OUR CHALLENGE: Personal Histories and Compiled Genealogies

There’s a big difference between one’s personal history and a compiled genealogy.

Man writing in a journal

My good neighbor and friend, Van, just published a marvelous personal history following the death of his darling wife Barbara. Chapters include stories and pictures from his childhood, university studies, courtship, marriage, work history, church mission, grandchildren, and family trips. Sprinkled in are “words of wisdom” as June calls such personal insights. This got me to thinking.

There’s a big difference between one’s personal history and a compiled genealogy.
A personal history, like the one my friend just published, focuses on one’s life and immediate family including anecdotal information about parents, spouse, children, and grandchildren. This may include people one interacts with during a lifetime of living. Grandparents, significant teachers, and coworkers come to mind.

Personal historians rely on their recollection of events and use photos to illustrate their narrative.

How I wish my dad had written more. He wrote one short page about each parent and grandparent. His personal history was hand written on old letterhead and was basically a chronology of his life ten pages in length. It’s been my task to match photos to the story wherever possible.
If it were me, I’d add in my Dad’s first medical license, his military ID card, and the photo that proves he and our beloved step-mother did indeed sing in the Leonard Moore Chorale. And I could not forget my grandmother Myrtle’s published recipe for mustard pickles.
A compiled genealogy documents kinship through multiple generations, whether bloodline or adopted. A few photos and anecdotes may be included, but the focus is about analyzing info from a variety of sources to draw conclusions about relationships. Genealogists attempt to find original documents created by church or government officials at the time of events in an ancestor’s life.

Genealogists rely on sound research methodologies and use info from original record sets to explain their lineage conclusions.

When proving descent from say an American Revolutionary War serviceperson, one must provide copies of documents directly stating relationships. Failing that on rare occasions a proof argument involving some indirect evidence may be considered.
Sound research methodologies in the world of genealogy have been codified in the book by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, second edition revised. This includes info about weaving DNA results with surviving original documents for a clearer picture of one’s lineage. See: https://bcgcertification.org/product/genealogy-standards-2d-edition

See also Elizabeth Shown Mills’s “QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Model,” found on her website Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation and Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-17-evidence-analysis-process-map: 22 Feb 2022). I recommend printing out this lesson and the accompanying research process map for ready reference when evaluating the reliability of each source and information found therein. 

Chapters 1 and 2 of Elizabeth’s Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 3rd edition revised (2017) discusses the importance of citing what one is looking at. For instance, there is a difference between a marriage license and a marriage return. Simplistically speaking, lacking the latter, it is entirely possible a couple may not have gone through with their marriage intention.


To satisfy not only the personal history side of one’s story, how about writing a sequel reflecting the compiled genealogy findings this far? This would include documents and so-called proof arguments that trace one’s lineage.

Search every newspaper, website, courthouse, archives and church involving my ancestors. Our earliest christening record on my maiden name is 1752 in England, but in Maryland it is in the 3rd quarter 1600s on my Gist and Howard lines.
If there is conflicting evidence, I’d include my proof argument explaining my “current thinking” as Cousin Russ calls it. Then as my descendants take up the challenge, they will know where I had left off. Newly discovered documents may prove or disprove my lineage conclusions.
Transcribing cryptic handwriting is part of the mix, as is translating from foreign languages. While I’m blessed to have records for my Welsh Quaker ancestors predating their mid 1600s arrival in Pennsylvania, a translation from the Welsh to English would help my grandchildren relate. Same for my Germanic family documents.
Explaining archaic terms and adding references for historical context may be necessary.

Publishing a “book” in digital or hard copy is often listed as a genealogist’s goal. Daunting at best. Maybe it’s good to break the job into two parts – a personal history and a compiled genealogy.

My personal history is tangible – sharing family anecdotes and personal recollections using the vehicle of my old steamer trunk that I’m filling with individual “mini-journals” one story at a time. I want each child and grandchild to have at least one of the journals and related ephemera in their possession. When they gather, they’ve got a more complete picture of who I am and what’s important to me.
My compiled genealogy is digital and is found in my computer’s genealogy management program with documents collected over the years from both in-person and online research. 
Some repositories have restrictions on the use of documents they hold. For this reason, I cannot upload the documents to public genealogy websites. Having one’s own genealogy program, backed up to the cloud is the only way to pull everything together in one place. 
My paper file drawers are a thing of the past. I only keep unusual documents like my own marriage certificate and old family bibles in their original format. 
Contributions to “one big” online trees at WikiTree and FamilySearch are cousin bait. My trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage are also cousin bait, but have the added protection of being editable only by those I designate.
I do believe my friend Van reached his goal to share his personal history with his children and grandchildren in an enticing manner. This is more interesting to a non-genealogist than a few names and dates on a compiled genealogy pedigree chart. It’s the stories that give his descendants a better picture of who he is, and in turn informs understanding of character traits they have inherited from him and their sweet mother Barbara.
It would be in the compiled genealogy that Van’s descendants will find proof documents detailing whether their distant ancestors wore lederhosen or kilts.
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     🙂
Your friend in genealogy.

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One Comment

  1. Myrt / Cousin,

    With our short break and the Pending release of the 1950 U.S. Federal Census, I am working on "all of the above". That move to get the stories in my research, so the "next book" will have more stories AND those Photos.

    I have several thousand articles and photos that my daughter scanned for me. That will be my project for AFTER the 1950 Census project.

    It's been a couple of years since I really worked on MY database, so a little clean up here, preparation for the 4/1 are my "current plans".

    The items above and the learning that we have done over that past couple of years, have prepared me for what lies ahead.

    I even made notes, over that past couple of years, to make sure that my Person Notes ALL have Citations, within the Notes. I have done that over time, but want to make sure that those citations are up to snuff.

    But, I do think that the Pictures AND Stories are far more important than the Dates and Places.

    Now, back to the 64,000 Hints that Ancestry has for me.

    Cousin Russ

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