How to Create a Family History Journal – Part 5: The writing process; ideas to write about.

My GreatGrandfather George Sutherland Kibby

Now we begin the writing process. You can do this by writing, typing or dictating/ recording your ideas.

I recommend you put all of your ideas and thoughts down as a first draft and come back to it later. You’ll find you may want to do several drafts until it’s perfected. Things you didn’t think of when you wrote the first draft will pop into your mind later. You may decide to take something out or elaborate more on one particular subject of part of a story.

Now the following may get a bit confusing but I’m going to try my best to explain.

As I’ve mentioned previously, you’re going to want to create a section for each family surname (your father’s last name and your mother’s maiden name). There will of course be some duplication but don’t worry about that. You’re going to write one chapter about each family member under each surname and reference the chapters in the Table of Contents. Yes, when you’re done with the book, you’re going to create a Table of Contents.

For example: Judy Jones’ father’s surname is Jones.  Her mother’s maiden name is Smith. She would have two sections; one for Jones and one for Smith.

Judy would write stories about herself in a chapter in the Jones section (her father’s surname) but not necessarily in the Smith section (her mother’s maiden name). An alternative would be for Judy to write a completely different story about herself to go in the Smith section; events etc. that relate mostly to her mother’s side (the Smith side) of Judy Jones’s family. The choice is yours. I personally wrote different chapters about myself and chapters about my brother to go in both sections, my father’s and my mother’s side of our family thus avoiding duplication of the same material i.e. the same material in two sections.

In the Table of Contents, Judy’s name would be listed under the Jones section AND under the Smith section. If Judy had decided to only write one story/article about herself in the Jones section and NOT in the Smith section, she could make a reference in the Smith section back to the Jones section, i.e. (refer to the Section on Jones.)

But we’ll get to sections and chapter creation for individual family member stories later on.

Suggested topics for the written material:

Memorable parties or get-togethers with friends from school, work, college, an organization you belong to or neighbors (current and former).

Over the hill birthday parties

Engagement parties

Batchelor parties

Were any of your family members a member of an organization and served as an officer or did something noteworthy? You may want to include any recognition documents i.e. certificates of merit.

Military service

Events that happened way back then that are nonexistent today. I can remember when photographers would go door to door and take pictures of children on a pony. I have one of my brother and I.

Do you remember milk tokens, ordering milk from a delivery milkman (the top was always the cream), returnable bottles for refund, ration stamps during WWII, rag men who rode in horse drawn carts collecting paper and rags, mood rings, secret ID rings in cereal boxes, maple syrup in a can shaped like a log cabin, crystal sets, Barbie dolls, G.I. Joe dolls, etc.

All of these things should be very interesting to your younger family members today and in the future.

Mood rings


Mustard Seed Jewelry

Radio Broadcasts (before TV)


If these things were before your time, ask your family members and friends. Look them up online. Adding these things to your story will make your book that much more interesting to your readers especially for future generations.

Have you saved your old address and phone number books? I have and so did my mother. I found names and addresses for people I had forgotten about long ago. Seeing the names triggered memories I then wrote about. I used the old addresses for relatives who have passed away as part of my stories. I also looked up some of the addresses for close relatives in Google Earth and saved pictures of the residence to include in my stories. Even if the person you’re writing about has been gone for many years, it is still interesting to those reading about them to see where they used to live especially if the person reading it is also a relative.

To make stories more interesting, especially when you don’t have any pictures of the person you’re writing about, I added images from Google Earth showing the area where an ancestor lived… even the house itself… if I had the address. I downloaded pictures from the internet of what the area looked like when they lived there i.e. my Great-Grandfather was born in 1840 in Spencer, Tompkins County, New York and lived in Chemung, New York. I searched and found several picture postcards on the internet of what Chemung, New York looked like in the 1800’s. (Refer to the pictures at the top of this article.)

For example a business card may remind you of a friend you knew a long time ago and some things you did together.  If you kept all of your own business cards, they could be scanned and included in your book to serve as a visual illustration of your promotional climb at work.

Examples:  My uncle Bill passed away in 1959. He was born in Brooklyn, NY. I happened to find the address in some of my father’s things after he passed away. I looked up the address in Google Earth, found the residence and saved the picture for the story about Uncle Bill.

My father was born in Buffalo, NY in my Aunt’s home. I found the address, looked it up in Google Earth and saved the picture of the home to add to my story about my father.

Through research, I found out that my great-great-grandfather lived in a little town called Spargurville, in Highland County near Rainsboro, Ohio. I didn’t know the address but I looked up the town in Google Earth and saved several pictures of Spargurville. I also looked up some history of Spargurville and added that to my story.

