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Write Your Personal or Family History--Tips and Resourses

Unlock the Mystery of Writing YOUR History
Compiled by Carolyn Calton
Phoenix Genealogy Examiner for Examiner.com and Founder of http://www.familytreequest.com
all rights reserved

Explore a wide-variety of easy tips and tools, making it plausible
to integrate Personal History and Family History writing into your already busy schedule.

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—
to know who we are and where we came from.
Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning.
No matter what our attainments in life,
there is still a vacuum, an emptiness
and the most disquieting loneliness.
      --Alex Haley, author of “Roots”

Writing Personal or Family Histories can seem mysterious.  
Some common concerns are:
Where do I begin?
What do I do?
How do I maintain my motivation?
The task may seem mountainous—too big to undertake, too daunting to attempt to explore.  The good news is that, in today’s world, there are time-saving ideas and tools that simplify the challenge.  Also, sometimes we overlook the small things which are already integrated into daily living that are part of keeping our history. 
Unlocking the mystery is simply a matter of gaining knowledge, “zeroing in” on choosing a specific task (whether large or small),
working it into your routine, then maintaining your commitment and momentum.

“Heritage is passed heart to heart.” –Henry B. Eyring

What is Family Tree Quest’s approach to writing your history?

Glean Wisdom from the Past
(rather than stay stuck in it)
Live Mindfully in the Present
Prepare Confidently for the Future

We gather experiences in our lives to show us things about ourselves that we need to know or see

in our journey toward achieving our highest good and fulfilling our own life’s potential.
Sharing what we’ve learned from our experiences has the potential to
positively influence those we love and can
help us face the perils and uncertainties of the future.

“As we value our history, it becomes clear how we can become our best, most happy and capable selves.  
We learn what personal character traits contribute to strong, safe, secure family relationships, and,
in contrast, we can see what detracts from and destroys them.  
This knowledge helps us develop a healthy concern about
contributing positively to the future of our family line.”
--Family Tree Gal, Carolyn Murphy

Challenge:  Integrate writing your history into your routines. 
Choose one specific tip or tool you will use,
decide how often you will use it,
and then follow through.

Use a master calendar- Designate the dates and times you will devote to writing your history (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.).

Pick a location for your records- (3-ring binder with paper and sheet protectors, folders, plastic tub or drawer,
       computer with backup CD or hard drive, Heritage Collector Suite Software, etc,)

Think creatively when writing your history.  There is not just one approach!

       Chronological (typical)

       Use Books containing prompts

       Pocket Tree-
The Quick, Light, Simple, & Complete 9+ Generation Ancestry Chart!
               There are also 5 points listed inside under “Things to remember when questioning your family member”    
               followed by 39 recommended questions that would be oh-so-helpful in conducting an interview!
                   $13.00      Free shipping.  Ships within 24 hours.  (Prices are subject to change.  Visit their website to confirm the price.)
                   Some people get these for each member of their family.
                   I gave this a five-star rating in my Phoenix Genealogy Examiner review.

       Personal Historian softwareName Your Link

               $29.95  Helps you write the story of your life and of other individuals. This

               program breaks the seemingly monumental task of writing your history into small, manageable pieces and
               then reconstructs it into a complete, publishable document.

               Personal Historian comes with an extensive library of LifeCapsules- timelines, historical events, cultural
               fads, and memory triggers covering a wide-variety of subjects.  LifeCapsules add color and context to your
               history, giving you insights into what was happening in the world at any point in your history.

               Personal Historian builds upon the work that you've already done.  You can easily import word processor
               documents, photographs, and other data.
               Personal Historian can even bring in events, dates, and notes from your genealogy  software so that all
               the important events in your life and the life of your family are automatically there, ready for you to write.

       Heritage Collector Suite- MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION! 
            Fast and easy organization to the family history odds and ends that may be driving
            you crazy.  Organize Photos, Documents, Audio Files, Video Clips and More. Wonderful tutorials.

               20 % OFF INTRODUCTORY PRICE and $60.00 in BONUSES WITH PURCHASE
                    Find photos in seconds!
                    Over twenty easy-to-follow tutorials
                    Digital Family History Guidebook in PDF- The ultimate "How To" Guidebook. Over 200 Pages of step-by-step instructions.
                    Calendar Module- Create family calendars for gifts.
                    Storybook Module
                    GPS Maps Module
                    Easier Scanning Interactive Tutorial
                    Using Sound Interactive Tutorial
       When interviewing a family member, start by asking simple questions
              (like the Charles Shultz Philosophy; name three, name five, think of a few . . . )

       Memory Books (Keepsake Journals)- Family members ask questions of each other.  Give a Book. Give it Back.
              Visit www.betweenmeandyoujournals.com and enter the coupon code MyQuest in the comments box
                to receive $1.00 off the $14.95 each price.

             Includes keepsake journals for Mom, Dad, Grandma, Honey, Girl, Grandpa, Sister, Brother, Reunion,
                   Daughter, Son, Aunt, Uncle, Mama, Papa
             Includes questions such as:  What are the memories of the day I was born?  Before we met, what did you  
                   think your future mate would be like?  If you could relive one moment from our past, what would it be?  
                   If you're looking for perfect gifts, perhaps you've found them!
       Create collections of poetry or favorite lyrics to songs-
               Its amazing how much you can learn about a person from the poetry and songs they like or write.

       Create collections of stories or essays-
              These can be professionally bound or taken to a print shop and spiral bound inexpensively

       Magda HerzbergerMagda Herzberger- This survivor of three death camps in the Holocaust began to write when she was free.  Writing was part of her healing.

