15 Family History Writing Challenges

Do you want to write or blog about family history, but you don't know where to begin? This post lists 13 challenges to help you get started... and keep going!

15 Family History Writing Challenges

Do you want to write or blog about family history, but you don't know where to begin? This post collects together some challenges which could motivate you to get started... and keep going! Let me know about any others you come across, and I'll add them to this post.

1) The 52 Ancestors Challenge (any time)

Canadian genealogist Amy Johnson Crow is the host of the popular 52 Ancestors challenge. The challenge is free and there is no start date - all you need to do is sign up. Amy provides weekly prompts to get you thinking about a particular ancestor, and encourages you to share something about them. She stresses that her goal is to help you get your discoveries out in the open, no matter how, so part of her approach is to ask you to look at your ancestors' stories from different angles, and think more widely than only writing a blog post. Many genealogists following Amy's series tweet about it using the #52Ancestors hashtag, so it's easy to interact with other family history writers.

2) The 62 Ancestors Challenge (any time)

Genealogy is full of delightful rabbit holes of discovery, but it's really easy to get sidetracked and miss out on key ancestral stories. One of the unexpected side effects of using a Family History Record Book (see here for mine) is that you quickly discover the gaps in your research. This challenge is my answer to any uneven research patterns. It aims to devote 62 weeks to investigating each of the #62Ancestors in your six generation family tree. Unlike #52Ancestors, there are no themes. You are encouraged to collect basic facts, genealogical proofs, images, news reports, documents, and memories, for each ancestor in turn. Your final task is to record your own story.

You may tackle your ancestors in any order you wish, but once you’ve decided on your focus person for the week, you must not divert from them.

There are no start and end dates for this project. If you need to take a break, that’s fine. You will be looking for the following information, together with dates and locations. If possible each item should be supported by a relevant image of the person, event, or location.

  • Birth
  • Education
  • Marriage(s)
  • Children
  • Occupation
  • Census records
  • Criminal records
  • Poor law records
  • Newspaper reports
  • Addresses from birth to death
  • Death
  • Wills and probate records

As you work, bear in mind the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard:

  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence;
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

If you’d like to share your resulting pages in a blog or report your progress on social media, please use the hashtag #62Ancestors.

3) The 52 Residents Challenge (any time)

This is a fascinating challenge instigated by the Society for One Place Studies a few years ago. Pick 52 buildings in your chosen community and try to find out something interesting about someone who lived there. The Society's #52Residents hashtag hasn't been used for a while - it would be great to see it return. You could also tag @OnePlaceStudies when you share your findings.

4) The Russian Doll Challenge (any time)

This challenge focusses on your maternal line. Starting with your mother, continue via your maternal grandmother and identify each mother in turn, through as many generations as possible, straight up your direct female line. It's even more fascinating when you go beyond the basics and try to create a rounded portrait of each female ancestor. Are there any themes or common experiences? This challenge was suggested by Daniel at The Genealogy Corner. If you'd like to share your research with others, you can use the hashtag #RussianDollChallenge.

5) Write your Family History in 1000 Words (one off - any time)

Writing your family history in 1,000 words is a challenge promoted in this free pdf by Family Tree Magazine in the UK. Setting a word limit is a great way to make sure that the task is achievable, and forces you to clarify what details you are going to include. The magazine recommends starting with a mind map to get your thoughts in order. There's no hashtag for this challenge but you might like to tag @familytreemaguk if you take part in the challenge.

6) My Descendant's Ancestors (any time)

Genealogist Elizabeth O'Neal runs monthly Blog Parties on her website My Descendant's Ancestors. She publishes a new theme at the beginning of every month, and encourages her followers to submit a blog post on that theme. Previous topics include Immigrant Ancestors, Women’s History Month, RootsTech Round-Up, Genealogy Learning Experiences, Tuning Up Your Blog, and Saying Thanks. Blog posts are linked together using Inlinkz and participants are encouraged to read, comment, and share other blogs on social media. Elizabeth herself shares the incoming blogs and also posts regular links to past parties, which helps to keep the traffic moving.

