Do you have a compiled genealogy book with numbers assigned to each individual? What do those numbers mean and how can you trace your family with them? If you have wondered how to navigate the long blocks of numbered text in these books, you’re not alone.
Last September, my friend Gina and I were chatting about family history when she showed me a genealogy book compiled by one of her husband’s relatives. She let me borrow it. As I flipped through it, I realized how daunting this book must seem to a young person. I decided to surprise Gina by making the book more accessible to her children.
Many compiled genealogy books use numbering systems to present family trees in text format. You’ve probably heard of Ahnentafel numbering for listing a person’s ancestors. To list the descendants of a person, many people use the NGSQ System (National Genealogical Society Quarterly System). Each person, starting with the first generation, is given a number and children are given a number and a roman numeral. As you can see below, the plus symbol indicates that the child had documented descendants.
In the example above, the “3” in Lydia Frances Johnson’s name indicates the third generation, Frederick the second generation, and Aron the first generation. In the list of children you can see that Carl Lawless has a “4” in his name, indicating the fourth generation. Here’s another example of NGSQ numbering.
How to turn the numbers and dates into a “kid-friendly” version
Now that I could somewhat decipher the numbering system, I needed to extract info about Gina’s family’s ancestors. First, I used the index to find Gina and her husband. The parenthetical list of ancestors (example highlighted above) was the most helpful. It shows the direct line of the person back to the original ancestor, and includes generation numbers. As I found each ancestor in the book and read their stories, I took notes.
Then I started brainstorming how to get kids interested in the book. I looked for pictures of the ancestors, but couldn’t find any. I settled on making a storybook – but I still didn’t know how I would add illustrations.
I searched for solutions until I finally found StoryBoardThat.com. As I’ve shared before in my post about making an illustrated storybook of ancestors, I created characters and backgrounds using the StoryBoard That web interface. Then I started putting together all the interesting facts and tidbits I had noted about the ancestors from the green book.
Using the same format as some of the family history themed children’s books I’ve read, I featured one couple per page for the first few generations. Then once I got further back, I gave each ancestor their own page.
As if the illustration were a photo, I added a little box on the picture showing when and where the “photo” was taken. The facing page shares tidbits from the person’s life and historical context for the time period. The end of each page introduces the next person by saying, “Sam’s mother’s name was…” or “Her husband’s name was…”
I printed the book with Shutterfly. (This is an affiliate link. If you click the link and make a purchase, we receive a small commission but it doesn’t change the price of the item).
I chose the 8×8 book option. It was simple to add the images and text I had already prepared into the classy “family memories” theme.
Gina read the book to her kids and they approved! Her 2nd grader wanted to take it to school to show his friends and teacher. Gina’s relatives wanted to order a more copies of the book. Shutterfly allows you to share your books with friends and family via email so they can easily order as many copies as they want.
The other day, I gave the ancestor storybook to my 2 1/2 year old to see what she would do with it. She happily flipped through the book looking at all the pictures. According to this test, colorfully illustrated books are definitely “kid-friendly!”
I tried giving her the green book, but she gave it back and said, “too big.” I think we’ve all felt that way about family history books at one time or another, despite the real treasure they are.
An enormous amount of work and dedication go into compiling large family histories. We should be sharing the valuable information in them often. What good are they to us up on the shelf?
If cracking the big family history book isn’t happening in your family right now, make a kid-friendly version! Your family will love it.
For ideas or help, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.