Methodology

Should you write a family history book?

At some point in our family history research you have probably come to the realisation that you should really write it all up. The idea of writing a family history book may sound quite daunting. Fortunately, publishing a book is just one of many options available.

Since I am not just talking about books I am going to use the term that we use in the family history archives where I work – a compiled family history. A compiled family history is a synthesis of research that draws together component parts of a family history. A family history book is a type of compiled family history, but there are many other types and approaches.

Box of old photos and papers
Example of an un-compiled family history – bundles of photos and papers
Cover of a family history book by Betty O'Neill
Example of a compiled family history

Three reasons to compile your family history

Compiling your family history allows you to convert your research into a format that you can share with family. Your family probably can’t interpret a family tree chart or a bundle of probate documents on their own, but they may engage with your findings if you extract bits of information and pictures and synthesise them into summaries and stories.

But there are other reasons too.

Compiling your family history makes it easier to share your research with other researchers, either informally or formally through publication or depositing it with an archive or library. You might share copies of certificates, photos, maps and other records that you discovered, but it is the compilation or synthesis that helps other researchers make sense of these items. When we do this, we help other researchers use our research to progress their own.

Which brings me to the third reason for compiling your family history. We often think about compiling or writing up our research as something that gets done at the end or near the end of the research process. However, the compilation and writing process is also a powerful tool which can help us progress our own research further. When we compile our family history we review what we have found, we structure and organise it, and we write up our conclusions. During this process, it is almost inevitable that new research leads will be revealed – as gaps in our knowledge, inconsistencies or new ideas to explore.


Stay tuned for upcoming posts, in which I will discuss format, structure, content and the process of creating compiled family histories.

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