The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society magazine included a feature article this month about storytelling. As a long-time blogger, I’m quite familiar with the power of storytelling in conveying a message and in getting others excited. Genealogy and family history can be pretty boring, and while some people might get a kick out of flipping through old birth certificates and immigration documentation, that doesn’t have a lasting effect. But providing stories about the people in the tree can build that connection from one generation to another. Suddenly, the great grandfather is alive, and his struggles become relatable.
But I haven’t done a good job of uncovering these stories in my family. I’d like to be able to piece together a narrative about the lives of my ancestors, but I’ve found so little information about their lives prior to arrival in the United States that constructing these stories has proven impossible so far. The one notable exception is the Holocaust discovery, wherein two distant relatives perished in Thereseinstadt and Auschwitz. But I don’t know how they found their way to Thereseinstadt in the first place and what their lives were like in Germany before their removal.
I can contrast this with my girlfriend’s family research, with which I am assisting. Even just a small amount of digging led us to discover dozens of her relatives who perished in the Holocaust, all unknown to her current living relatives but easily confirmed with various records. A prominent writer has published books and stories with information about this family’s abduction from Amsterdam to the concentration camps.
Besides the Holocaust, branches of her family who were in the United States earlier are full of entertaining stories, like a murder-suicide (which was obviously a serious event at the time, and I don’t mean to reduce something like that to “just a story” today) allegedly performed by a distant cousin. I have no desire to find anything that dramatic in my family, but some kind of memorable story would make it easier for me engage others as I continue this quest.
Stories seem to be today’s genealogical theme. A new website makes it easy to create presentations based on the text entered, which presents an animations using photographs and relationship tables from family trees. I’ll take a look more carefully at Treelines when I’ve constructed a story to share. This sample story makes the service look promising.
Even Ancestry.com has jumped on the story bandwagon by adding a life narrative page to individual profiles.