Genealogy, the study or investigation of ancestry and family histories, has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in the western world, almost as popular as gardening. Television shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are” have encouraged an interest in tracing family trees and digital databases have made records far more accessible. In fact, family history is now the second most commonly searched category of websites online! If you are interested in discovering more about your heritage, read on….
Where do I start?
According to Lauren Bourke the Community Archives Coordinator from Public Records Victoria, it is best to “begin with what you know”. Lauren suggests talking to relatives and writing down names and the dates of births, deaths and marriages as starting points. “Details such as the name of a ship or year and military service can also help flesh out the rest of the family tree” she explains.
The digital revolution means that many records are now electronic and available online. You can access these and hard copy records via local, state and national libraries, Public Records Offices and the National Archives. Their reading rooms provide access to passenger lists, wills, property deeds, inquests, criminal justice, education, adoption records and more.
Once you have the biographical and biological facts in place, you can add narrative with other resources. In some cases you may not be able to specifically identify your ancestor, but you can paint a picture of their life and lifestyle with secondary documents such as social or city histories from the same place and time. Ship diaries, maps and manuscripts can also provide rich detail and descriptions.
Making it Non-Boring
Hazel Edwards, author of “Writing a Non Boring Family History” encourages family historians to structure their story in a logical and well organised fashion with “idea threads” to link the content. Hazel suggests the use of story techniques such as:
• A Quest – a journey to find a truth or goal
• Chronological order (but be careful not to just list dates)
• Location and Geographical settings – (for example, “The Old Country, The Journey Out and The New Country")
• Themes (eg. Entrepreneurship, Rebels, Black Sheep, Family Mottos, Religion, Politics, Mateship, Vocation or Genetic Inheritance)
• Memorabilia (Sentimental items that evoke memories)
Publishing and Sharing your Story
There are many different and creative ways to showcase and present your family history. Depending on your intended audience, possible mediums include:
• Photo Book with captions, photographs, scanned records and a family tree
• Podcast (audio) or video package including interviews with relatives
• Patchwork Quilt
• Online blog or website that can allow for comments
• Self published novel or book of letters
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