       Memoirs- Lolly's YarnLolly’s Yarn by Anna Arnett  

       Family History in Fiction- Counting the CostCounting the Cost and pamphlet Using Family History in Fiction Using Family History in Using Family History in Fiction Fiction
                                         by Liz Adair; Cecily Markland, Inglestone Publishing 

Your Public Library has a vast collection of books on writing your history.  Check them out

Shop for Family History Books online at the “Family History-How to” link of the Family Tree Quest Bookstore

52 Weeks to Personal Genealogy and History (2011)    
      This is a wonderful series of Family History prompts written by Amy Coffin and hosted at GeneaBloggers.
      If you follow the series and write about each challenge, you will have 52 weeks of stories about your life
           at the end of the year.                 
      As the Phoenix Genealogy Examiner, I will be posting them each Monday at Examiner.com.  Click "subscribe"
           and receive the article automatically in your email inbox, or click "RSS" if you're using a Feed Reader.

Using BLOGS in Family History Writing

     Start a Family History or Personal History BLOG of your own
         “Blog” is an abbreviation for “Weblog”.
A blog is a form of an online journal. 
          Sign up free at Wordpress or Blogger.  There are other blog sites.  I use these two.
          The best way to use blogs in writing your history is to see what others, with similar interests,
          have done online.  Check out many types of genealogy blogs at GeneaBloggers and see their
          Blog Resources as well. 

    Create a Family Blog
         Family Blogs can include topics such as calendar items, activities, milestones, favorite recipes,
         humorous stories, lessons learned, thoughts to ponder, or a spiritual message.

         You can automate to whom it goes when you publish.  Use privacy settings if you choose.
         Cut and paste your text to a Word document.  Save it, and print it out at the end of the year.
         Printers like Kinko's or Americopy can inexpensively bind your text in spiral binding.     
         Another option is to use specialized online companies who specifically print blogs into books.

 Monthly newsletter
      Invite family members to participate.  Designate a person to coordinate the newsletter.

      Attach your newsletter to an email online or mail it by snail mail.
           Topics could include:
             Calendar/ activities
             Milestones (turning point activities in the life of a family member)
             Recipe of the month
             words of counsel
             thoughts to ponder
             a spiritual message

Christmas Newsletters
      Keep a file or 3-ring binder with family news or special notes from loved ones to be used in

      assembling family history later.

Use holidays and family gatherings to collect information 
      When you want to gather memories (favorite songs, favorite
foods, or memories with a family member, etc.),
      assign family members to bring a written
paragraph to a family gathering.
      (Just like you would assign someone to bring an item of food.)   

      Example:  Christmas Songs- Ask for favorites, bring to family gathering, compile with your records.  
      You can also collect them via mail or email.


      Flip-Pal mobile Scanner- Compact, lightweight, durable, portable, cordless scanner.
             Scan photos in comfort while watching TV. 
             Remove the lid, flip the scanner over and
place it on the original
             There's no need to remove photos from albums or frames.  It provides accurate, high-quality digital images.
                See my five-star review by clicking here, or see more about Flip-Pal mobile scanner.  Click here. 

     I recommend Heritage Collector Suite Software to catalog your personal photos, documents, videos, etc. 
     You can create collections and use
keywords for super fast retrieval.

      Extrememly important note
     Always make sure your pictures are
         your own, or
         are copyright-free or
         ask permission from the photographer!

      Fun Places on the Internet to Find Pictures to jazz up your writings-  
            http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ (Library of Congress)

      Great information found on the blog titled “Family History Writing”
            Intro into using pictures in Family History.  She also mentions museums and historical societies.
            Placement in your history and where to find photos.
            More about photos (illustrations)

      Use Scrapbook Software
Journal Keeping
       Positive lessons learned
      Answer the question, "How have I seen the hand of God in my life today?" (Eyring, October 1989)  
At-A-Glance Overview of the Year
      I call it my “Running History” - update monthly, quarterly, or yearly using your
family or personal calendar. 
      Keep an online history of important dates in the lives of you and your family members.  Include such things as:
           Where you lived (address or addresses)
           Place of employment, address, any details (your position, co-workers names, etc.)
           Clubs or organizations in which you serve.
           Important dates and events
           List addresses and places of employment for each married child and his/her family.
           I include names of my grandchildren and their schools and teachers also.

           End with In the News items.

      Schedule time on your calendar to do this update, so that it is not overlooked.


Heritage Collector Suite- my highest organizational recommendation!

Makes Organization Fast and Easy


Organize, Find, and Share
Family History Photos and Genealogy

THE PERFECT SOLUTION to your frustration and stress.
SAVE MONEY. CREATE your own family history gifts.
PRESERVE priceless memories

Create a Family History- Learn how to organize and format a family history book and get better scans.

Digital Family History Guidebook, printed version  
            The ultimate "HOW TO" Guidebook! Save time, money and frustration.   
         (This comes as a free PDF with Heritage Collector Suite)

Dragon Naturally Speaking Software  Visit the Nuance store today

Publishers (soon to come)

I hope you have been able to see that many activities you may already be doing ARE, indeed, a part of keeping your personal or family history.  I encourage you to select one tip or tool you will use, schedule time on your calendar, then follow through.  May you enjoy moving forward with writing your history.


Continue to discover your "roots" and strengthen the "branches" of your family tree.
I invite you to join me at the following places on the Internet:




Find God-centered messages of encouragement at:

Disclaimer:  Information on this site is for informational, educational purposes only.
Visitors to the site take full responsibility for the application of information.

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