I’ve been researching my genealogy for more than thirty years, and over that time, I’ve experimented with many ways to share stories and information with family members. I’ve published newsletters and created a Facebook group, shared trees on several genealogy websites, and I’m now in my second-generation genealogy website. But by far the most rewarding way to share my family history has been the books I’ve created for my children.
Several years ago, when my oldest child turned two, I had the idea of creating a “Cousins” book as a birthday present. It was a simple picture book, with a 15-line poem I made up about cousins. I dug up and “recruited” photographs of lots of cousins, children and adults, and put them together using Snapfish. It was a big hit with the two-year-old, and a tradition was born.
Since then, I’ve managed a book every year, with significant help from my father and my husband. Each child receives the same title at the same age, and each book includes a personalized dedication in the front and a recent photograph in the back. The books have progressed from simple picture books to histories of 100 pages or more.
Two years ago, I was asked by the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center to give a presentation about my books, and I’ve been asked to repeat this program virtually this summer, on Tuesday, July 20th at 2:30 p.m. If you’re interested in hearing more about the books and how they were created, you can register here.
Once the kids grew out of picture books, more research became necessary. I quickly realized that a lot of detail was needed to make the story interesting, and I had instant sympathy for the authors of the historical novels that I so enjoy! The books became larger projects, but also more rewarding to work on. I could pick a person or topic and really delve into it in a way that I hadn’t before. Finding additional accounts of a particular blizzard, or, amazingly, the entire text of a school Christmas play via Google, helped tremendously with the story of my grandfather. For a McCormick history, my research into military history before and during the Revolutionary War really paid off with dramatic battle stories. And I had a deadline every year, so the book had to get done!
I’ve been fortunate that both my husband and my father have each written two books. My father wrote two sets of wonderful stories which I compiled, and my husband wrote a set of stories and most recently a large memory book with lots of pictures. He worked hard sorting through photographs and compiling that book completely on his own.
I’m also lucky to have ready-made material for a few books on hand. I’ve used my mother’s high school diaries, the Civil War pension file of Thomas Wilson, and my mother’s letters from Paris as the basis for my most recent titles. Annotating and elaborating on these texts has been a huge amount of fun. With my mother’s diaries, I was able to track down some of her childhood friends who helped answer a lot of my questions. Just identifying references in her diaries and letters added a great deal to my understanding of her history. And I was fortunate to have several of her photographs to help illustrate both books. With the pension file, I was able to trace the activities of the military units mentioned, and also found a 19th-century “personal ad” to make things interesting!
Probably my favorite book, which is also my kids’ favorite, is the “Almanac of Immigrant Ancestors.” I’ve included excerpts on the website on the various “branch” pages. I made up a two-page spread for each of 53 immigrant ancestors, who arrived in North America between 1619 and 1899. They ranged from English settlers in New England, to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, with lots of variety in between.
My oldest turns 17 this year, and I’ve just “announced” that the annual titles will probably only extend through the 18th birthday. After that, I want to spend time on some larger projects. But part of me wonders whether they will get done without that birthday deadline!
If you’d like to see excerpts from the books or learn more about how they were created, check out my virtual presentation, given on July 20,2021 through the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center.
List of Books
- Age 2 – Cousins
- Age 3 – Mommy and Daddy Book
- Age 4 – A is for Ancestors
- Age 5 – Paula’s Story
- Age 6 – Growing up in Detroit, by Norman Thal
- Age 7 – Chester Long – Kansas Farm Boy
- Age 8 – The Daddy Book, by Geoff Gephart
- Age 9 – Almanac of Immigrant Ancestors
- Age 10 – From Indian Wars to Indianapolis: The Story of My McCormick Ancestors
- Age 11 – The Mommy Book
- Age 12 – Grandpa’s Stories: The Program of a Lifetime, by Norman Thal
- Age 13 – Diary of a Kansas Schoolgirl
- Age 14 – The Civil War: A Drummer’s Story
- Age 15 – My Generation: An Illustrated History, by Geoff Gephart
- Age 16 – An American Organist in Paris