Meeting an ancestor through a biographical sketch

Ways to learn about our ancestors

Creating a biography

In the following article, Susan creates a biographical sketch of Mary Smith Phelps, her husband’s grandmother. Mary was someone that neither Susan nor her husband ever met. Incidentally, Mary was sister to my great, great grandfather Alfred Josiah Smith and aunt to our malevolent matriarch.

By piecing together what we do have, we are able to learn about someone’s character, as Susan writes. Smith Mary Elizabeth_sis of Alfred Josiah Smith_shared by fetzdon

Note how Susan learns about Mary through wedding announcements, photos, and her obit, for example, and how she used these to discover various aspects (stamina, love, principles and faith, her love of being a mother) that define Mary’s character. (Photo credit right, Donna Fetzer.)

Similar to but different than a timeline, a biographical sketch brings depth to and helps create a story about an ancestor that perhaps, before it was created, we knew little about.

This may, in fact, be a bit easier to create than a timeline which is heavily date, event, location, source, and facts-and-figures oriented.

If you’ve created an interpretive, biographical sketch of an ancestor that would be a great example to share, please let me know.


  1. Thanks for commenting, Zandra. Nice to have you here on the blog. I wish any of us had gotten a chance to meet Mary. I know lots of facts about her, but I bet she was a wonderful person. You might enjoy the “Tangled Web” article, too. It has a lovely picture of Metta, Mary’s daughter, your grandmother.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan, this in enlightening biographical sketch. Mary was my great grandmother. She must have been a good communicator. I know she was a good mother because her children became loving, dedicated people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Zandra, Thanks for chiming in. I’m seeing Susan in two days and will let her know you’ve been here. I agree; she did a great job with Mary’s biographical sketch. Did you see my post about the Smith autograph book? More very soon on that one.


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