Converting FTM facts to Family History Narratives

My initial efforts in genealogy research were adding as many names, dates, and facts to my family tree using a tree on Ancestry.com and offline using FamilyTree Maker. This format gave me a massive warehouse of information but a challenging landscape of organization when trying to use the genealogical reports to analyze my facts. It was even worse when I tried to share the trees and charts with my family members.

I began converting my FTM data to text documents to become more organized and have a better, more readable format to share with my family. My initial conversion methods used the Descendant Reports and Individual Reports to copy and paste their contents to Microsoft Word documents for each direct ancestor. Today, I use FTM’s Smart Story function to generate my initial text document.

My first step in editing the text document is to make each fact a Bullitt Point. Next, I organize each fact into chronological order. This method seems tedious, but I get excited when I see my ancestor’s life story start to appear. Seeing the facts come together then encourages me to add photos and maps. I search for pictures of my ancestors, their homes, schools, places of employment, vintage images of the area, and maps. I place them next to the text where appropriate or at the end of the narrative. These pictures bring my ancestors more alive.

My individual narratives now become my primary research document. I save all new facts, photos, and documents to this summary of my ancestor. First, the facts and stories are added to the narrative with references to my sources. When I find a new document, I add the information from the document in the narrative. Then, place the copy of the document at the end of the narrative with a citation of its source.

I still use FTM as a reference for names, dates, and relationships. In addition, I refer to it often when I am writing to get the family group information correct or to review where to place a new name in the family tree. However, I do not run another Descendant Report, Individual Report, or Smart Story. Instead, I run Pedigree Charts when I need to add them to a section of the family history to show how the individuals are related.

I have found that using narratives as my research document makes most of the challenges of using linage software disappear. Narratives are flexible in adding information, more readable, and can be easily shared. Converting your FTM data to narratives may be tedious, but you will see more of your ancestry in the narratives.

Make Sharing Your Genealogy Research Exciting for Your Family

Trying to share our family histories with our family memories can be an exciting aspect of our work. However, sharing can be very frustrating if our approach is boring or filled with genealogical jargon. Whatever your first sharing attempts were, keep trying. Besides the feeling of fulfillment when you notice family members getting excited, sharing can also open doors to find more information.

Once you began researching your family history, did your family ignore you when you tried to tell them what you were doing? Did they avoid you by moving to another room? You were excited when you found records and wanted to tell everyone how you did it. Why did they ignore you? Are they genealogists?

My experience has been that non-genealogist wish to know about the family history but not how we found the information. I found genealogy forms, charts, and documents were boring and hard to understand by most non-genealogists. They wanted to see the stories of what’s in the documents.

When I began writing narratives that include photos and maps, the attitude of family members changed, and they started asking questions about my research. As a result, my research began to advance faster because my narratives helped me become organized, and relatives began offering photos, documents and told me stories.

There are several ways to share our family history narratives. Genealogists have used newsletters for many years, but the internet has introduced blogs and social media as additional avenues to share our stories. I have taken a more significant step by expanding my narratives into published books. I feel a bound book will be saved by my descendants, thus saving my hard work. Posting online could give my family instant access to my narratives, but I need to be cautious of privacy issues. Also, I believe my online posts may disappear in the future. Newsletters are easy to write and distribute, but they are easy to throw out when someone cleans off their desk. Some people save their newsletters by putting them in a ring binder, so this becomes almost like a book. These are some of the reasons why I use one of the online platforms to self-publish my family histories in bound books. Note, my research does not stop once I publish. I keep digging for more stories and trying to answer those nagging questions about why my ancestors did something or settled where they did. I update my narratives and use them as my primary research documents, so the book content is always up-to-date.

Start saving your research in a narrative format. Then, your genealogy work will be accepted and enjoyed by your family members and help your family remember your ancestors more.

Save their stories and honor them.

My interview on researching and writing my family history

I was recently interviewed by Polatron which is a group in Australia helping Polish descendants gaining dual citizenship. We discussed how I got started with my research and tips on researching, saving and writing it down in an organized method.

Does Recent Changes at Ancestry.com Matter?

The recent changes in Ancestry’s Terms of Service do not mean the “sky is falling.” However, people with posted family trees are in turmoil because Ancestry added “perpetual” and “non-revocable” to their Terms of Service. These words are profound, and people should be concerned with the rights they are granting Ancestry when they upload their content to their trees. Yet, Ancestry had the right to do what they wanted with our content before adding these words. The difference is that the new terms do not expire.

