So, how organized would you like to be? Some people can get by happily with a few big piles of paper. Other people need a strict system. You work with what is most comfortable for you. There’s no point me telling you that you need a rigid system of files if rigid systems drive you crazy.

But it will help if you make an overview of exactly what you are planning to put together. To start with – Is this going to be the memories of just one person, yourself perhaps? Or is it to be the memories of a number of family members?

If you are writing a family history, then you might find it helpful to have files named for your maternal ancestors and paternal ancestors, and possibly have these subdivided into the different families and perhaps different time periods.

Families have a way of exploding once you start asking questions and doing some genealogical research. Suddenly you hear of a cousin Bertha in Florida that you had never heard mentioned before (which is, in itself, interesting). So you write in cousin Bertha’s name and ask some more questions. Then you find she has been married three times and has five children all of whom are married and she has thirteen grandchildren. Counting spouses, that’s 26 additional people. Easy enough to add in a genealogical chart, but are you going to include them in your family stories? And if so, how are you going to do that?

So questions will arise about what limits you will set, if any. And does anyone have power of veto? Can Grandfather Jones say “I don’t want any mention of my brother Albert. He stole our mother’s wedding ring and it broke her heart.”?

This raises the issue of who makes the decision. Do you arbitrarily decide that you will obey Grandfather Jones’ wishes, or will you ride off on a white charger to try to heal the rift in the family? Or do you have other family members helping you and wanting to be part of that decision making?

Your family history can be your project and yours alone. But if you have other people helping you, you may be able to get a lot more information, and access it much more quickly and easily. In return for their help you might have to give up some control over the project.

Another question that arises: If people give you a version of a story that you don’t agree with, what will you do? Will you hide that and present only your own version? Give only her version? Give both? You have the power to make all these decisions. And with that you have the power to shape the way generations to come will understand their family history.

By taking on this task you are going to have such fun exploring people and places and ideas. You establish the ground rules and you organize the project in the way that is comfortable to you.

Start by assembling as much information as you can. Store it in binders with labeled plastic sleeves where you can keep ideas, questions and thoughts on separate topics. Or do the same with an accordion file or colour coded file folders. Or do it all electronically. Work the way that you work best.

Seize the moment and get started. This literally is the project of a lifetime.

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