or girl crazy)? My guess is that when my kids read about their grandma their interest is not really in who and how many people she dated or had crushes on before marrying their grandpa. I could edit the ‘official’ history to the first boyfriend and possibly another one who impacted mom’s future dating experiences. I’ll leave the finer details in her journal.
Should you include that?
Learning about my mother was a great experience and was the stepping stone to writing the stories of additional ancestors like my father, my Grannie, and my Grandpa. I’m now working on the distant ancestors such as my 3rd great-grandfather Joseph Geiszler.
Time and space don’t allow for the inclusion of everything that has been documented about or by an individual in question. Decisions have to be made by a family historian. In making these decisions, I don’t want to alter the history of the individual. At the same time, I don’t wish to create a boring story that no one wants to read.
It’s a tough balancing act. When done correctly, a compelling book about an ancestor does result.