How to Write About a Large Family When Someone Dies

Large Black and White Family Picture with caption "How to write about a large family"

Adding family context at the time on an ancestor’s death makes for adds setting, tension, and mood. But how do write about an ancestor the time an ancestor dies when they have a large family?

Add Family Context to the Death of an Ancestor

In my popular family history writing workshops based on the book A Recipe for Writing Family History, I encourage people to extra details from original documents for each life event and then spice up their story using context.

One aspect of context when an ancestor dies involves identifying the parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren of the recently departed. Who survives your ancestors is an important part of their story, even more so than the fact the focal ancestor passed away.

One overwhelmed workshop attendee thought this could rapidly get out of hand.

How do I write about a large family at the time of an ancestor’s death?

The workshop attendee asked her question in this way:

“How do I write about a very large family? At the time of my father’s death, he had had three wives and 23 children. How do I write the death story following a recipe for writing family history with so many people?

Though it seems overwhelming to name 23 children, their spouses, and their children at the time of a patriarch passing, your ancestor’s story is incomplete without their names and ages.

You could choose the path of least resistance and simply tally how many people survived an ancestor. Then you could write about the ancestor’s cause of death and where they are buried. But, your story is genealogically insufficient if you exclude the names of the survivors.

  • How many times have you wondered if an ancestor had additional children, siblings, or spouses?
  • How many times have you NOT questioned the existence of other relationships only to discover your great-grandfather had a second wife and additional children?
  • How many times has someone overlooked a critical relationship because someone took a short cut in writing?

The Benefits of Writing All the Details About a Large Family Story

I recently discovered a second-wife for a great-grandfather that transformed how I viewed his daughter’s life story as a young adult. If someone had taken time to identify the second wife, I would have better understand the great-grandfather and his daughter.

Book cover for A Recipe for Writing Family History
For more writing tips, pick up a copy of A Recipe for Writing Family History, using this link: Order Book.

What happens if you have to write about a large family number 100 survivors or more?

Just write about the large family.

  • Identify the living the spouse(s) and their ages.
  • Name the surviving children, their ages, and their spouse(s)
  • Identify grandchildren and great-grandchildren by name and age
  • As a bonus, add where everyone was living.

By including everyone, you can then add greater perspective to your ancestor’s story.

  • Imagine a funeral where the attendance numbered 100, all of which were family members.
  • What if those 100+ relatives only attendance because they hoped to make bank through the will. What happened if the exclusion of some of these relatives caused the family erupted and go their separate ways. How said that so many relatives no longer speak?
  • What if those 100 relatives plus 200 friends and neighbors had trouble finding a venue big enough to hold the funeral services?
  • What if the deceased had 100+ surviving relatives, but only two showed up for the funeral?

All of these scenarios come into sharp view when you write about the entire large family.

Write About the Large Family, Even If The Job is Taxing

There is power in telling who was alive when a life event happened, especially a death. Don’t exclude someone because the list of relatives is ‘too long.’ 

That’s the point.

It’s a very long list, and you don’t want to exclude anyone. You wouldn’t want someone to exclude you from the death story of a loved one simply because there were too many to name.

Sepia Tone Photo with the caption "How do you write about a large family?"
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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin
Tweet
Share