Ready to Organize and Write Your Family History?

Ideas to Start Your Journey

One of the questions I have heard at our in-person program meetings is, “who in my family will be interested in my genealogy work, after I am gone?” Like many of you I also wonder who will be interested in my personal genealogy gathered over many decades.

This article is focused on sharing ideas for how to start writing your family history. People tend to be more interested in the results of discovery than boxes of information. Family members don’t fight over the chance to take our boxes of “stuff”.

A simple way to start writing is to take paper and pencil and begin to think of a purpose for writing your family history. As an example, below is my initial process for writing my family history.

Focus on End Result

My main goal is to make sure that my family history is saved beyond my lifetime.  My choice would be to write a family history, which involves starting to write summaries or sketches from the facts I have collected about my ancestors. Include citations for those facts. From this I can start to develop further stories and information from what I have collected. Such as how did my grandparents or parents meet?

Find a Family Member or an Archive?

Family in the traditional sense is usually parents and children, and grandchildren. However not everyone has lived in a traditional family. Maybe you never had a child of your own, so who would you pass it down to ?  An option is to find an archive or local genealogical society to see if they take written family histories.

Connect to Other Genealogists

Whether I find a relative to pass along my genealogy work or provide a written format to an archive, developing connections to other genealogists is also beneficial. Local genealogy societies often have special interest groups that provide opportunities to share and learn how others write their genealogy story.

Manage Writing Time

Genealogists spend a lot of time doing research. There never seems to be enough time! If your genealogy materials are disorganized or your written family history is not finished, how can you get it done?

One guide I use is to get into a routine. Identify the specific activities that you will be doing to write your family history. Is there a best time during the day when you like to write? Is there a trigger to help write, a picture, a record, a particular ancestor, or article, that helps to start? What is the social history your ancestors lived through, people and events of the time? The main point is to think of a story based on records or evidence you have collected to get you started.

What next?

The key is to write your family history. Can I do it on my own or do I need help to organize and write? If I need help, where can I find it? One step is to look at the resources that are available on-line to write a family history. Look for guides to be organized as a genealogist. Seek help or opinions from others who are working through the same process of writing.

Bibliography List

Smith, Drew. Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for every Researcher: Family Tree Books, 2016.

Erlbach, Arlene. The Families Book: True Stories about Real Kids and the People They Live With and Love: Free Spirit Publishing Inc., 1996.

Szabados, Stephen. Write Your Family History: Easy Steps To Organize, Save and Share. Copyright 2014 by Stephen M Szabados, independent publishing platform through CreateSpace.

Ready to Organize and Write Your Family History?

Have you established a Schrebergarten in your community?


The garden movement was not invented by Moritz Schreber, as is commonly assumed, but by a Leipzig school principal. In 1864, Ernst Innozenz Hauschild established the first Schrebergarten by starting a club in cooperation with parents and students and leasing land to provide a playground for the children of factory workers. The children could play and perform gymnastics under the supervision of a teacher. Moritz Schreber had long championed playgrounds for children. Since Hausschild did not want to name the club after the school, he decided to name it in honor of Schreber who had passed away three years earlier. A teacher by the name of Heinrich Karl Gesell planted the first garden.

Check out the following:

Have you established a Schrebergarten in your community?

Memorial Day 2020: Honoring 14 Ancestors who served from the Spanish-American War to the Post World War II era

All of the 14 Following Men are related to me who served, drafted, joined the US Navy or the Army from the time of 1899 to 1955. Also all of these men lived in the small town of Lyndon Station, Wisconsin. Many were born and raised there, died there or called it home for the majority of their life. It is an honor to have known 5 of the 14 during my life. They all served in various parts of the world and many participated in battles, saw horrible things. A couple died as a result of their service.

Spanish -American War period

Great Grandfather: Joseph C Podrasky – Navy 1899-1903 Served overseas June 1900 – November 1903 Philippines, China and Japan

World War I

Great Uncle: Theodor A. Rettammel – Army 1917 – 1919 Wounded in France, August 2, 1918, Gassed and died in Military Hospital in March 1919.

Great Uncle: William Wendland – Army 1917 – 1919 Overseas in France: February 1918 – February 1919 Wounded and gassed in battle August 2, 1918

Great Uncle: August Wendland – Army 1917 – 1919 Overseas in France February 1918 – April 1919 Wounded in battle August 30, 1918 near Valtrinz Farm.

