Writing A Family History

You probably have scrapbooks filled with images of your ancestors. You may be lucky enough to have one of their diaries or a crumbling letter written almost a century ago. Your family may have told you their stories, and you’d like to write a family history.

Your first step will be to do research. Finding information is much easier than it was twenty years ago thanks to Google and the Internet Archive. Second, check your facts, because some of your genealogy may be wrong. Was your Aunt Mabel right about how much land,  how many children, or where your grandparents were born?


old paper

Dr. Increase Mathews WikiTree Profile

While doing research on my family, I found many genealogical sites had misinformation. Sometimes, I couldn’t remember where I had found the accurate information, so I became a genealogist on WikiTree. This allowed me to record these sources for easy reference. I love this feature of WikiTree! The genealogists there are very helpful and friendly. It’s easy to ask questions and get answers on the G2G forum. Every profile is a collaboration. I recommend you add your family tree to WikiTree. Best of all, it’s free!

For example, the image on the left shows a portion of the Sources section on the profile page for Dr. Increase Mathews (Matthews). I’m fortunate to have been able to find so much historical information about  my family’s history. Future generations will thank you for doing the research!


You’ve finished discovering accurate details. What’s next? Organize your information and start writing. This is the hardest part. Don’t worry about having perfect punctuation. This can be fixed when you revise. Your family history should be more than facts and historical dates.  Make it interesting. Ask yourself (and imagine) what difficulties did they encounter? How did they overcome these.

Set time aside each day and write something! Don’t make the mistake of revising right away. Wait until you’ve finished writing your entire novel, then set it aside for a few weeks. When you return to it, you’ll see it from a fresh perspective. Next, ask for beta readers to read your historical family history. They’ll be able to help you pinpoint any problem areas.

My Research

Marietta College has a collection of business documents and letters written by Increase’s older brother John Mathews. Historian Irene Nau included a sentence from a letter from John to Increase in her summary of these documents. I wanted to know more about this letter and if there were any other personal letters available, so I contacted the Special Collections Department. I received PDF files which were images of typed transcripts of several personal letters contained in the Historian Samuel P. Hildreth Collection. For one of these letters, the transcript only noted it was sent to “M”. I have been unable to determine who the recipient was. From the contents, I surmise it was written to someone in New England. In this missive, John shares his thoughts on the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. I found it to be an interesting insight to this time period. The following excerpt is the opening quotation for Dr. Increase: Mathews Family Saga Book 2.

An Excerpt from
The Mathews Family Saga Book 2

“It is to be much regretted that Government did not take the measures they are now pursuing at an earlier period. Besides saving vast sums, it would have given a weight and dignity to the Federal Government that would have tended greatly to check the licentiousness and opposition to Government unfeverable in this country, and I really believe that the present insurrection in the back counties of Pennsylvania would never have existed, had not the slow and ineffectual prosecution of the Indians have given them a contemptible opinion of the strength of the Government.

The idea that the Atlantic states, particularly the Eastern, are unfriendly to the population and prosperity of this Country is prevalent and has an unfavorable operation on the minds of these people, and the extreme reluctance Government have observed to enter into the Indian war, but too well supports the opinion. However, I hope the result of this campaign will convince the western inhabitants that the protection of Government will be equally & impartially extended to all.

I hope too Government will take prompt & effectual measures to suppress the insurrection in the western parts of Pennsylvania. They are a factious and ungovernable set, principally Irish, or Scotch-Irish as they are called here, or their immediate descendants. I feel a little flash of national pride in observing that the American-born inhabitants of this Country whose father or grandfather never felt, nor hardly heard of, oppression are much more governable and have more confidence in Government than the Europeans, who cannot divest themselves the idea that Government & the people have separate interests.”

John Mathews
1794 letter written at Fort Washington

1 thought on “Family History

  1. Carol M. Baldwin says:

    I really like the way you tied in the sources section from WikiTree as a teaching/learning tool! Doing a little bit of writing each day is a great tip! Something I have yet to train myself to do!

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