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    Turning Your Research into Non-Fiction Writing

    As you research your family history, your ancestors may come alive to you so that they're more than names and dates on a chart. You can turn their lives into non-fiction articles and books...for your family records and even for publication.

    Recording events in an interesting fashion, simply to save for your family and future generations, becomes a great way to start out. From here you may develop essays and articles for publications and then go on to books.

    Ideas for Your Writing

    Compiling Old Letters & Clippings - One method begins with compiling old letters, newspaper clippings, diaries and journal entries into a cohesive whole to record ancestors' lives. You can write an introduction or insert explanations to place the people in their historical setting. This can be fascinating reading for yourself and others and saves your family heritage.

    My grandfather, Burton B. Coon, was a farmer, but wrote for the local newspapers. Fortunately many of his writings have been saved in the newspaper's archives. A local historian, who was compiling a history of the town, copied his articles and gave them to me to compile...a momentous task because he was a prolific writer.

    My grandmother and my mother frequently kept diaries throughout their lives. These can make interesting reading for the family. However, if you did publish them for the public, you may want to edit them first.

    Also, when you do publish something like diaries and journals, even though the person is dead, check out your right to do so or find from whom you should obtain permission. Also, some letters and diaries are in public collections and you must obtain their permission, even though it is your ancestor. I've found this the case with a great, great uncle.

    Organize by Families - You may select various ancestors who stand out in your mind or who were publicly recognized figures. They might be from various branches of your family tree. Or you can select one family and write about different generations...somewhat like a sage, with one generation leading to another.

    Events - Events in the lives of your ancestors can be interesting. Sometimes they're localized. Other times they fit into national or world scope.

    Madam Anna Bishop, the opera singer of the 1800s, fascinates me. She married my grandmother's cousin and is buried in the family cemetery. However, she and her husband were ship wrecked in the South Seas during one of her tours. I've only found bits and pieces of this experience (information my mom's cousin gave me from research she'd done). Wouldn't it be fun to research her life further and write of this adventure?

    Specific Era - Take a specific era in history, trace some of your ancestors' lives during that period. You may decide to tell about a little known era which was important in their lives.

    Or you may choose eras like the Mayflower's sailing and Pilgrim settlement, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, westward over the Oregon, Mormon, or Santa Fe trails, the Depression, etc. A number of my grandmother's uncles fought in the Civil War. Writing about this family during that era can bring those years alive for our family.

    Biography - Select a specific person and first write an overview of their life or portion of their life. Then expand this into chapters of a book.

    My grandmother's uncle, William (Buffalo Bill) Mathewson of Binghamton, NY and Wichita, KS was well-known in Kansas, but not so much outside of the territory. He lived there in the 1800s, owned trading posts on the Santa Fe Trail, was co-founder of Wichita, and represented the Indians (at their request) at Peace Treaties. A biography of Uncle William would make fascinating reading for youngsters and adults.

    Writing for Children - You don't have to limit yourself to writing for adults. Find people and events of interest to children and put these together into children's stories and books...first for your family and then, if you desire, for general publication.

    These are just a few ideas of the directions you can take when writing non-fiction articles, essays, and books based on your family history research.

    Copyright © 2002 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen enjoys researching her ancestors and writing their stories to bring them alive from the pages of history. She often gives talks about this work and conducts workshops in schools so youngsters can learn about writing their family stories, either as fact or fiction. She's an author of books for children and adults, a columnist, travel writer, and speaker. Her many publications are listed on her Web site --

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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