Two weeks ago I blogged about the discovery I made regarding submitting a short biography to my state genealogical society about my pioneering ancestor’s life. I’ve had several readers request ideas on how to get started.
First, relax! You aren’t writing a book so there is little time involved. I think the hardest part is to decide who to select to begin with. For my project, I decided to start with my husband’s lines and select the ancestor that was the earliest pioneer in the area. I then wrote a bio on his wife, their daughter that is my husband’s direct relative, the daughter’s husband, and so on down to his parents. I then did the same for my lines. But that was just me! You can pick anyone you like and go in any direction. Sure, typically in genealogy it’s best practice to go backward in time from present to past but if you already have the research done it makes no difference in who you select to highlight.
Second, if you are submitting the bio to a website then make sure you understand and follow their directions. If you aren’t sure, send a query before you waste your time and theirs.
If the site has a form filler, as mine does, it’s simple to bring up your tree and just type in the info that the form requests. I have two screens on my computer and can definitely use a third (hint, hint hubby!) so this makes the writing easy. If you have one screen only, you could toggle between your tree and the site or borrow a laptop/iPad/kindle to bring up the tree on that device. You can also do a screen print of the ancestor’s information and print but let’s keep that as a last option since we really don’t want to be killing trees for this project.
Next, you are writing in the third person which means you don’t use the word “I.” This is a biography and not an autobiography, which is about you. I’ve written earlier this year about writing your memoir. Biographies are all in the past tense because the person lived then and not now.
Keep it short and simple! Begin with the person’s start in life, such as “James Edward Jones was born on 1 May 1800 in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio. He was the third son and fifth child of Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.” It’s easy to switch to the next bio by just shuffling the facts presented. Here’s an example: “On 1 May 1800, in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio, James Edward Jones, the third son of five children, was born to Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.”
If you have information about James’ early life add it. You might not and that’s not a problem; just write next whatever you’ve discovered. It might be a marriage and children that follow. Look at census records to determine the career and location. Review the property records you’ve found and include where the family resided. Perhaps a big event occurred during the individual’s life, such as war, famine, pandemic, etc. that should be included. If the ancestor made a significant accomplishment in his community or the world make sure to note it. Most of our forebears did not so don’t feel that the individual isn’t worthy of memorializing.
End your biography with information from the death certificate, if available, obituary, family Bible, or community death index. Note where the person is buried, if known. If a significant contribution was made to the world, then note that as a reminder to the reader of the valuable service that the person made. One of my husband’s ancestors, Samuel August Samuelson, was injured during the Civil War, continued to fight for the Union with a gunshot wound and broken shoulder, was taken as a POW, and overcame his disability to farm 439 acres. He met an untimely death, being killed on his sleigh by a train that was not following safety guidelines. His community was in an uproar and legislation was enacted at the state level because of the accident that killed him. Due to the unfortunate accident, we’re all a little safer around train tracks these days.
Most of our ancestors, however, were simple, hard-working folks who paid their taxes, voted, and left few other records. I believe they should be remembered, too, for doing the best they could during the trying times in which they lived.
Next week, I’ll begin a two-part blog on how I broke through a 44-year brick wall.