Writing Your Personal History for Genealogy: A Beginner’s Guide

5 Helpful Tips to Start Writing a Personal History

Writing Your Personal History for Genealogy

Photo Credit: Walt Stoneburner via Compfight cc

Even if you’re just beginning your genealogy research, you probably know that searching for information to add to your family tree can take a lot of time, patience and resources. And when you can’t find records or stories on a particular ancestor, it may leave you more than a little frustrated! If you’ve ever thought, “I really wish he had written something about his life!” then why not make things a little easier on future generations of genealogists by writing your own personal history?

Writing a personal history is important not only for genealogy research purposes, but ensures that you’ll leave an accurate legacy that descendants will appreciate and treasure forever. Documenting your own life doesn’t have to be a daunting task, either. The following tips can aid you in the process of writing (and finishing) a personal history.

Writing a Personal History: 5 Tips for Genealogists

1.) Start Now, Not Later

While you may think you’ll have more time to write your personal history after the kids go off to college or you retire, rethink that notion right now! If you wait too long to start writing your life’s stories, you could forget important details. You can easily start writing about your life in a daily journal (whether on your computer, or inside a notebook) so you never forget events, names, dates and other critical details you may not recall later in life. Once you get going, you will set the wheels in motion to start writing a more detailed history about your life as a whole.

2.) Outline Your Life

Before you dive into writing a personal history of your entire existence, it’s a good idea to create a timeline of key life events in chronological form. From there, you can go back and pick out some of the more important pieces to write on first (the essentials): your own birth story that your parents told you about long ago, your first day of college, your wedding day, the birth of your first child, etc. You can also organize your outline by era such as your childhood years, time in high school, college, and so on. This process will save you time — and as busy genealogists, we always need more of that!

3.) Be Realistic & Stay Consistent

Just as you’re already setting more attainable genealogy research goals (and if you aren’t, think about doing that now), you should also set realistic milestones for writing your personal history. For example, when it comes to journaling, you can start with planning to write one short journal entry a day or one, longer summary of your week. You may also want to take those important events from your outline and choose just one to write on each week or month. The important thing here is to stay consistent with your writing so it can develop into a welcomed habit.

4.) Detail Your Story

Once you have those key moments of your life documented, it’s time to fine-tune your life’s story and provide any additional information you think your descendants may appreciate. Old photos, quotes, or particularly funny moments from your past can really add richness to your personal history — and provide much enjoyment for those reading it.

5.) Preserve Your Personal History 

What you don’t want to do is let all of your writing go to waste! But this may happen if you fail to back up your personal history. Don’t risk the chance of losing everything to a fire, natural disaster or computer meltdown. Instead, as you write your personal history (whether its written in a physical journal or on your computer), think about adding your stories to an online family tree that can back everything up for you — forever. A Crestleaf Family Tree and Timeline can help you organize and back up your research, stories and photos. It even offers the chance for you to collaborate with family members so that they can add their own personal histories. 

Have you started writing your personal history? Share your experiences with us on Twitter!