Designing a Family Narrative

All through my childhood my parents would take me and my siblings on a two-and-a-half-hour trek to Ogdensburg, NY to visit our relatives. On those visits, without an agenda, it was common for my extended family to tell stories of local events, people, and places. Unknowingly these stories where linking me to my ancestors and helping me create a narrative about my family and my place in the world.

It was no surprise to me when I found out a few years ago that children with a strong understanding of their family history are also more likely to have a healthy self-esteem. Now with two kids of my own and living on the opposite side of the country from where any of my family history took place, and far from any of the people that can speak of the past, it’s important to devote time to unearthing my family narrative with my children.

Seattle is chock-full of transplants, such as myself, living thousands of miles from their extended family and hometowns. Transplants walk a fine line of calling Seattle home for the sake of their children while also giving their children a connection to the places they come from. The family narrative can be the balancing act of both worlds.

The person I have enlisted to coach me in writing my family narrative is Seattle resident, Jill Morelli, CG. Jill is a retired architect and a Certified Genealogist. As a genealogist Jill works with clients, writes articles, and lectures across the country. Through researching her own family history, she has learned processes that help her clients and other genealogists. Jill has also become a local expert on Scandinavian research and can help her local clients research their house history.

Jill likes to look at that the macro history happening in the nation and connect its affects to the decision-making of the family at a micro level. When researching the family, Jill avoids focusing on the ancestor of interest and instead looks at the entire family structure. Her goal is to use documentation to bridge the family knowledge that is missing. In recent years, DNA has become a popular tool for all genealogists, and it’s critical for the identification for the adopted or disassociated members of the family tree. Jill is currently studying DNA in order to solve a problem of an illegitimate birth on her husband’s side of the family.

While the casual genealogist finds much of their information on internet resources like,, and, Jill utilizes a larger body of resources when helping clients. Jill identifies a manageable goal, which focuses both her and her clients. These bite-sized goals prevent distractions that Jill calls bright shiny objects. She also knows that most information of genealogical importance is not available online, requiring her to visit or contact local libraries, courthouses and archives. Focusing on a location over a name is a successful strategy when initiating research.

With the help of a professional or not, the family that reminiscences together, stays together. For me, Jill Morelli is a resource. She went from designing buildings to designing family narratives. With her help, you can craft a family narrative and give your children the pieces they need to build their own metaphorical foundation.