Examples in Finding Family Stories

Most of my family history writing starts in an encyclopedic format, such as: “My grandfather Stefan Zuchowski was born on December 26, 1893, to Leopold Zuchowski and Anna Dmochowski in Dmochy Kudly, Poland.”

 However, I try to use everything I find to add details to the story. Here is a more interesting version: “My grandfather’s, Steve Zuchowski, birth was in a small cottage in the farming village of Dmochy Kudly, Poland, on December 26, 1893. The next day, his parents Leopold Zuchowski and Anna Dmochowska, carried him five miles down the dirt road to be baptized at Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church in Czyzew. Steve’s parents were descendants of minor Polish nobles who had owned large estates.”

Where did I get the details I added to my grandfather’s narrative?

  • Birthplace, location of the church, birth, and baptismal dates were from Steve’s baptismal record
  • Being descendants from nobility was from notations in the baptismal and marriage records of his parents.
  • The size of the cottage and condition of the roads came from vintage pictures of the village.

Another example is the information in my grandfather’s 1940 U.S. Census Record, which included family information, personal data, addresses of homes, and work facts. I added about 3-4 stories to his narrative.

The Census listed:

  • Family members – wife and two children
  • Age and Country of Birth – 44 yrs and Poland
  • Education – No schooling (How did this affect his work?)
  • Home address – 1418 W Mulberry Bloomington, Illinois (try to find a picture)
  • Where he lived in 1935 – same address (try to find a picture if different from 1940)
  • Rent or Own home – He was the owner (How important is this to the story of his life?)
  • Occupation – Boilermaker helper (Describe this type of work and how hard was the work? Show pictures if possible)
  • Where he worked Railroad shops (History of the Railroad shops in Bloomington)
  • Hours worked the previous week – 40 (Why is this important in 1940?)
  • Number of weeks worked the prior year – 52
  • Prior year earnings – $1200

From his census information, I included the following stories in my grandfather’s narrative:

  1. I asked the reader to consider how successful Steve was, despite his lack of education. The story centered around his consistent employment, earnings, homeownership, and purchase of a luxury car in 1939.
  2. I included pictures of his homes along with descriptions of his neighbors (ethnicity and occupations).
  3. I gave a brief history of the coal mining and railroad companies with detailed descriptions of his specific job. I did this to show why he came to Bloomington, Illinois, to find work and how his education and ethnicity limited his occupation.

I added the stories using the census information and expanded the narratives with facts from other research documents and accounts.

Remember, our collections of family stories, photos, and documents are incomplete unless someone writes an explanation of how they are related. The narrative creates our unique family history and is essential for our children and grandchildren’s future enjoyment. If you feel you do not have the skills to do this, who in your family can? If you like to do the research, is there someone that can work with you to write it? Also, my encyclopedic format is a simple and easy method to start writing your family history.

Our immigrant ancestors will not appear in history books but do not underestimate their sacrifices and help building America. Honor them by saving their memories.

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