Saturday, February 8, 2014

Family History Writing Challenge Week #1 Recap: Frustration

When I signed up for the Family History Writing Challenge, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I wanted to start with the Muir branch of my family tree. The Muirs were from Scotland, and my great great grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1887. The family includes a long line of coal miners. If there was coal beneath the ground, Muirs likely lived on top and worked below.

Scottish coal miner; photo courtesy of Education Scotland

I wanted my first book project to appeal to my target audience -- my immediate family. None of them, except Dad, is particularly interested in our history. So I needed my book to be compelling, not just a collection of names, places, and dates. It must tell a story and do it well. I've set a high bar for myself, haven't it?

Over the years I've learned a lot about coal and coal mining in several countries. It's hard not to when your family tree includes so many miners and you are by nature a curious person. So coal was going to be the common thread that ran throughout my book.

I decided I would focus the first week of my writing efforts on the places where the Muirs lived. After the first evening of writing, I realized I had a problem. I keep my tree on and work from their website. It's practically impossible on to target one branch of your tree and easily determine where they lived at various times in their life (excluding birth and death) without clicking on each person and looking at their timeline. I had Family Tree Maker installed on my Wintel laptop and enjoyed the custom reporting capabilities, but I don't use that laptop anymore. I've moved on to a Mac; no Family Tree Maker; no custom reports. I got quite frustrated with all the clicking I had to do. That frustration made another problem pretty clear. I didn't make detailed research notes when I first started. So I was difficult to start researching a person for which I'd done some initial research but not completed. (I am easily distracted by Ancestry's shaky leaves.)

Christa Cowan, the Barefoot Genealogist from Ancestry, was right. You should take extensive notes for each of your ancestors about every bit of information from every source document and jot down your working theories and next research tasks. If you do that, then everything is conveniently at hand when it's time to write your family history. Since the online family tree functionality available on doesn't include a great place to maintain these extensive notes, I need to purchase the Mac version of Family Tree Maker.

So I spent the week writing up notes for Robert Muir and his wife, Henrietta Brown and their 11 known children. Next week I WILL make the places at which they lived come to life. When I get my tree exported to the Mac I will upload my new notes and be ready to rock and roll...again!


  1. I have never used Family Tree Maker. You must like it if you are purchasing it again?

    1. I like it very much. It is feature rich and does everything I want it to do. The custom reporting is particularly strong. I haven't found a question or a list I wanted to pull that I couldn't do.