Monday, February 18, 2013


     People often ask me how they can expand on a record to tell a story. For instance, can you make a narrative out of a death certificate? Yes, you can, if you develop an eye for detail and do a bit more digging into the facts. You know how artists say that drawing is all about looking and seeing differently? Same with creating a story from genealogical records--you have to see the story behind the dry facts.
     Often, finding the story means finding more details. The first step is to write the information on the record in sentence form. This is also helpful when you are researching records such as census records, because while writing, you tend to think about what you are writing. You will then notice small details that might have slipped by with a cursory reading.
     For example, examine a death certificate.  Read line by line, transforming each bit of information on the record into a sentence--don't leave out ANY information.
     For the next step, it might help to print out your sentences with spaces left for comment. Examine each sentence. Can you expand on that sentence in any way? For example, consider the date. What season was it? Was it on or near a holiday? A birthday? The death of another family member?
     Some of the details might need further research. Of course, you would search for an obituary or death notice for the deceased. You might also search the newspapers for that day. What was the weather that day? What was happening in the world? In the town? What were the clothing fashions of the time and place of the death? What were the mourning customs of the time and the culture?
     Pay attention to the people listed in the record. Can you obtain more information on the doctor or hospital listed on the death certificate? What about the address where the person died? Is the house still standing?
     Many of us don't have enough photos of our ancestors, but researching these details have the added benefit of sometimes leading us to photos of buildings or neighborhoods that we can place with the death certificate in our story.
     Find My Past, a British genealogy database site,  had an interesting post on their blog about wills left by soldiers in World War I. The post is an interesting description of discovering a story from a bequest of just a few simple words. Enjoy!