Another point to remember is you still own the copyright to your content. Therefore, Ancestry cannot violate any copyright laws if they use you’re your content. They would be foolish to do so without asking your permission.

The current dilemma points to the fact that we need to consider how we use the online family trees and how careful we should be in posting content to our trees.

  • What is your goal in posting an online family tree?
  • Do you use your tree as the central depository of your family history?
  • Should you be posting all information?
  • Do you consider privacy issues before you post?

Online family trees are an essential communication tool, and they must be very public to be effective towards this goal. Nevertheless, we do not have to post everything for it to be effective. I use my online trees to connect with unknown cousins and exchange information with them. My trees are not complete. They may mention information but not include the documents. I use my online tree to attract unknown cousins to contact me.

The new issue with Ancestry unmasks the problems when using online family trees as the primary tool in saving and compiling our family history. Family trees are just the skeletons of our ancestors. A family history is much more. It should contain stories that bring our ancestors alive. Please consider, there are better and more private tools than online trees to compile, save and share the stories and documents associated with your family history.

Contemplate compiling your research offline into notes and summaries of your ancestors. This method gives you the flexibility to add stories and facts in a readable format. The format allows you to embed the documents and add the needed citations. Using the summary of facts will help your research be more efficient. As a text document, you can share it at any time with your family because it is readable in a language they understand and not in our genealogy jargon and forms. Offline, your family history is on your computer and can remain private and within your control. You decide who sees your pages.

Online family trees are important but remember they are public. Most family members do not refer to them because they are difficult for the non-genealogist to understand. Save your family history using another method that remains private and understandable by your family.

An Example of Mapping Your Ancestor’s Migration

Below is how I traced the migration of my fourth great-grandfather Peter and his family from his arrival until my grandfather Roy moved to Bloomington, Illinois. I used family stories, land transactions, census records, marriage records, death records, county histories, and other documents to mark the dates and points on the map.

Here is the documentation of the map points

  • Family historians believe Peter Whittinghill arrived in the colonies about 1770. He was married to Catherine Gabbert in 1775 in Augusta County, Virginia, before the birth of their first child. However, we did not find any documents to confirm these dates.
  • The first record of Peter in Virginia was in the minutes of his 1778  Continental Army court-marshal, which happened in Augusta County. Peter served in the Virginia Riflemen, 2nd Division, Virginia Militia. The history of this military unit included the battle of Yorktown and the surrender of General Cornwallis.
  • On September 4, 1781, land records indicate Peter purchased land along the James River in Rockbridge County, Virginia. The river location adds to the story that he was a miller.
  • I could not find Peter’s 1790 Census record.
  • On April 5, 1796, county records indicate Peter sold his land and left from nearby Amherst County with friends and family on the migration trail to Kentucky. The group traveled south on the Great Valley Road to Blacksburg, where they found the New River. The river was the nearest migration route through the Appalachian Mountains to  Kentucky. The group followed the New River north to the Kanawha River and then to the Ohio River. At the growing settlement of Gallipolis, they built a raft and floated down the River to Maysville. From there, they trekked overland to Fayette County, Kentucky, where Lexington is today. This portion of their migration took three to four weeks.
  • On January 26, 1798, Mercer County land records list Peter and Catherine purchased land on Mud Creek, where he farmed and ran a grist-mill.
  • Peter’s 1800 and 1810 Census records indicate he lived in Mercer County, Kentucky.
  • Four of their child married in Mercer County – John (1803), George (1805), David (1805), and Mary (1810).
  • The 1800 and 1810 Census records also listed some of their neighbors from Virginia, and Catherine’s siblings were also residing in Mercer County.
  • A Mercer County deed dated January 3, 1814, stated Peter Whittinghill of Ohio County, Kentucky, sold his 100 acres. The documents indicate that sons John and David moved to Ohio County sometime after 1810, and Peter joined them with the rest of the family in 1813.
  • Their other four children married in Ohio County – William (1814), Sarah (1814), Elizabeth (1816), and Jane (1818).
  • Son David had moved across the Ohio River and into Warrick County, Indiana, where his son Pleasant was born in 1815.
  • The 1820 Census records indicate Peter living in Spencer County, Indiana. However, the census also lists that his daughter and their spouses had moved to Spenser County or neighboring Warrick County.
  • Peter’s son and my third great-grandfather John stayed in Ohio County.
  • John’s grandson and my great-grandfather Burrill married Elizabeth Pate in 1882 in Hancock County, Kentucky, and the 1900 Census listed him living in Lewisport, Hancock County, Kentucky.
  • The 1910 Census indicates Burrill lived in Glen Dean, Breckinridge County, Kentucky.
  • Grandfather Roy married Lula Mae Powell in 1914 in Hardinsburg, Breckinridge County, Kentucky.
  • Roy was also living in Breckinridge County on his WW I draft registration and the 1920 Census.
  • In 1922, Lula’s brother Joe moved to McLean County, Illinois, farming near Lexington in the 1930 Census records.
  • Lula and Roy followed Joe to McLean County in 1924, where Roy worked construction and rented farmland outside Bloomington.

