Sharing family stories can be challenging. Historians love the details—context, dates, people involved, discovery stories. But if you aren’t careful, that remarkable family story will be covered in so many details that the family member you are talking to ends up confused, annoyed, or worse, bored. 

The key? Keep your story simple and direct.

I know that can be difficult. I’ve been practicing for almost a decade and am still not great at it. You could probably talk genealogy or history for hours, but your audience—your mother, close friend, or acquaintance—will get left in the weeds if you bog them down with too many details. 

Some tips for sharing stories:

  • Try to tell the story in one sentence that is not a record-long run-on sentence.
  • Practice telling your stories to yourself concisely.
  • Ask yourself: What is the punchline of the story? Your answer will probably be the one-sentence explanation you’re looking for.
  • It might have taken some creative detective work to uncover the story. But there’s a good chance you’ll lose your listener’s interest by explaining every breadcrumb you followed in the archives. Start with the punch line, and if someone asks how you figured it out, go ahead and share that wild story. Don’t lose your friend’s interest with a confusing story about your journey through the archives immediately, though, no matter how improbable the discovery was.

If you are concise and keep your listeners intrigued, chances are they’ll ask more questions, and you’ll get to elaborate. But if you dump too much on them initially, you’ll lose them fast. 

You will discover unbelievable stories in your genealogical pursuits—every family has them. Historians can get caught up in the details, and that’s okay! But if you want your friends and family to feel the excitement about that story you do, keep it as simple and direct as you can.

Jack Palmer has done genealogy research since he was ten years old and loves writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy research stories and advice. He graduated from Duke University in May 2023, majoring in History and Psychology, and is the author of Helen & Frank: A Biography, a biography about his great-grandparents.

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