Monday, May 29, 2017

Genealogical summaries and family chronicles

These days I mainly work on putting together 3- and 4-generation "downstream" accounts of my wife's and my less-documented ancestors (what are called "genealogical summaries" in the journals, and often closely resemble the "kinship determination projects" required by BCG). These give me much better family perspectives on the whole family than just researching upstream for direct ancestors does.

They also sometimes produce problem articles too. Just now there was a young woman who married into my father-in-law's father's mother's Mozley family. Nobody has parents for her, and it now appears that she at least has siblings and was not born in North Dakota but likely came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire around 1903.

Article about problems (as in NGSQ) are tough to write -- the writer has to show how logic is applied to bring conclusion out of confusion. But I'm finding these family chronicles are not as simple as they look. They pose their own writing problems.

The good news is that often it's possible to drill right down to day-by-day or month-by-month accounts of fortunes and misfortunes, thanks especially to the increasing numbers of digitized newspapers and land and probate records. The interesting news is that a pile of facts, no matter how high, does not a story make.

Often I will go back to the work-in-progress and find that I never wrote a topic sentence (usually because I was  just listing what happened without trying to pull it together or make sense of it somehow), and the story and maybe even the most fanatical reader gets lost. The paradox here is to find ways to be both thorough and concise.

Don't get me wrong -- a pile of facts is a lot better than nothing. But the more we (or our editors!) can see and communicate the stories in their lives, the more likely they are to be read and remembered.

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