When Writing Your Family History Try to Keep It Short: So Says Certified Genealogist

find-ancestors-getting-started-family-historyYou have wanted to write about your family history and have been putting off. Now you have mustered up the courage and here comes a blog telling you to keep it short. But how can you? You have no idea whether it is going to be short or long. Writing a brief family history is not easy. What with all the many stories of ancestors’ escapades and the lengthy narratives from those still alive, steeped in oral traditions. But all you want to do is getting it out of your head. Not to worry. This article will give you some tips that will not only get you started but will show you how to keep it short. These tips are based on a nonfiction book by certified genealogist Sharon DeBartolo Carmack called, “Tell It Short, A Guide to Writing Your Family History in Brief.”

Tell It Short advocates the short essay format as an alternate way to write your family history. The three essay forms she suggests are:

The Literary Journalism Essay: In this way, you tell a story that puts your reader into your forefather’s shoes.

The Memoir Essay: This format is the traditional style, but a shorter version. This is you telling your life story.

The Personal Essay: This format is similar to the Memoir, but instead of your life story, you are telling your family’s. What you do is relate the past to the present by giving your opinion on the topic or theme.

You will have to get the book to get the details of each chapter. It is a short book and easy to read. This is how the book break down the topic:

Part 1 consists of the introduction of the family history essay to the family historian, while Part 2 shows the family historian sample family history articles.

Each chapter is written using simple, straightforward terms. The author breaks down the genre of the short essay format so the family historian can easily understand and adapt creative nonfiction in the writing of his or her family history. She also goes over the fundamentals of writing creative nonfiction and shows the family historian how to place lineages into historical context. This book is an easy read, and shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete. By the time you are finished, you will see this is the best way to write your family history.

softwareThe author briefly discusses ethical issues and how to overcome writer’s block; revision and editing; and ends with the book with ten samples of family history essays that are a must-read.  How best to write your family history than to read what others have already written.


If you are seriously interested in writing your family history and are daunted by the thought to the long narrative. Consider getting a copy of Tell It Short, A Guide to Writing Your Family in Brief, by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. It will not only help you get over writer’s block, but it will also show you how to keep it short when writing your family history.

Are you a family historian who have already written your family history? Share with us what worked for you. How did you get over your writer’s block?