Find the records for your ancestors. Map where they lived, and mark their migration route. Then, try to find accounts showing their life and what historical events affected them.


Find their story, write about it, and save it for your future generations.

Immigration Paths in America

Tracing the path your family took from the port where your immigrant ancestors arrived and migrated to your birthplace is an essential part of your family history.

In Colonial America, ports developed where colonists had developed goods for exports such as tobacco, dried fish, timber, and flax. Shipping routes between Europe and America developed primarily to take American exports to Europe. The ships made the Atlantic passage to pick up raw materials in the American colonies. For the return voyage to America, the ships carried finished goods ordered by colonial merchants and also people — typically new immigrants. Some immigrants freely determined their destination and paid their passage to one of these ports. However, colonial governors or land speculators recruited many others to settle in specific colonies. The colonies needed immigrants to settle and clear land and make money for those who the British government granted land charters. The indentured immigrants arrived at the ports determined by what group paid the captain. After our ancestors landed, they moved away from the seaport seeking available land. Late arrivals moved further west, pushing against the frontier and Indian territory. They also turned south down the Great Valley Road into the Shenandoah Valley and further into the Piedmont of North and South Carolina.

Colonial roads usually developed over already established Indian trails. As settlements developed, roads expanded to handle carts and wagons, and more immigrants came. The Forbes and Braddock’s Roads were two exceptions because British soldiers built them over previous Indian trails to handle cannons and wagons during the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s. After the Revolutionary War, settlers pushed westward through the Appalachian Mountains to find new land in western New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. They used and expanded Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee. They followed the Indian trail along the New and Kanawha Rivers to the Ohio River and Kentucky. Forbes and Braddock’s Roads transformed from a military road to a westward migration road as settlers pushed to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River, which became a major natural highway to new lands in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Settlers in the Northeast used the Mohawk and Catskill Turnpikes to push into western New York and then Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. After completion, the Erie Canal supplanted these two turnpikes and acted similar to the shipping routes on the Atlantic.

Use land transactions, tax records, and probate records to determine where your ancestors settled in colonial history and the early 1800s. Census records after 1850 can also make tracing the migration path much easier. If they arrived in the late 1800s or early 1900s, find the train route they took from the port to where they found work. Identify why their friends or relatives came there — they were your ancestors’ destination.

Map the route, find accounts of life in these areas when your ancestors lived there. Did any historical events happen around and affect them?

Find their story, write about it, and save it for your future generations.

Get Organized!

Success in our genealogy research will come more accessible if we are organized. Being organized allows us to quickly access what information we have and keep us on the correct path to find more information.

Being organized means we can quickly find all of the information we have on an individual to do the next search. I also believe it means we can quickly review what we have for an individual to restart our search for his documents after being away from his details for a while.

I do not rely on rows of cabinets and piles of color-coded folders to retrieve my information. I found storage space is always in demand and never enough when you have paper copies. So I now save only electronic copies. My laptop, thumb drives, and external hard drives give me all the space I need to store my copies. They are also easier to carry when I am going to a library or archive to do research.

The most challenging aspect of saving electronic copies is labeling my files with a consistent naming system. Our computers will automatically sort our files alphabetically, so our files need names that place them in a predictable order. In addition, the naming system will allow us to find and review the documents quickly.

However, the most critical aspect of my organization system is prioritizing compiling the information from my documents into summaries for each ancestor. This step is because summaries are the core document in my research method and organization.

Benefits of Summaries

  1. Lists everything I have found for an individual in one place
  2. I can quickly find the criteria  needed to do the next search
  3. The summaries make my research efficient
  4. I spend less time searching my files and more time finding more documents
  5. The system also allows me to analyze the summaries to see what I need to do next and see the stories in the information I found.
  6. Its format is flexible, and I can easily add information in a logical order
  7. It is readable and understood by our non-genealogist family members so we can exchange our treasure-trove of stories
  8. Listing the information in chronological order allows our ancestor’s story to develop and reveal itself to us as we do our research.
  9. Combining the individual summaries is the beginning of our written family history.