7) The Family History Writing Challenge (February)

Lynn Palermo is a family historian and host of The Armchair Genealogist with a passion for encouraging others to write their family history. She uses a number of coaching tools, including books and workshops. Every February she runs the The Family History Writing Challenge, a free 28 day course. By joining the challenge, you commit to writing your ancestors’ stories for a few minutes every day, and Lynn supports you with daily newsletters, and invites you to share your experiences in a private Facebook group. Through this challenge you learn to establish a daily writing habit and hone your creative writing skills, whilst creating a collection of stories to share with future generations.

8) The A-Z Blog Challenge (April)

The A-Z Blog Challenge takes place in April each year, and is popular for all topics, not just family history. The first post for the letter A starts on April 1st and posts continue every day thereafter except Sundays. If you want to write for a wider audience, this is a great way to connect. A-Z and has its own Twitter hashtag, #AtoZBlogChallenge, where you can meet other participants and share your posts. The A-Z community is quite vibrant, with an official sign-up and website badges you can use if you want to.

9) The Genealogy Photo a Day Challenge (any time)

This is a popular evergreen challenge created by Genealogy Girl Talks @ggirltalks. It has its own twitter account @genealogyphoto where you can easily find the prompt of the day. All you need to do is pick a photo from your collection and share it. You can write anything from a memory or a simple observation, to a whole blog post or biography. Of course, you are encouraged to share your photos on social media using the #GenealogyPhotoaDay hashtag.

10) 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy (any time)

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy was devised by Amy Coffin. It consisted of a series of weekly blogging prompts, and was hosted by the now closed Geneabloggers.com. This challenge particularly aimed to highlight resources for genealogists, from websites and apps to archives and societies. Topics included 'Free Offline Genealogy Tools', 'Life Experiences', and 'Technology'. Although no longer online (that I can find) you can still buy Amy's book, The Big Genealogy Blog Book on Kindle. If anyone can tell me what became of Amy's original list, I'd be most grateful.

11) NaNoWriMo (November)

You can't go very far on the internet in November without coming across NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. If you dream of following in the footsteps of great genealogical fiction writers like Nathan Dylan Goodwin and Wendy Percival, but you can't get off the starting blocks, this is the place to come. Simply register on the site and commit to writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. The site provides techie tools to keep you accountable and track your progress, gives you pep talks and support, and links you up with fellow writers, both online and in person. It's huge!

12) Geneabloggers Tribe (any time)

The Genebloggers Tribe hosts three lists of writing prompts on their website. The Daily Prompts list includes around forty themes, divided into days of the week. Many of the themes are alliterative, such as 'Wedding Wednesday', and the ubiquitous 'Follow Friday'. These prompts provide great jumping off points to write about your ancestors or your research. Their second prompt list is Geneapress, a constantly updated curated news feed which may inspire you to write about current news stories and trending topics. Their third list is a Calendar of celebrations, anniversaries, holidays and events, based on 'Chase's Calendar of Events'.

13) Through Her Eyes Thursday

Here's a great new challenge which was instigated by Diane Anderson @dbooklover on Twitter on 31st Jan 2020. Through Her Eyes Thursday aims to honour stories that need to be told from a women's perspective. You can read more about this challenge on Diane's website. You could write about:

  • a female ancestor
  • an interesting female who you come across during your research
  • the female perspective of a historical event
  • discoveries in letters, diaries, or journals
  • glimpses into the everyday life of women

As with all these challenges you can share your posts on Instagram or Twitter with a hashtag #ThroughHerEyesThursday

14) The Graveyard Challenge

I am most definitely a taphophile – I love exploring graveyards and reading inscriptions. I decided to set myself a #GraveyardChallenge as an adjunct to my #62Ancestors research. This is a challenge which requires you to identify and record the burial places of your 62 direct ancestors. You may wish to take out a Deceased Online subscription to help you to fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge. I really enjoyed using the website, although it’s a shame that there are some records you have to pay for on top of your subscription. You can log the burials you find in a file or a page of your blog - I have one on this site. Now that I’ve found out all the burial locations, I can do some cemetery visits to see what other relations are buried nearby, pay my respects, and take photos.

15) The Probate Challenge

Another intriguing challenge is to search for your ancestors' probate records, also known as a grants of representation. These are currently available on the government website https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk at £1.50 each for any person who died after 1857.

I hope you find this collection of challenges useful. I'd love to hear of any others you come across!

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