Putting The Family Chapters Together


As promised with the last entry, I will attempt to get into the area of a good way to format those family chapters. Again, please realize that these are just items that I have developed on my own.

I know when I began my family chapters, I must have sat and looked at the screen and keyboard for numerous hours. There were at the minimum of four false starts when I thought I "had it", then something else came along that appealed a little bit better to me. I would be the last person to suggest that this is an easy topic to make decisions on. But if practice makes perfect, then perhaps I have finally honed it down to perfection. (I seriously doubt it.)

Many things should be considered when you are trying to adjust to your style. What works for one person, may not work for another. I myself have some family lineage books written by others that have a coding system that seems to require a degree in spy work to crack the code. I didn't want something that complicated; there is little point in writing a volume if the reader has such difficulty in following it that they put it down and never read it.

I have other books that require someone to continually flip back to the front of the book in order to determine just which branch of the family a particular person is descended from. That too got extremely time consuming.

If your main purpose in writing a volume is to simply "get rid of all the junk you have collected", then by all means just stick it together in whatever format you want to and call it done. However, if you are creating the volume for information for others and intend to make all the years of researching count, then you should consider your content from the reader's viewpoint.

Of course, it goes without saying that there are certain items that should be included in each family chapter..You can; and many people do just put the chapters together citing names and dates; you know, "they were born, they married and they died". I myself prefer to give a brief look at the people if I at all possibly can. I try to find photos or physical descriptions of the people or perhaps an anecdote to relate as to their personalities and make them more like real people rather then just statistics on a page. They had lives, so I feel that they at least deserve that much.

Chapter Breakdown

I have decided that my "most recent" or best format is the following:

Begin each surname chapter with a brief synopsis/overview of what you might have or know of that lineage. This could include the earliest dates or the stopping point in this lineage. Perhaps some overall theories that you are still attempting to work out or you feel will pan out. Remember, you might know that the Jones family migrated 9 times prior to getting to Indiana and you might know all of the various places and events; but your reader won't so you have to fill them in on that. Yes, the dates and places of marriages and births will eventually give out the same data, but in reading it in the first paragraph somewhat gives the reader the same perspective and understanding that you have.

You might also point out which original family member your line descends from; or some geographical points particular to that line such as the various county line shifts making them appeared to have moved. Or you may also include any particular difficulties related to tracing that family surname- this could be a constant renaming pattern giving you several of one name or perhaps it is a common name; such as my own John Carter, there were 14,000 in Kentucky during my researching time frame. Give them something to realize that any lack in your data isn't because you yourself were lazy in your research but that there are underlying reasons behind it. Non researchers are not going to understand that at some point way back, documentable sources become more difficult to find.

I end this section listing the various peripheral surnames associated with that family name. I place in bold face type any of the surnames that will have another chapter elsewhere in your volume. I have already either explained the system of bold facing in my introduction page or briefly before the listing of peripheral names.

Throughout your chapter, keep your numbering system as simple as possible. Eliminating any confusion for the reader. Many persons use the system of giving the head of a family the number 1237 and then the numbering of the children 1237a or b or whatever; this is just confusing eventually as when they get into the following generation more numbers/letters are added. I have seen some that end up running to 10 or more letters/ numbers. To the vast majority of persons in your family who are non researchers, this could appear to be just as confusing or time consuming as reading rocket science! Besides, you have a lot of data in here, make what you can simple for yourself.

Start with your earliest ancestor in the lineage. Let's start him off with the number 1..crazy idea I know, but anyway- for any of his children use the simple numbering pattern of 2, 3, 4 etc. Continue this pattern throughout the chapter, when you come to listing the children of number 3, then just view what the number of the last child of number 2 was and go from there.

As you begin with each ancestor go for trying to make it a running chronological section. Not a statistics chart. You might try something like this:

Robert Smith was born on March 5, 1876 in Morgan township of Owen county Indiana. He was the son of Jonathan and Mildred (Reed) Smith.

This particular way refreshes the reader's memory as to just which family this man falls into. You would then continue in a chronological way based on just what information you have such as schooling, or early life or migrations with his parents. Move on to his marriage or military life, add information about his employment- if you have it a physical description is nice or any stories you might have about the person. Also if you have actual knowledge of this person, add a personal comment. Please do watch out not to set yourself up for a lawsuit if there is something about this person that really shouldn't be in print. I attempt if at all possible to bring this paragraph together closing with the death, cause and burial; also adding what may have become of the spouse. Somewhere in this paragraph before the death and just where it logically fits a statement as to how many children were born to this couple; this is especially helpful if there were multiple marriages. After this small paragraph, I include whatever news clippings I might have pertaining to them such as obituaries, marriage announcements, etc. These you will type in, not photocopy. NOT certificates or documents, those can go elsewhere. Then after those I place a simple sentence of:

Children of Robert Smith and Susie Franklin

This again is nice if there were multiple marriages. Use a different title for each separate marriages children. List the children using the numbering system explained above. Let us assume briefly that Robert's parents (Jonathan and Mildred) had 4 children; and that each of those 4 children had 2 children (using small numbers for brevity's sake). The formatting would look something like this:

1. Jonathan Smith (paragraph content here)

Children of Jonathan Smith and Mildred Reed

(always use the lady's maiden name)

2. Robert Smith

3. Jacob Smith

4. Sally Smith

Generation Two or Second Generation

2. Robert Smith (paragraph content here)

Children of Robert Smith and Susie Franklin

Now as Sally above is the last numbered child of Jonathan, you can begin the children of Robert ( or the first child of that generation with the next number of 5.)

