What kind of soldier and person was your Civil War ancestor? Portrait of a Confederate soldier. Library of Congress of photo, LC-B8184-10693 DLC.

If you are like me, you probably want to know and write more about your Civil War ancestors than names, dates and which battles they fought in.

What makes our ancestors interesting are the problems and conflicts they faced and how they overcame them. During the Civil War our ancestors faced many obstacles, mainly how to stay alive, almost on a daily basis.

Did they face their obstacles with courage and skill? Did they become afraid and runaway? Or did they respond in some other way? Those are the stories we want to tell and leave to our children and children’s children.

But how do you get started? How do you tell their story? Does your mind go blank when you start to write?

Everyone has his or her own way of writing. Some people like to make formal outlines just as they learned to do in high school or college. They start main topics with Roman numerals, subtopics with capital letters, then levels below that with Arabic numbers, lowercase letters and so on.

I don’t find that this kind of outlining helps me. I like to just jump in and start writing. I find that it helps to just let my thoughts flow as I type. In the time it would take me to write an outline, I can write and revise several paragraphs.

One of the great advantages of writing on a computer over writing by hand or on a typewriter is that you don’t have to start at the beginning. Start in the middle of your story or even at the end if you want to. You can move sentences, paragraphs or blocks of paragraphs around as you like.

If you have trouble starting, try a method used by fiction writers. Make a character profile. You can find many different character profiles on the Internet. Here is one from Sleeping Cat Books to get you started.

Remember that you are writing a factual account and not a fictional one. So don’t make things up. You can use the profile to speculate on things about your ancestor that you can’t know or find out. But make it clear that you are speculating from the evidence you have gathered and what you do know.

If you are still having trouble getting started, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab has some great tips on the Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block.

The important thing is to get started. If you write just one page a day, in a year you will have written 365 pages!