Also served but State Side:

Great Uncle: Henry Wendland – Army 1918 Died from Pneumonia/Flu Oct 1918


Great Uncle: John Wendland – Army August 1918 – December 1918

Great Uncle: Louis Wendland –Army – Post War period

World War II


Uncle: William T Rettammel – Army 1941 – 1945 Overseas Europe: April 1942 – September 1945 Several battles France, Germany, Central Europe & MP

Pacific Theater

Uncle: Arthur E Rettammel   
Uncle: Arnold R Rettammel

 Both in 32nd Division Both overseas in Australia, New Guinea, Phillipines May 1942 – August 1945

Also in 1942 all were listed, along with their brother and another Uncle Ed Rettammel

Uncle: Norman Rettammel 1945 – 1947 Post War Germany

My Father: August H Rettammel Jr. 1953 – 1955 In Germany

Memorial Day 2020: Honoring 14 Ancestors who served from the Spanish-American War to the Post World War II era

U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Agricultural Schedules, 1850-1880

A great resource for learning more about how a family lived on a farm is the Agricultural Census conducted by US starting in 1850 and continued to 1880 census year. These are considered non-population census and mostly started in 1850 and some continued until around 1900. So if you have ancestor during that period who owned a farm, you should review these records as way to learn and develop your family history story.

The following information can be learned from these agricultural census:

  • Name of owner or manager
  • Number of improved and unimproved acres
  • Number of livestock owned by farmer (broken down by breed)
  • Amount of agricultural goods produced during the preceding year (broken down by crop)
  • Cash value of the farm, farming machinery, livestock, animals slaughtered during the past year, and “homemade manufactures
  • The 1880 schedules provide additional details, such as the amount of acreage used for each kind of crop, the number of poultry, and the number of eggs produced.
According to the National Archives there are certain exclusions to be aware of for certain locales and farm types:
“Exclusions: Not every farm was included in these schedules. In 1850, for example, small farms that produced less than $100 worth of products annually were not included. By 1870, farms of less than three acres or farms that produced less than $500 worth of products were not included.”
Agricultural Census Source: A Case Study
A recent client project shows how helpful this source can be to understand the current view of the land and a former farm, that existed over a 100 yrs ago.
On one parcel of the documented property (review of deeds) there is an old stone wall that separates property sections. Archival pictures from 100 yrs plus also shows the stone wall.  The land has been part of glacial area, so the rocks are believed to be from the land itself and cleared for farming the land. When matched with territory survey maps and notes done in early 19th century, the land shows no evidence for a stone structure. The question for the client was who may have started or built the wall prior to 1890?
Plat Maps
To help answer this question, a review of the plat map for the area of interest was researched at my local archive. Plat maps show land ownership over time and are a great source for locating ancestors’ farms.
The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) has plat maps for all 72 counties in Wisconsin.
Results from Agricultural Census
Once the name of ownership was confirmed on the plat map, the next step was to see if the name listed on the plat could be found in the Non-Population Census, Agricultural for those years. When the person of interest is found, you can learn the details of the type of livestock on the farm, crops produced and acres improved versus unimproved (land that is usually wooded).
With the information learned the results showed that the owner of the land listed had large animals (oxen and horses) that typically could pull or drag stones from the land to another location. Also the agricultural census years showed that, the owners amount of land considered “improved land” increased along with the amount of crops produced. For this to occur the client’s hypothesis is that the same acreage was cleared, along with the stones from the land to make it tillable for crops. At the time those rocks were placed at the property line between two farms. The information gathered does not provide full proof that the owner of the land (at the time) constructed the wall but it does provide “indirect evidence” of the possibility for this to occur with the resources available. The information found in the Agricultural Census provides “direct evidence” that the owner was a farmer on the land for the dates shown on the plat map and other correlated register of deeds information collected previously.
When other information about farming practices, date and time are considered for a working farm, the agricultural census can help to construct an explanation for how farms and the land changed since our ancestor’s lived there.
Enjoy your own discoveries.
U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Agricultural Schedules, 1850-1880

History of President’s Day

Excerpt from – The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

The origin of Presidents’ Day lies in the 1880s, when the birthday of Washington—commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the first president of the United States—was first celebrated as a federal holiday. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved a number of federal holidays to Mondays. The change was designed to schedule certain holidays so that workers had a number of long weekends throughout the year, but it has been opposed by those who believe that those holidays should be celebrated on the dates they actually commemorate. During debate on the bill, it was proposed that Washington’s Birthday be renamed Presidents’ Day to honour the birthdays of both Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12); although Lincoln’s birthday was celebrated in many states, it was never an official federal holiday. Following much discussion, Congress rejected the name change. After the bill went into effect in 1971, however, Presidents’ Day became the commonly accepted name, due in part to retailers’ use of that name to promote sales and the holiday’s proximity to Lincoln’s birthday.

History of President’s Day