The Dusty Genealogist
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Tell Your Story!

By: Marjory Regan

Whether you are new to genealogy or an old veteran, you soon realize that genealogy isn’t just about names and dates for births, christenings, marriages, citizenships, and deaths, which are equally important to make sure that you have the correct people organized in your family line. Eventually, you realize that your genealogy is about your people and what they did. How did they make their way through life until you were born?

Many dedicated people keep journals about events in their lives. If we are lucky, these journals survive more than one generation. We have all benefited from the contents of people’s journals to give the reader information about events and lives. In this day and age, there are the wonders and pitfalls of providing information on the internet.

I suggest a compromise for genealogists at all levels of expertise. If you personally keep a journal, you must determine how much information you want to share and arrange for yourself and your information. Digital or handwritten, where do you want that information to go, and who do you want to see it? Make arrangements with your family, your library, a national repository, or some location on the internet. Be sure to make the arrangements in writing so that the information you worked hard to keep up with, gets preserved. Do not leave it up to chance!

The same goes for your genealogy. If you are all digital using <> or Ancestry, make sure there are many copies of your genealogy because others, who may or may not be accurate about their work, can change your information. I know that I am one who believes in written or paper records in addition to digital; it is just my experience that when you go back to look for something, it isn’t always found on the computer. Maybe my belief in having something printed, or having several copies of printed material distributed in many places, in addition to digital, has something to do with being tactile and liking the feeling of paper.

I think it is important to personalize your family’s information when you have the opportunity. Both <> and Ancestry have ways to add comments and pictures about each ancestor. Maybe you have a picture of a relative. You can add the picture to that relative’s name even if you don’t know anything about them. If you have the picture, share it. It may be the only picture of that relative in existence. You believe it is that relative because their name is on the back, or you have personal knowledge, or your aunt told you who it was at a family get together. Just list the picture with the name and your reason for believing it is that person. It is that easy.

If you need technical assistance in scanning information to these family files, call the local Family History Center and ask for their help. There will be people who know how to upload digital files to your family line. You can also go to your local copy/office store and ask for help digitizing your photos and information. There may be a minimum charge but you will add so much more to your family information. There is always the selfie too. Hold up a picture of your ancestor next to your face with a paper of their name written on it, hold out your phone, and snap a photo. State your relative’s relationship and send it out on the internet. You might not get as many likes as the newest cat video, but you may find you have relatives you haven’t met before.

Telling what you know about your ancestor is a delightful way of sharing your genealogy. Let me remind you that ancestors are those who are relatives but who are dead. There is a reason that is important. As you acquire genealogy, you may wonder about an ancestor. You find they were married in a specific place and time. Why? Why did they choose there and then? What were they doing? Was it before someone went off to war? Information like that adds to the personalities of your ancestors.

One of my readers told me that her grandmother was a battle-ax, known for her temper. I asked why she thought that and she said that her grandmother and her three great-aunts had tremendous tempers. As she was telling me about her family, I thought abut the fact that her grandfather must have seen something wonderful in the woman he married. I asked about the relationship. She said she couldn’t imagine why he married her. She had met her grandmother once when she was 15 and again when the woman was 90. Both times, her temper showed.

I pointed out that her grandmother was not likely to discuss her love life with a 15 year old, nor when she was 90. She only saw a brief moment in her grandmother’s life. The woman thought about that. She said that her grandparents had four girls. I pointed out that he was healthy enough and interested enough to stick around for that portion of the family. She said that they were married for many years until he died. She decided it would be worthwhile to learn more information about her grandparents while there were still people who could give first person stories and information.

This is why it is important to remember that your ancestors are quite dead. Writing stories about the dead has some legal impact. Writing stories about the living family has other, potentially more sobering, legal impact.

I am not tasking you with writing the great American novel. A little note-sized story about an ancestor, that you believe to be true based upon your research, is a delightful addition to your family history. A tell-all, get everyone’s attention memoir, is a different thing. It is quite doable.

After all, many television shows, movies, and reality TV are based on some experience someone encountered. Writing memoirs offers other people a chance to look into a different life. There are several current books to research and decide your parameters for your outline. Stop at the book store or your local library and browse the different types of memoirs and how they are structured. There are at least five new books with instructions on writing them. Additional instructions on writing memoirs or short stories about your ancestors are available with <> and Ancestry.

When you write, tell the truth. Then explain why you believe it to be the truth. Stick to verifiable facts and your personal, emotional responses. Show what happened; don’t just tell. Everyone has opinions. State your opinion and show why you believe that information to be true. Tell stories of your experiences. Let the reader draw their own conclusions. If you are going to speculate, make it clear that you are taking a guess and state that your opinions are speculations and what facts you used in making that conclusion. If you are going to disclose wrongdoing, think about any harm that may come to living, innocent bystanders or other players. If you are writing an emotion-packed memoir, write it with the passion of your truth, and put it aside for several months if possible. Then read it again. Ensure your reader understands your truth and why you told it.

Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you acquire new skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family, don’t just leave them in cyberspace. If you insist on leaving your family pictures in cyberspace, label them and mail them to your email or other locations. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new book from this author to be released soon. My readers will have a special opportunity to read it.


By Marjory Regan

A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.