Dig Up your Ancestral Stories

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Dig Up your Ancestral Stories

How to dig up your ancestral story?

Choose an Ancestor

First you will need to choose an ancestor! Which one of your clan will be the one whose story you will begin with? How are they related to you? And how will you bring that out in your story? And why have you chosen them? What is it about them that you want to tell others about?

And for the story you will need to indicate the, where what and how your ancestor has experienced the events that you’re going to share in the story.

Gather your Data

Gather up all your data, have your photos, letters and documents all ready on your desk, along with your research records and your research notes. This might be a little bit messy to start with but persevere, each piece will help in outlining your story, and you will want to make sure that you can refer to those items in your story.

Plot Timeline

Next plot your timeline. Your ancestral story may be of one era in the life of your ancestor; including information such as birth marriage and death dates might be important in your story. Make sure you know those.

If this is a story about a significant event, such as a wedding or a special event in which your ancestor took part, note the impact this event had for your family or in history. Bring in information about the world events that were happening at the time of your ancestor’s life and how these impacted them. Plotting your timeline so that your reader or viewer knows when and where this story took place, will enhance your story.

Unlock the Secrets

Next, you want to unlock the secrets. We all have ancestors, but we do not always have ancestors with interesting stories. Or so we think. Perhaps we simply do not know those secrets and we need to find ways to unlock them.

You might need to research old newspapers – perhaps your ancestor featured in a newspaper article. Maybe it was just a simple advert, a business advertisement, or maybe it was something special that they did that caused them to be noticed by the newspaper editors.

They may have served in one or more of the military services. And perhaps you have records of those in which you can be talking about their achievements, their military awards or special things that they did that are worthy sharing.

Maybe your ancestor has been in the news for a different reason. Have they appeared in a court case – perhaps that was because they had done something or maybe had something done to them? You can find a great deal of interesting stories about ancestors in the old court cases.

Your ancestor might have also moved from one country to another. This is a story in itself. You may find other secrets. If you look at the passenger lists for the ship on which they immigrated to another country, perhaps they travelled with someone famous.

Outline your Story

When you have gathered all that data and you know the story that you want to tell, then you can begin to outline the story. You might do that in handwriting first, but not necessarily.

Begin with an engaging title. You want the reader to immediately think ‘I want to read this!’ Engage them next with scenes that enlighten, inform, intrigue or inspire. You are writing a story after all, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Ensure that you include a main message in your story. Is this story about love in wartime? Is it about survival in war time? Or is your story about the prowess of your ancestor in war time or in his own community?

Make sure you know what the purpose of this story is and what impact you want the main message to have for your reader. After all your story is really giving us lessons from the past, through the eyes of your ancestors.

Draft your Story

Next, you can begin to draft the actual story, working from your outline. Where to do that? Many of us might immediately choose Microsoft word, the popular word processing software on your computer. Or you may use Google tools such as Google docs and write your draft in there.

If you are going to be doing a lot of family history story writing, you could choose one or more of the online writing tools that enable you to store everything in the cloud. Examples of these include Dabble Writer or Scrivener, often used by authors.

Or you may wish to simply draft your story directly into your blog.

Edit and Refine

Once you have drafted your story, it is time to edit and refine it. The first thing that you will do is proofread for simple things like spelling errors or sentence structure, or punctuation marks or capitalization. All of those things matter and help to ensure that your reader experiences a smooth reading of your story.

You will probably need to edit in other ways too! Perhaps part of your story needs to be moved around. Perhaps some of it is not necessary and can be deleted. If you are writing a blog, you may want to keep the word count below 1000 words.

Other things you might do with your story at this point is to illustrate. You could do that by using pictures and other images that you have gathered along the way in your research. You may also wish to highlight some of the words in your story and make sure that they stand out for the reader.

Publish your Story

When you have edited, it is time to share or publish. You can do this in several ways. You may wish to store your story somewhere in the cloud. It could be in your Google drive, especially if you have been using Google docs. You can then send a link to that doc to your family.

If you have written this in your blog, then you may simply post it. If you have a website, you might publish your story directly on your website; eg. WordPress. If you are using one of the family tree online services, your story could be published directly in there as well; eg Ancestry. That choice would be especially important for members of your family so that they can see it alongside the family tree.

It is your choice where, when and with whom you may share or publish your story.


Finally, when you come to the end of writing your family history story, it’s time to celebrate, to share it, get feedback from your family members and celebrate the achievement of writing your story.

The following video tutorial uses visual images to illustrate my recommended strategies for Digging Up your Ancestral Stories.

Do you need guidance with this? Would you like to access a series of modules containing structured, self-directed lessons? Do you want to share your progress with a learning group in a Private social media group? Do you want to attend Zoom sessions dedicated to your needs in creating, writing or sharing your stories? Would you like a copy of the free workbook for Writing your Family Story?


During January and February in 2021, the Family Story Magic course in my Academy is FREE.

Join other class participants by opting in here.



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