For example I found out my GGGGrandfather came to America from Ireland in 1790 with his father and fought in the American Revolution. I wrote to the government archives and obtained a copy of a handwritten account of his service, how he fought for two years escorting settlers to safety from the area around Pittsburg, PA to the Philadelphia area during the Indian uprisings just before the revolution. He then reenlisted for another two years and guarded the British prisoners after the fall of Yorktown. I found that three GGrandfathers fought in the Civil War, two on the side of the Union and one in the Army of the Confederacy. Two of them almost died of Typhoid fever and one was captured and held in a Confederate prison. I found a lot of historical information I never read about in school.

Include friends. You might even want to add a section for those special lifelong friends as well.

Look up stories and pictures about the time your relatives were born and lived: It makes your stories more interesting if you add in interesting bits and pieces about where they were born and lived especially if they came from another country and you know the time period.

Example:  My great-grandfather George Sutherland was born in Inverness, Scotland. (His picture is above.) I do not know when but, judging by my grandmother’s age, I estimate it must have been around 1850 or 1860. I looked up the history of Scotland and found pictures of Inverness, Scotland around that time. I also knew that my great-grandfather was a member of the Black Watch. I looked it up and found pictures and information about the Black Watch. I added those stories and pictures to the story about my great-grandfather.

Be sure to do a search for all the surnames you want to write about in your book. This may sound crazy but someone may have already started a site for one of those names.  I found a site for my maiden name with a lot of very interesting facts. I also found out there is an entire book written about my maiden name going back to the 1,600’s. The book contains names, birth dates, death dates, last known city and state, who they married, information about them and their children with dates and a complete lineage of ancestors for each name in the book. My name and my entire family are in that book and I didn’t even know it.

Potential Problems:

Below I’ve listed just a few facts. To learn more, there are FAQ files in many ancestry searching sites online.

  1. When you’re doing research, you’ll find it’s difficult tracing women because of married names especially if they’ve been divorced and married again. Obtaining Social Security records when possible can yield a lot of information regarding maiden names.
  2. When you go back two or three generations, you’ll find most men didn’t have middle names which makes it difficult to pin down a specific name especially if it’s a commonly used last name. You’ll need as much information as you can about that person to definitely identify him i.e. age, where he lived, who he married, how many children he had and their names, where he was born and when.
  3. Only fragments remain of the 1890 Census report. The building they were housed in burned down. For more information on all of the Census reports every done, go to This site contains a lot of good information about all of the census reports.
  4. In the beginning, Census Takers went door to door and wrote things down by hand. As a result, you’ll find many errors with name spelling and other information. In addition, errors occurred when the records were converted to computer files because the typist couldn’t make out the handwriting or made typing errors i.e. spelling, etc.
  5. Obtaining records from the states of New York, Pennsylvania and New England states can be very difficult and daunting because that is where most of the people immigrated to and settled before the American Revolution. Many people were born at home so there are no records. Checking ship and Ellis Island records can be helpful if you know approximate dates.
  6. Immigrants and settlers came into America through New York (Ellis Island), North and South Carolina and even through Nova Scotia and down through Canada.

Family members should be listed in the order of their position of hierarchy in the family (see the basic sample illustration below). Most ancestry sites provide a variety of hierarchy listings to guide you.

To make it clearer to your readers, in addition to the Table of Contents, consider creating a list for each family member showing the relationships.

Sample Hierarchies:








Your children

Your Grandchildren

Your GGrandchildren

If you have a video on a CD, DVD or even a VCR tape, pictures can be taken from the video (a frame) and saved as a snapshot for insertion into your book.

If you pass on a CD or DVD to family members, hopefully, one of your relatives or more might decide to continue on and keep adding to it making this a perpetual living family album. This would be your legacy to your family.

Refer to the various pictures in your text. If you have titles under the pictures with short explanations, this will help cut down on the text you have to type.

I’ll be posting more tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts.  The next post is Part 6 – Putting everything together for your book .

I hope this 7-part article about putting together a Family History Journal for publication is helpful to you. I would love to hear from you if you found this series useful.


Thanks for taking time from your busy day to stop by. I hope you enjoy my stories and I hope my tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts help you improve your skills and/or work smarter and more efficiently. If you have a question regarding dictation transcription, how to run your own secretarial service from home, or if you have a topic you would like me to write about, just let me know by email at:

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Author: GSKWAuthor

Semi-retired. Worked most of my adult life as a secretary, executive assistant & in middle management. In 1998 I formed a secretarial service business at home specializing in the transcription of manuscripts, formatting for print, and eBook publication then uploading to POD publishers. Through ads and a website (no longer active) the business attracted customers from all over the U.S. In 2016, I phased out my business. I now spend the remainder of my "spare time" writing cozy mystery/suspense/thrillers. I hope to publish my first novel titled "Susan's Stalkers - Double The Fear" before the end of 2023. The synopsis is in this site. Check it out.