Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dear Randy: How Can I Make an "Interesting" Descendants Report For my Family?

Reader Marilyn asked this question in email several weeks ago, and i've been pondering it ever since.  Her email:

"I have been doing genealogical research for family and friends for several few years. In the past I have shared what I compiled using an older version of Family Tree Maker and creating a descendant report. Those reports were easier to read than the current FTM versions.

"I’ve not found a good way to share information I’ve compiled so people who aren’t familiar with reading such reports can understand them.

"Any suggestions on how to share information in a way that’s interesting to read?  I tried making my own “report” using Microsoft Word but it took me a long time to compile it."

The standard narrative report with several generations, lots of names, dates and places, all in a standard format is really boring.  But if you want to do a descendants report, that's what you end up with.  Now, you can add stories, photographs and document images.  But unless you rewrite the standard text, it is still really boring.  There may be nothing better available to send all of that information in one report or book.  

I'm not sure that narrative descendants reports with lots of names, dates and places in a consistent but boring format is the answer to interesting family members in their family history.  Stories about specific persons, with photographs and interesting documents, will probably do a better job of capturing their interest.  

You do have other choices, but you have to write the interesting words, and include fascinating images and stories, in a way that will capture the interest of your family members.  One problem we all have is that we usually don't have real multi-page, detailed memoirs for each of our ancestors, even parents, grandparents, etc.  Unless they wrote their own, or a newspaper or book had published articles about them, or a family member did an excellent eulogy or biography, there just isn't that much "family story" content for most of our ancestors.

Here are some suggestions for reports and biographies and stories:

1)  Write an ancestor's (or ancestral couple's) biography in a word processor, highlighting the events in their life based on records and family stories, including photographs and documents with interesting information.  Limit it to one generation - for example, the ancestral couple and their children, but don't inundate the reader with biographies of the children.  Genealogy software will create an individual report with Notes and images, but you'll need to edit it to put the images where you want.  You can make each biography a PDF file and email it, or save it to a CD or DVD, to your family members.  

2)  Do the same type of biography in genealogy software Notes, and create an Individual Report and then edit it in a word processor, adding photographs and document images and discussing them.  

3)  You could write blog posts on your own blog (they are easy to start and add content to) for each of your ancestors or ancestral couples.  I'm trying to do that in my 52 Ancestors series, but I'm not adding document images or photographs in those biographies.  [Note: I'm not trying to provide a readable family friendly biography...]

4)  There are some websites that offer a story-telling feature based on photographs and memories.  Treelines is a great site to do this.  To use this site, you need to upload images and write stories for each image.  There is a learning curve.  See some examples (use the right and left arrows to advance the story) at:

5)  Create a series of blog posts or web pages that highlight one photograph, record image or story.  Then create a Flipboard magazine for your series.  One example is my Flipboard magazine for my mother, titled Betty's Life.  There is a learning curve for this, but it works pretty well.  It also has an iOS and an Android app for mobile devices.

6)  Create a YouTube video that shows photographs or documents relating to an ancestor and tell the story for one ancestors or a group of ancestors. There's a learning curve here and perhaps more equipment is needed.

7)  There are many other applications that can tell a story with photographs, and can be accessed on a computer or a mobile device.  some of them are free, and some of them require fees or subscriptions.  One site that I've seen is ReelGenie, which offers "Story telling magic made easy!"

Marilyn specifically mentioned writing descendants reports, and I sort of veered away from that into biographies and stories in my discussion above.

The "experts" all say that the younger generations have a short attention span, like seeing family photographs but can't be bothered reading documents, prefer voice over text, etc.  Scanned or saved photographs and document images need to be available to help tell the story.

To all of my readers:  What other suggestions do you have for Marilyn?  Have you done something like what she wants to do?  Tell us about it!

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Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Sonja Hunter said...

I don't think anything compares with actually writing the story, but as you say, the younger crowd likely won't be as interested in a narrative account alone. I have thought about making a narrated slideshow about a particular ancestor, but haven't yet had the time. Even with a more current format, however you still need to build your text to accompany it. Like you suggest you can start with the report, but I would keep a timeline for that person handy and be sure to include things like when the person's parents died (if relevant) or sibling's/children's births/deaths. This kind of analysis can show, for example, that a person may have lost several close family members in a short period of time. Did some other big event occur (a war, a long-distance move)? Anything personal you can add to help your audience put themselves in the shoes of their ancestors helps. I know it is a lot of work, but I think we can agree that a genealogy report is really only of interest to another genealogist.

T said...

What Sonja said. The timeline is a double bonus because you will see where/if you have a hole that needs attention. I'm doing my family stories now and I found that doing each couple was more manageable than trying to do THE FAMILY. I used the census information for the year to write the paragraph, including everything on the census. If a child was born that year but not yet at census time I made note of that. I started out with facts and wrote it too factual. In a quick rewrite I did include some "I think" and "I suppose", still unanswered questions, and non judgmental observations. I included pictures, will or probate if I had it, marriage/death/birth documents and lots of maps. If the census image had something really important I included that, too. If anyone gets serious about proofing my work, I can make the documents available for them. Everyone just wants to be entertained without learning history or geography.