Why Your Family Doesn’t Want to Read Their Family History

Vintage photos of ancestors with overlay Why Your Family Doesn’t Want to Read Their Family History

You hear the grumbles and the sighs as you tell your family to read their family history. They say they are not interested and they would rather watch grass group. How can this be when it’s their legacy?!?

There are likely two reasons why the family history book you want your family to read does not generate positive feelings. The first is the book is too large and the second is what you created is boring.

Reduce the Size of Your Family History

Just as not everyone likes reading history, many of your family members do not want to read about their family history. The reason may stem from the fact that history teaching in schools typically involves 8×10 paperweights known as textbooks. If a family history book looks like a textbook your family will not jump at the chance to read it.

In the past, compiled facts of multiple generations of ancestors and their descendants became the staple of what genealogists created for their families. Book size options and the lack of one-off printing runs made it cost-prohibitive to create anything else.

Andy’s family has a book featuring over 200 pages measuring 8.5×11 inches. The book consumes a lot of space on our bookshelf. Its hefty weight makes it difficult to read casually.

Your family members will likely not want to read a family history of similar size.

Break the Family History Into Smaller Books Your Family Wants to Read

Your family members will more likely read smaller family histories on a Sunday afternoon, as a bedtime story for children and grandchildren, or for a yearly reading goal. Give them smaller books that are an easy yes.

Strive to publish books that range from 90-120 pages sized 6×9 inches filled with story, photos, documents, and maps to add visual interest to the text. The 6×9 inch book fits easily on a shelf or in a purse or tote bag for reading on long commutes or at the beach.

My cousins and aunts absolutely love this book that I wrote about Lewis Brown (grandpa or dad to my relatives). Not only was the story a quick read but they saw photos and documents they never knew existed. My family read their family history and ask when I’m writing the next one.

Write an Interesting Story

A lyric from a popular song says, “If you want to make the world a better place, look in the mirror and make the change.” (If you can identify that song and artist, leave it in the comments of this post.)

That line is applicable to the discussion of writing when no one wants to read their family history that you created. Take a hard look at the family history you compiled. Is it worth reading?

In 1984, a family member compiled my Comfort family history into a book. It took a lot of work and I won’t discredit their efforts. However, there is NOTHING TO READ in here. 95% of the book contains charts.

Since we live in a day when publishing family histories is cheap (free if you blog or for a fee if you convert your writing into a book), you have no excuse to create these kinds of family histories. Spend your money on family histories that have content to READ.

Leave family trees and charts to the online space. Spend your time crafting and retelling family stories and maybe your family will want to read their ancestor’s stories.

Turn Facts Into Paragraphs

The easiest way to begin writing a family history your family wants to read is to turn facts into paragraphs, not just one sentence.

Extract all the details on each record that documents your ancestor’s life. Add familial context and historical context and you have begun to make your family history story have more interest.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to write such a story. And if you need help, you can order my book A Recipe For Writing Family Histories.

Your Family Will Want to Read Their Family History

If you will stop trying to write ‘THE BOOK’ filled with your genealogy research in charts, and instead write several books filled with stories where the ancestors become more than dates and places, you will produce a family history library that your relatives will want to read.

Vintage photos of ancestors with caption  Why Your Family Doesn’t Want to Read Their Family History
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.

3 thoughts on “Why Your Family Doesn’t Want to Read Their Family History

  1. Lyrics are from “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.

    Read about family history? Neither side of my family wants to even talk about it. Making it difficult to put meat on the bones of the charts, trees, etc. I do the best I can, knowing someday somebody will be glad I did.

  2. Every Christmas I create a little binder about one of our family lines and tie it into a theme for that Christmas Party. One year we had dinner at the Tam-o-Shanter Restaurant near Burbank, California (Fun fact – it was designed by set designers from Walt Disney Studios and it was one of Walt Disney’s favorite places to have lunch.) Our Scots family line is Robertson. I made paper pins of the Robertson badge and attached ribbons with one of the Robertson plaids. Every person, young and old, received one. That was 10 years ago and people still talk about it.

    We have a Mayflower Line that I distributed info on about 15 years ago. Now that there are a number of gammar school-aged grandchildren, it seemed a good time to print up Mayflower charts ending with each child’s name. I also found a poster showing who sailed on the Mayflower and who survived the first year. Less than half of them made it. Our ancestor, of course, was one of the survivors. I’m ordering the poster for each family which I think helps to personalize the experience.

    Like any other thing to be learned, you have to make it interesting by engaging as many senses as possible. As the “Family Historian”, I try to educate and inspire hoping that someone in the younger generation will take it up when I am gone.

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