Introduction & Overview
Many who embark on genealogy research do so for a variety of very personal reasons, such as a desire to commemorate deceased relatives’ lives, to document stories lost to history, or to define their sense of self. Family historians often aspire to write their family history, but may struggle to get started. Storytelling may take a variety of forms and family history narratives can help meet a variety of personal needs.
We’re looking for ancestors, we’re discovering stories, we’re sharing our discoveries and we’re also finding ourselves. – Thomas MacEntee, genealogy blogger
But creating a narrative about ancestry requires more than family trees filled with names and dates; the number of individuals and random facts can become overwhelming and meaningless without context. programs, such as “Who Do You Think You Are” and “Finding Your Roots” excel at creating a narrative that can be understood easily and processed in terms of personal identity creation, but may, as Henrietta Verma observes in Library Journal, create unrealistic expectations about the amount of time required to accomplish similar results. I would like to explore how these narratives can be created by those who do not have access to a team of professional researchers. In order to do this, library professionals with little or no formal training in family history research may be called upon for assistance, either as guides or as providers of library resources.
Intended Audience: Family Historians and Library Staff
This annotated bibliography is intended for family historians who seek to move beyond the accumulation of facts and dates to write or use other means of creative expression to share their research findings and make meaning; it is also intended for library professionals or staff who may want to create programming around this popular hobby. The types of materials the bibliography features will be varied to suit the two overlapping audiences. Genealogy is a popular and addictive pastime but can quickly become expensive. Libraries make it an accessible hobby for all by providing resources and instruction and programming. This guide aims to assist in that mission.
I have chosen to showcase the bibliography as a webpage that can be navigated by lay persons seeking the best resources on the topic and also to serve as a resource for library programing. The phrase used in the title- “creating narratives” rather than “writing family history”- is important because the former is more inclusive and can encompass multiple avenues of creative expression and storytelling, including scrapbooking, blogging and multi-media presentations. The bibliography will also include non-fiction exemplars of family history writing (aimed at different age groups), non-fiction guides, fiction, videos and also materials geared specifically towards library professionals. Genealogy software and vendors both subscription and free will be included as well as fictional accounts related to genealogy that might be suitable for a library book group discussion or a display on the topic of family history and narratives.
Genealogy is “a fact finding, information seeking, and sleuth requiring craft” (Veale 8). It can be both a personal quest and a collaborative project performed by professionals and amateurs alike. Fundamentally, according to Saar, “genealogy is a narrative…of how outside forces shape an individual-the story of one’s own becoming” (Bishop 394). Dictionary.com defines it as, “a record or account of the ancestry and descent of a person, family group, etc., the study of family ancestries and histories, descent from an original form or progenitor; lineage, ancestry.” It is important to note that genealogy is different from family history, the distinction being a record of lineage versus a narrative of events, with descriptive elements.
Ancestry.com: Ancestry.com LLC a for profit, Utah based highly network of online resource used for tracing family history and creating family trees with over thirty international markets and 2.4 million paying subscribers, it generates 680 million dollars a year in revenue. DNA testing is available for purchase with results synched to subscriber’s online family trees. Their databases offer billions of vital records.
Family Search: Family Search.org is a totally free non-profit family history organization consisting of the “largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world.” It is operated and sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. Originally founded in 1894 as the Utah Genealogical Society.
Family Narratives: “Narratives, or stories, about one’s past, are the way in which individuals make sense of their experiences and create meaning, both for themselves and for their families” (Fivush).
LDS: Common abbreviation for The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons. A religious tenant of this faith is that families are united in the after -life and that this can be accomplished by identifying relatives and ancestors.
Memoir: “a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation” (Dictionary.com).
Scrapbook: an album in which pictures, newspaper clippings, etc., may be pasted or mounted.
Vital Records: Birth, death, divorce and marriage records which are basis of genealogical research.
My Personal Research Process
I began research by casting a wide net (also known as berry picking). I searched the catalogue of the Evergreen system (the library consortium of shared resources in the state of Indiana) using the search terms genealogy and family history. Using the same terms on Google Scholar and various databases I encountered problems with irrelevant results. Dr. Arnon Hershkovitz, in a presentation titled “Empirical Evidence of the Popularity of Family History Using Digital Traces” (given at the 2014 Roots Tech Innovator Summit) recommends using family stories, roots, research DNA and history. Using the Library of Congress website to search subject headings for “genealogy” I located other terms that were helpful: ancestry, family history, family trees, genealogical research and DNA. I also searched Google using the terms “genealogy” + “libraries”, and “genealogy + libraries + trends” to find sources related to family history research aimed at library staff members. I think concentrating more on professional library resources using library science databases would have improved the results, but the dual audience mandated more general sources. My biggest learning moment was the realization that my own motivations for personal genealogy research and creating family narratives, and experiences, are validated by scholarly research on the subject. I’m even more motivated to attempt my own family narrative by the concrete benefits I discovered. I’m also keen to incorporate intergenerational narratives even more into my role as a mother and “kin-keeper” (Fivush 50), which unbeknownst to me I was already performing.
Bishop, Ronald. “In the Grand Scheme of Things: An Exploration of the Meaning of Genealogical Research.” The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol.41, No. 3, 2008, pp. 393-412.
Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com. Accessed 17 Nov. 2016.
Fivush, Robyn, Jennifer G. Bohanek, and Widaad Zaman. “Personal and intergenerational narratives in relation to adolescents’ well‐being.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, Spring, No.131, 2011, pp. 45-57.
Herskovitz, Arnon. “Empirical Evidence off the Popularity of Family History Using Digital Traces.” Family Search Blog, 5 Feb. 2014, www. familysearch.org/blog/en/empirical-evidence-popularity-family-history-digital-traces/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2016.
MacEntee, Thomas. “Genealogy and Family History Industry: Boom or Bust?” Thomas MacEntee Genealogy Guy, Linked.com, 27 Mar. 2014, http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140327173346-31267915-genealogy-and-family-history-industry-boom-or-bust. Accessed 23 Oct. 2016.
Veale, Kylie J. “A doctoral study of the use of the Internet for genealogy.” History ActualOnline, No.7, 2005, pp. 7-14.
Verma, Henrietta. “Rooted in Research- Genealogy.” Library Journal, November 4, 2016. http://www.lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/05/library-services/rooted-in-research-genealogy/#_. Accessed 23 Oct. 2016.