Robert has 2 children so they would be number 5 & 6. Jacob's children would then begin with 7 and so forth. As you come to the end of Sally's children, then the children of the next generation (or Robert's children) would begin with the number following Sally's last child (or number 13 in this case).

As you go through each of these children I like to adopt a very simple format. You will have some children that you of course have no information on or that died as infants; for these as you make the listing include whatever brief data you might have right there in the listing. For those children that you have information on, use only the number and their name as they will have their own section later in the numbering system and you will do the paragraph thing on them with a following listing of their children and so forth. Sometimes you will come across those children that you have some info on, but not much. For those, let's say that in addition to that child's birth and death dates, you have the name of a spouse, normally I will just include that in the listing. Basically, person's don't get their own paragraph unless there are children to list or obituaries to include or some other interesting information to include regarding that person.

In using the above system, you are avoiding having several paragraphs that state "I know nothing of this person". As you are only including paragraphs/biographicals on persons you DO have data on.

I do like to place in bold face type as I come to them the direct line ancestor in a family as it relates to me. Of course, only the name is bold faced and I include a comment within the paragraph that they are the direct line ancestor.I bold face the name at the start of the paragraph and also in the listing of children.

Also in using this method your numbering patterns will move along rather swiftly in going through the generations as you will find that there are several you will skip as you have no data on them. They will only be briefly listed in the listing of children.

If you don't know something such as the birthdate of a child, don't be reluctant to mention that. Or if a date is an approximation, explain why or how you came to that.

Another method for listing a child's birth year is you may only have found them one time in a census record. You can include this by using the following format of (1850-6). This is stating that in the 1850 census they were listed as 6 years old. You can do this with all children of a family if that is the only reference you have for them. You can of course, change the census year to fit your needs. On my introduction page of the book, or on the page with the abbreviations I explain this so the reader knows just what that might mean.

Dealing With the Changing Family Surnames

As anyone researching realizes, within all families there are females who marry and their children therefore don't carry the same family surname. Those I handle in a certain way. If for example I am working on the chapter covering the surname of GOSS and some of the daughters married into the RATTS family or especially the main line ancestor. IF THE SURNAME THAT THEY MARRIED INTO IS A SURNAME THAT I HAVE ANOTHER CHAPTER ON IN THE VOLUME.

Instead of listing the children and giving them a paragraph later in that chapter, I simply list their names ONLY in the children's listing . I make a statement at the end of the parents paragraph stating that information on them is included in the section of the volume covering that other surname.

If on the other hand it is a surname not included elsewhere in the volume, I just go ahead and precede as I normally would.

Sources for Physical Descriptions

Not everyone has knowledge of just what their ancestors looked like in most cases. Or then again you might just have those descriptions and not realize it.

Photographs- This of course is the most obvious to use for a physical reference.

Military Records- These were an unexpected source for me- the volunteer enlistment form as well as some of the muster forms have a brief physical description listing height, eye and hair coloring.

Older Relatives- Tap your resources! Talk to the older ones in the family for their memories. I make it a practice to ALWAYS save all emails from an older family member to be able to reference them later on.

Finding Data to Include

Before beginning each family's chapter I drag out the folders and notebooks containing anything and everything pertaining to that family line. I pick them apart searching for any reference to persons I have listed in a chapter. Don't overlook anything! Try news clippings, marriage and death certificates, bibles, obituaries just anything.

Including Other Items in the Chapter

This for me has been a difficult decision. I cannot quite decide if I want a section at the end of each family's chapter containing any documents or photographs; or if I simply wish to have a section at the end of the book containing all the photographs and documents throughout the volume. In this instance of course, they would have to be labeled and a reference made within your text as to where to find them.

Although you might have just tons of photos lying around, please avoid including photos that you cannot identify. It serves no purpose to include a photo of "some man in a field" that you have no idea who he is or if he connects to the family. However, on the other hand, a photo of the rifle once owned by the original pioneer in the family is always an interesting addition.

At the End

In viewing your family chapter, read it and see if it is something you would enjoy reading. Ask yourself some questions such as:

Did I make this person sound like a person as much as I could? or just a stick figure with dates.

You don't always HAVE to include something on a person, sometimes you just don't have it, but if you do, always use it and try to convey it to the reader as if you were talking to them. I try to think in the context of trying to identify a person to a reader so they could readily pick them out at say a family reunion.

Is there anything included in here that perhaps "shouldn't " be? By this I mean, if someone was a convicted child molester or something and still has living children out there, this item doesn't need to be included in the volume. This topic can easily be covered with a statement that "he had some family problems later in life" or something to that effect to explain why he just dissappeared if you want to. Of course, a murderer in 1860 can most likely be described in minute details if you wish to. Conversely if someone in your family is just referenced by EVERYONE as "someone I wish I didn't know; they were just mean and evil"- you don't want that in there either. This can be stated as someone who had few personal friends or you know little about. Most of the family would recognize this man anyway given the strong bad feelings about him.

Have I pointed out any areas needing further researching for later generations?

Have I made it clear that this is not the definitive research on this line and clearly stated what might be only a theory?

More on the Numbering Patterns

I would like to mention that with this numbering pattern, I begin again with the number one at the beginning of each new surname chapter. This again eliminates confusing numbering.

The next entry will relate to Citing Your Sources and the Bibliography.