Five Minute Family History

Save the stories! Become a story-catcher during your coffee break!

Welcome!  I'm glad you found me. I hope we can have fun here and do something really important, too. Doing family history isn’t only about visiting graveyards and documenting all the begats of dead ancestors, it’s also capturing living memory and creating a story your descendants will be eager to read.   So set aside a few short minutes–with morning coffee, at lunchtime or before bed–and write, type or speak fast!

 Click HERE and let's get started

Some of my favorite supplies

Some of my favorite supplies


Everyone has favorite tools for a given task.  I thought I’d share some of my favs for my Five Minute Family History Project.  It’s made a big difference to have them all gathered up into a box (and if you’ve got a pretty box, or well-loved old suitcase or some other receptacle you like, all the better).

·      In my box I have:

·      Some of my favorite pens and pencils

·      A hole punch and light-weight three-hold punch

·      Scissors

·      A magnifying glass

·      Labels

·      A Package of Page Flags

·      A 3-ring Binder

·      Envelopes and postcards so they’re handy to save a photo to send to relatives (or to make up a SASE to send to relatives to REQUEST a photo.  Postcards for asking questions of older relatives who don’t email.

·      Poly Sleeve protectors (archival)

·      Card Stock Paper

·      Several legal pads

·      A small slide cutter

·      A deckle edged ruler (one of my favorites.  I like the look and it’s quicker to tear pages along the deckle edge than to cut them.)

·      A thumb drive, jump drive, stick drive—whatever you’d like to call it.

·      A moleskin notebook (any notes I take in this I eventually snap with my cell phone so I’ll have a digital copy)

·      A scanner (which, of course, doesn’t fit in the box but I keep it handy)

·      My iPhone (this has become a tremendously helpful tool).  I use the camera a LOT. It ‘s quick and it does a decent job of copying photographs, not archival quality, but worth having..  And the recorder is handy for impromptu interviews.

·      My laptop.  Of course you can do all this on the computer if that’s your choice. Eventually everything I do winds up on my computer, but working by hand is satisfying in its own way.

Step 2:

 Set up a page(in your 3-ring-binder, or a spiral notebook or somewhere you’ll be able to find it easily) for your on-going list of prompts, reminders, questions and to-do tasks.  This will help you make the most of every minute you can snatch each day to work on family history. 

Now let's go! Here are a few prompts from the prompt page on FIVE MINUTE FAMILY HISTORY to get you started. 



We are born of two parents, who were each born of two parents; rinse and repeat. This doubling each generation explains how “doing” family history quickly gets out of hand and becomes a tangled ball of factoids, unidentified photos and confused names.

So for today, let's focus on capturing the living memory of one relative or ancestor.   

Write free style or fill in



We all live among things.  Some of those things become imbued with special meaning.  They’re associated with people or events, they engender curiosity, sentimentality or can even become talismans of sorts.  This is why a family will sometimes be in perfect harmony about splitting stocks and bonds, but fall into a squabble over a chipped cookie jar.

One of the family artifacts my children fixated on was a card shuffler, an item that came down from my husband’s grandparents.  They loved feeding the cards through it and watching it shuffle.  This provided an opportunity for hubby to share something about their great-grandmother who played bridge with her friends every week and to tell them what that activity (and those friends) had meant to her life.

So for today’s assignment, pick an artifact (either one that has come down to you from your family or one that you’ve procured in HOPES of making it a family heirloom for future generations).  Write everything you know about that object:  what it is, how it came into the family, what it was used for, any memories of events or routines that involved the object, if it has monetarily value, etc.  Write for 5 or 10 minutes.



If you search your family history long enough, sooner or later you'll turn up a black sheep.  Who is your most rascally, rebellious or notorious ancestor?  What did he/she do to earn that reputation?   

On a more serious note, sometimes you turn up an ancestor who has acted in way that brings shame on the family.  I'm all for full disclosure myself, but when I discover something that makes me cringe I add a personal note to say how I feel about it.  

How will you handle this issue when it comes to documenting your family for generations to come?