Saving the documents using an organized system is essential, but organizing the information that is in the documents is critical to our success. The summaries are the core of my research, and the family histories that I publish for my grandchildren come directly from these crucial narratives.

Begin compiling your data into summaries to be more successful and having more fun!

SAVE THE DATES: October 22, 23, 29 and 30

The  2021 GENEALOGY CONFERENCE is coming with 7-8 speeakers and 10 presentations that help you trace your Polish-American and Eastern European roots.

Sponsored by The Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast, Inc. and The S. A. Blejwas Endowed Chair of the Polish and Polish American Studies, Central Connecticut State University.

More information coming soon. Check back later at https://pgsctne.org/

Scotch-Irish Emigration

The largest group to leave Ireland in the 1700s was the Scotch-Irish. Their ancestors had just arrived from Scotland about 100 years before, but by the early 1700s, they had enough of the British discrimination against them. They decided to leave and then packed everything they had – clothing, personal items, tools, farm implements, and weapons. They were never returning to Ireland. The English laws did not allow the Scots to own any land. So, their only ties to Ireland were the family members they left behind. Many were prosperous farmers and skilled tradesmen who were the backbone of Ulster agriculture and the linen industry. They were farmers, but many were active in the linen trade to supplement their farm income. However, the continued threats of higher rents and fluctuating prices drove even the prosperous tenant farmers to emigrate to America.[1]

Many had money and could afford the passage. If the Scotsmen did not have the 3 pounds 10 shillings needed for the passage, they willingly agreed to be indentured workers in America. They signed contracts with agents or ship captains. They knew the shipping company would sell their indenture contract after arriving in the colonies to farmers, merchants, or tradesmen who needed workers. The agreement was for five to seven years of labor in America and paid for their passage.

Ironically, the Ulster linen trade established the overseas trade routes between the Ulster ports and the American colonies that enabled their immigration to America. Ships hauled many tons of flaxseed and other materials from Pennsylvania to Ulster and were eager to fill their empty cargo holds for the return trip to America. The captains willingly accepted the Scottish emigrants’ money to pay for their passage to America, thus generating new revenue for the ship’s owner.

After the Scots in Ireland made arrangements for passage to America, packed their belongings, they said goodbye to friends and family, loaded their carts, and made their way to the Ulster ports of Londonderry, Portrush, Larne, Belfast, and Newry. Their small ships sailed for Philadelphia and Charleston with about fifty passengers on-board.[2]

Filling the cargo holds with immigrants also solved a desperate problem for the American colonies who needed more workers. Many governors and land promoters in the American colonies offered land, tools, and seed to the immigrants. They sent out advertisements and hired agents to recruit workers to come to America. Charleston, South Carolina, and Philadelphia became the primary destination for the Ulster immigrant, and during the mid-1700s, Charleston rivaled Philadelphia as the port of entry for the Ulster-Scots. After arrival, the immigrants found cheap land without a landlord. They discovered the English Penal Laws did not exist in the colonies, and they did not have to tithe to two different churches. America offered the Scotch-Irish a new beginning and hope for their families.


[1] Blethen, H. Tyler; Curtis W. Wood Jr. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

[2] Blethen, H. Tyler; Curtis W. Wood Jr. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

What Name Should We Use?

The name of our ancestors can lead to confusion when we find possible variations in the documents. So, what name should we use when we document our research?

I think the question comes up for most people when referring to how to enter the name on a family tree. I tend to use the name most people will use in recognizing the individual in my family tree. In most cases, I will put the baptismal name in parentheses if different.

I place more importance on writing a narrative of the individual for my family history. In the narrative, I can give the various names used in chronological order as I found them on the documents. We may never know why the variants were used. Many may be from the clerk’s understanding of what the name should be – right or wrong and with inadvertent misspellings. In some cases, it is the preference of the individual. Call the individual by the name they prefer but record all rest noting where you found that variation.

Writing a family history narrative for each ancestor gives me the flexibility to list all the names used and lessen the confusion found in the documents. Knowing the name variations helps us find more documents and stories because we have more choices to use in our search criteria. However, let the focus of our research be on our ancestors’ lives and their stories. The narratives make my family history come alive for other family members and give a complete view of their lives.