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  • Daphne Ffoulks-Jones

Writing An Engaging Family History Book: Part 1, Theme

Updated: Jul 7, 2023



Part 1: Determine Your Theme



So, you’ve decided to write a family history book. You’ve come back from your adventure of gathering names of ancestors, places, and historically significant events, along with dates of births, marriages, and deaths. You’ve also compiled some stories of family members, both living and deceased. And now you want to bring key facts and stories together in such a way that your reader can’t put your book down. Organizing genealogical research is one thing: but now how do you pull everything together to form a cohesive family history book that tells a single story?


Identify categories


A key step in this next adventure is looking for broadly defined commonalities in order to determine a theme for your narrative. What threads can you see through the generations? Think about what personal characteristics your ancestors may have needed in the circumstances they were in. Consider the types and quality of relationships that may have repeated through the generations. Evaluate the effects of specific historical events on the lives and character of your family members.


Write down all of your ideas and think about which is strongest to bring the narrative of your family history book together.


Narrow Your Focus


Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you sift through the information you’ve compiled, think about commonalities, and get more specific in defining your theme:


Is there a certain type of hardship that keeps coming up? Is there a common way that people dealt with it? Did they tend to stay in the circumstance and persevere through it or leave to find a different life? What effect did that have on them and the family? What personal characteristics can you infer from these choices?


Was your family close knit? Did they live in close proximity and help each other? Was a sense of community important to them? What effect did the closeness or distance in the quality of family relationships have throughout the generations?


Were there significant events in history that shaped the character of your family? Did the effects of historical events on the character your family intensify or lessen over time? How did different family members respond to the character that was shaped?


This is about more than organizing genealogical research: determining the theme of your book is a chance for you to find meaning in your family history and to communicate it to others in a family history book.


Make a statement


Now it’s time to write out your theme in one or two sentences to keep you focused as you draw your narrative together. Take a look at these examples:


Responding to personal life challenges by changing their circumstances has led to greater opportunities, yet loss of connections for my family.


Placing a strong value on community has sustained our family in hardships through the generations.


From my ancestors’ times to today, wars have shaped the anxious yet resilient character of my family.


The theme you create is a reflection of the unique way in which you see the story of your family.


Weave it in


Tying the people and places you talk about throughout your book to your theme will give continuity to the overall narrative of your family history book. Also, don’t be shy about revealing your theme to your reader in the introduction to your book. Reflecting right from the beginning on how you chose the theme and why it’s important can get your reader excited about embarking on their own adventure of discovering the story of your family.



Contact NextGen Story to get personalized feedback on your writing. We can help you develop your theme and other important aspects of your family history writing so that you can tell the engaging story of your family.

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