Turn Genealogy into Family History

family_history1The difference between genealogy and family history is subtle. Many people tend to use these terms interchangeably. I know I do, and in most situations that is not a problem. Even so, they are different. Genealogy is the study of your family lineage and is usually very precise. It documents birth, marriage, and  death records. It also links people to the preceding generation. Family history, on the other hand, while it does include genealogy, is (or should be) a lot more than that.

To put it another way, family history includes anything that helps to preserve a family legacy such as video and audio recordings, family stories,  pictures, and so forth. Collecting all this information is what builds a family history. Anything else is just facts and figures. Here are a few questions you ought to ask:

  • What did your ancestor do? What was his job?
  • How did she live?
  • Where did they move to?
  • What historical events did he witness?
  • What events occurred in her community that influenced the decisions she made?
  • Why did they migrate?

Collecting all of this information – and turning it into a story – is what builds a family history.

One of the best ways to get other members of the family to show an interest and share your love of family history is to bring alive your ancestral family.  Nobody is really enthralled by knowing that your great grandfather was born on this date and place and died on that date and place.  That can be boring, especially to the rising generation.  Your ancestors were people who lived lives in much the same way that you do with your family, so make sure you tell their story in an entertaining way.

Bring them back to life by adding historical events that took place during their life. It is easier to motivate family members if they know that great-great grandfather was born just after the (American) Civil War, or that your great grandmother was a suffragette.  Their birth and their death information is only part of telling their stories. What were their lives like when these events were occurring?

Ancestry has done a pretty good job in this regard. For example, consider these screenshots from my grandmother’s Ancestry page. It starts off with an editable synopsis

of her life and also shows how I am related to her. Next, there is a map showing where events that occurred in her life. And the life events are interspersed with other events, such as this one of the Women’s Social and Political Union. And the gallery shows all of the pictures and documents I have gathered.

There are other websites that can also give you events relevant to the period in history you are looking at. OnThisDay.com, for example offers a listing of many major events, although it does not cover every single day. It does not cover anything on my date of birth, for example, but it is still pretty comprehensive. Newspaper archives are also excellent for gleaning information, especially events local to your family.

Preserving Pictures for Family History

Family History is about real people, and it helps to bring those people to life if you can include pictures and stories as you gather information. I have had false starts in this area over the years but I would like to think that I am finally getting a handle on this.

I have had a scanner for many years. It works well enough but the software that goes Scanner.pngwith it is somewhat clunky and time-consuming. As a result I was not encouraged to use it a lot. And it doesn’t help that the drivers have never been upgraded from Windows XP, so I have to maintain a really old computer just to be able to use it.

Three years ago I bought a QromaScan at Rootstech. It’s good. It was fun to use at first QromaScan and I still use it occasionally, but it needs to be assembled before use and doesn’t always work as I would expect. Not only that, it doesn’t like the format of English towns. For example, there are several Donningtons in England, so I want to specify the county to avoid confusion. QromaScan doesn’t allow that, so I have to manually change the metadata after scanning which, frankly, is a pain.

So what has changed? Why do I sound so upbeat? One of my purchases at RootsTech this FlipPalyear was of a portable scanner called a FlipPal scanner. It is high on battery use but so convenient. In the four days since it has arrived I have scanned 40 pictures, amended the metadata and placed it all in a spreadsheet. It will even scan pictures still in the frame, as well as being able to split large pictures between multiple scans and then seamlessly stitch them back together. The picture enhancement software is excellent as well.

Next, I’ll talk about memories and stories because without them family history really is nothing but dry facts and figures.