There is a distinct difference between genealogies and memoirs, although they can be used together effectively to create a much more informed book. Memoirs lean heavily on storytelling, where genealogies lean heavily on dates and official records.
I prefer storytelling to a lot of genealogy. Genealogy searches can go on forever (theoretically they will take you back to Adam and Eve). Unless you really know what you’re doing, or can find someone who does, my advice is to steer clear of a heavy reliance on genealogy in your memoirs and stick to telling stories. Stories are much more readable and much more fun. I know, there are those who disagree with me on that.
Researching can be a crutch Then, too, you can get caught up in the process of research and think you’re doing a great job, when in reality you may be putting off writing stories that matter. I was in the home of person who showed me her office that was piled from floor to ceiling on three walls with cardboard boxes filled with thousands of notes on her family. Her desk and computer were against the other wall. She never got to actually writing her family memoirs.
A distant cousin of my wife, along with his wife, spent thirty years assembling and writing stories and genealogies of my wife’s family. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, is a well-done work of more than 463 pages, plus 47 pages of appendices and an index. There are tidbits of insights into the lives of persons listed and a few short stories—as well as lots of photos which are fun to look at—but for the most part it’s a genealogical listing and copying of official records of just about everyone in the family from 1756 to today. Don’t get me wrong; we are thrilled to have this fabulous and complete family record. If you use genealogies in your memoirs consider using them sparingly.
I recently helped a man write his memoirs that included some genealogies and lots of photos and stories. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, has only 67 pages, including four pages of blank family record sheets and note pages for other family members to start their own searches. There are ten major family headings in the book in which we followed only the genealogical lines of the author’s direct predecessors. We listed others, but we only touched on them briefly, choosing instead to focus on his direct links to the past and on stories more than genealogy.
Where to get more information There are too-many-to-count books, libraries and websites where you can get information on searching genealogies. An excellent place to start is the Midwest Genealogy Center, Independence, Missouri, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library. Information on its many free services are at www.mymcpl.org/genealogy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arguably has the world’s most extensive collection of genealogies. Besides its Family Center Library in Salt Lake City, Utah there are Family History Centers throughout the world. More at www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp.
Also check with your local librarian, bookstore, or online bookstore for other resources. Type the word genealogy into your computer’s browser field.
Final thought: Don’t become overwhelmed by the process of genealogy. You’ll have a lot more fun telling stories.
Photo: Midwest Genealogy Center main atrium. Courtesy Charvex.