Whittier Area Genealogical Society
Whittier Area Genealogical Society

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January 24, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
Winter 2023
An article in American Ancestors magazine by Brady Brim-DeForest connects family history research to the importance of writing a narrative for future generations.
As genealogists, we understand the importance of documentation and collecting datum to fill in the blanks of our ancestors’ lives which connects us not only to our past but to the future as well.  Mr. Brim-Deforest states that “understanding who we are is made richer when we understand all of those who have come before us.”  This is where storytelling becomes the enticement that future family historians need to ensure that the past is kept alive.
Our role as genealogists is to make our research accessible to non-genealogists and to motivate and inspire future generations of family historians.  To aid us in putting flesh on the bones of our data, and to avoid boring and dry narratives, answer the following questions:
  • What is interesting about this individual?
  • How should I structure the story?
  • How will the reader react to the story?
Use the following components to help translate your data into an interesting story.
  • Specific time
  • Specific place
  • Character(s)
  • Incident(s)
  • Action
  • Change/Outcome
Data provides precise information, but it can’t provide context.  This is where your story will fill in the spaces in our ancestors’ lives between the data points.

November 2, 2022 By: Kristina Newcomer
Fall 2022
Select a photograph from among your favorites – preferably from a previous generation – and use it as a visual prompt to write a short story about the person/s, event, time period, clothing, location and family relationship.  Be sure to include some or all of the following information:
  • Who is in the photograph?  Be sure to identify everyone, including maiden names if known.
  • Describe the setting of the photograph.  Is it a formal portrait in a studio setting?  A family occasion or event?  A work or casual outing?  Who took the photo?
  • How are the people in the photograph dressed?  Formal clothes?  Casual, military, work or play attire?
  • What year was the photograph taken?  How old are the people in the photo?  How are they related to you?
  • Describe the background, props, hairstyles, accessories?  Are animals, such as pets, included in the photo?  Are there children as well as adults in the photograph?  If it is an outdoor setting, can you determine where the photo was taken? 
  • Do the visual clues in the photograph tell you anything about their lives?  Their social status or background?
Give the photograph a title, write a short introductory description and use your imagination to tell a story about what this photo says to you about your ancestor’s life set within the historical context of the time and place in which he or she lived
August 1, 2022 By: Kristina Newcomer
Summer 2022
A recent Beetle Bailey® comic strip highlighted the importance of context when writing about events, occupations, skills and equipment from our and our ancestors’ past so that a reader in the future understands what we are describing.  In the comic, an older character tells a young worker that  she was in a “steno pool, wrote in shorthand, and typed on a Selectric.”  The young worker replies, “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you just said.” 
As writers of our and our ancestors’ stories, we must keep in mind that the effect of progress is to make many things, occupations and skills obsolete.  It is up to us, the writers and recorders of history, to research and describe in detail what these terms mean, how they fit into the context of our writing and, perhaps, what replaced these items over time.
As in the example above, a steno pool was a collection of women who took dictation using Gregg shorthand – a form of stenographic writing that was fast and efficient – and typed out their notes on an electric IBM Selectric typewriter.  Including images of equipment, photographs of workers, and detailed descriptions of the training required for skills such as taking shorthand would add depth, interest, and knowledge to our stories and prevent those blank stares and statements like, “I have no idea what you just wrote.”
April 30, 2022 By: Kristina Newcomer
Spring 2022
When writing about family relations, using the correct identifier is an important way to explain  family connections and keep the various branches of a family tree concise and correct.  As an example, direct lineal relatives would be parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. who can be further differentiated within your writing by including a maternal or paternal designation, such as maternal great-grandmother.  To identify ancestors further back along your tree, you can use genealogical shorthand such as ‘four-times great-grandfather’ or ‘fourth great-grandfather’ instead of writing out great-great-great-great-grandfather, thus saving time.
The next category of relatives are those who descend from your direct line of ancestors and are known as collateral relations which include siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles, and cousins of varying degrees.  Using the correct terms to describe collateral relatives can be a bit more complex.  For instance, the siblings of your grandparents are your grandaunts and granduncles, and the siblings of your great-grandparents are your great-grandaunts and great-granduncles.  Similarly, the grandchildren of your siblings would be your grandnieces and grandnephews.  Using the correct identifier keeps the generational relationships properly aligned. 
Degrees of relationship are used when referencing a specific collateral kinship.  Using a ‘cousin connection chart’ can help ease the pain of trying to explain your relationship to the off-spring of your first- and second-cousins.  Cousins are ‘removed’ when they are of different generations from their most common ancestor; i.e. the child of your first cousin is your first cousin once removed or ‘1c1r’.  Further categories of family relations can involve half- and step-children, and double-cousins who are first-cousins whose parents are siblings and share the same two sets of grandparents.  Becoming familiar with these often tangled relationships will be beneficial to  your readers.
The goal of correctly and consistently labeling the relationships in your genealogical writings  will be invaluable when describing the various connections within the branches of your family tree.