Category Archives: Story Telling

Telling Your Family’s Stories: A List of Resources

Have you thought about writing your family history but aren’t sure exactly how you want to do it?

In the “olden” days (like, more than 20 years ago!), if you were a self-published author, writing a book was pretty much done on a typewriter, taken to some type of printing company to run “X” number of copies and then sent to a bookbinder.

The writing process was slow, sometimes taking months or even years, and often meant having 400 our of 500 books left over, sitting in the garage. That was besides the expense of printing the volumes.

Thankfully, the genealogical writing process now offers many choices to an aspiring writer. Many of those options are free, or very inexpensive, and have the decided advantages of being able to be shared with close family or the entire world and everything in between.

21st century tools that you’ll be using to create your family history stories include two that are probably not far from your hands at this very moment – your computer/laptop/tablet and your cell phone.

Are you ready to jump in and get started?

First – Before you begin your project, you need to know your end goal, as that will definitely influence HOW you create your project.

For example, do you want to share family anecdotes? If so, you might want to use a storytelling app.

There are a number of storytelling apps available for free, along with some fee based products. Scroll down to the links at the bottom of this post for some possibilities.

Is your goal to find other, more distant family members and/or reach a wider audience of genealogists? Then your choice could possibly be starting a blog.

WordPress and Blogger are the most common programs used by bloggers today and both are free. I have never used Blogger, but WordPress can be hosted for free or the writer can choose to self host (which is not free!).

If you are seriously considering beginning a blog, don’t be intimidated! Both WordPress and Blogger are fairly easy to use, right from the beginning.

To help you decide how you might want your blog to look in terms of formatting and the content you was to include, take a moment and visit GeneaBloggers TRIBE, which numbers over 3,000 bloggers in their membership. There are also some great links, including Resources, which can guide you through the decisions to be made getting started. You’ll also be able to browse through the blog list and visit a few blogs that are up and running.

Do you want to create a book that covers many family generations? In that case, something as simple as Word (and as sophisticated!) might suit your needs.

I spent many years researching my husband’s Williams family, mainly because I decided I wasn’t going to let little things like a common surname, life in burned counties and frequent moves stop me from identifying them. I wrote a book, using Word because I wanted to format the chapters myself, with the goal of untangling all the messed up Williams branches. Rather than detailing the lives of each family, I wanted future researchers to know who belonged to whom and from whence they all came. You may have a completely different purpose for your writing.

After you decide your writing goal and format you’d like to use, check out these links to various tools.

Turning your thoughts into notes:
Scrivener – is a program available for both Windows and Mac that helps you organize your thoughts through story boarding to produce a well written family history. There is a free 30 day free trial available (30 days of use, not 30 calendar days), but then it must be purchased.

Trello – an app that allows you to organize and share your work; free

Mind Mapping Tools:
MindMappingSoftwareBlog – Mind mapping is similar to story boarding, except that mind mapping helps your create streams of related thoughts that you might like to integrate into your story. Story boarding is more akin to arranging those thoughts in a logical fashion allowing the story to be told in an interesting way.

Coggle – mind mapping and collaboration

To record stories/information:
Audacity – free version to record stories, thoughts or whatever else you may want.

To create visual stories to share:
Adobe Spark – create stories and videos to share; free & easy to use

Sway – Microsoft product similar to Adobe Spark; create and share stories; free and easy to use

PowerPoint – for slide presentations, available with Microsoft Office

Using timelines to tell family stories:
HistoryLines – a subscription site at which you can enter information about ancestors and an interactive timeline in historical context appears.

Timetoast – Use a timeline to organize research about a specific person or family or time period.

Digital Note Taking:


There are a number of apps available, some free and some by subscription, for telling family stories. Here are just a small sampling. Many of these companies are start ups and may or may not be around next year. Hint – back up any stories you create on them.
Cozi – online family organizer, free

Famicity – a private social network to share family stories, memories and events

Legacy Stories- write, record and curate your family history online and share

StoryWorth- weekly questions are sent out to family members and then collected into a keepsake book

Treelines – get inspiration for telling your stories and then share with friends and family

Websites that focus on family history writers:

FamilySearch Blog: 10 Steps to Writing an Engaging Family History

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems

The Accidental Genealogist by Lisa Alzo

The Armchair Genealogist by Lynn Palermo

The Family Curator with Denise May Levenick

The Family History Writing Studio – fee based course, but you can browse the website

Several great reference books to keep you on track:

Guide to Genealogical Writing by Penelope L. Stratton & Henry B. Hoff, CG, FASG, 3rd edition, 2014, available for under $20 from the New England Historic Genealogical Society

On Writing Well, William Zinsser, Harper Perennial, 2006

Writing About Your Life: A Journey to the Past, William Zinsser, Marlowe & Company, 2004

The Elements of Style, 4th Edition, William Strunk and E.B. White, Pearson Education, 2014

I’ve only shared a handful of resources to help you get started telling the stories of your ancestors. If you’ve found a great product that I haven’t included on my list, please leave a comment and I’ll check it out.


Telling Our Ancestors’ Stories

Recently, I came across a book online that caught my eye. It wasn’t the typical kind of book that I would normally even notice, as, on the surface, it is geared to business workplace presentations.

However, I found myself going back to take a second and third look at it because I realized that following the methods that were outlined would make me a better teller of my ancestors’ stories.

Storytelling with Data

Storytelling with Data was written by a young woman named Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, who has a mathematical and business background – which is about the polar opposite of my background and interests. However, her book is easy to read and I clearly saw the link between her world and that of a genealogist.

From her “About” page: My name is Cole. I’ve always had a penchant for turning data into pictures and into stories. I’d like to share what I have learned (and am learning) with you. I’ve honed my data visualization skills over the past decade through analytical roles in banking, private equity, and most recently at Google, where I developed and taught a course on communicating effectively with data. 

The  introduction states, “This book is written for anyone who needs to communicate something to someone using data.”

Currently, there is a huge push by tech companies for family historians to record memories and to share them with the next generation. Aren’t we using data – births, marriages, deaths, places and events – to entice others to learn about those who came before us? Don’t we need to present the data in such a way that will both interest our readers and draw them into those past lives?

Ms. Knaflic’s book has ten chapters:

  1. The Importance of Context
  2. Choosing an Effective Visual
  3. Clutter Is Your Enemy
  4. Focus Your Audience’s Attention
  5. Think Like a Designer
  6. Dissecting Model Visuals
  7. Lessons in Storytelling
  8. Pulling It All Together
  9. Case Studies
  10. Final Thoughts

If I wrote a book on how to organize and tell your family’s stories, I could use all the same chapter titles!

I don’t often plug products, but if you are interested in checking out this book, Amazon’s link has about 40 pages available to preview. The book is available for about $20.00.

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic also writes a blog, under the same title as her book. I have added it to my feedly subscriptions.

Now, I need to follow her guidelines to make my family stories more engaging for others!