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    Bill H
    Writing your Family History
    Question posted November 3, 2013 by Bill HLevel 7, tagged Citations/Sources, Family Tree Maker, Member Trees, Publish/Reports/Charts, Sharing 
    1874 Views, 21 Comments
    Title:
    Writing your Family History
    Summary:
    Do you have tips and techniques or questions on compiling and publishing a family history
    Content:

    I have compiled and published one family history, as well as the transcript of an ancestor's diary and a collection of papers regarding one of my paternal 2nd gr-grandfathers.  I am currently continuing the in-depth research to compile a history on my maternal line. I belong to a Publishing "Special Interest Group" within the local genealogical society. But I'm always looking to share with others. It can be a daunting task for most people because of the rules of style and method of citing sources, but I find it a very rewarding pursuit.

    In the past I have used 2 books on the subject as my primary references... Producing a Quality Family History by Patricia Law Hatcher. and You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.

    For the one I've compiled and published I pulled all the data from my research in "manually" and created my own style and format. I know some people base theirs on a Descendants or Ancestors Report and use the numbering system from it, whether strict register or a variation. The new Story View here provides for a narrative but for only one person at a time, but the reports in MyCanvas and FTM, as well as other software give a pseudo-narrative for an entire line, giving added impetus to compiling a narrative history.

    I'd like to see others who are in the process of writing and or publishing their own family history share their experiences, tips, advice and questions.

    [Provided this is an acceptable topic for the Community]

    Bill

    Comments Are Closed

     

    • Bill H

      I am surprised that there seems to be no one here interested in sharing their experiences and hints for writing their family history?  

      We find a lot of people, while avid at research, are intimidated by writing... apparently fearful what they have is not complete enough or that they are not comfortable writing. Yet, we all realize that a family tree is never "complete". 

      I have found from my involvement in a publishing group that what you write does not need to be fanciful or fit for a big publisher. What it really needs is to be written so as to not be forgotten to future generations. It is a shame to keep all our hard work hidden "under a basket".  The motto of our group is "Preserve, Print Publish".  The "Preserve" is mostly accomplished by our computerized family trees, IF we make sure someone that cares, knows about it and has access when the time comes that we no longer can. The "Print" can be one family at a time on your own printer... no need for fanciness. And finally, "Publish" can be as simple as putting your printouts into a loose leaf, 3-hole binder to be set on a shelf in your home. 

      Most of us wish that our ancestors had written and left such as their legacy so we wouldn't have to dig so hard and still wonder!

      So... why don't we write and "publish" more?

      Bill

    • Michelle Murray

      I don't know that I'll ever publish a detailed annotated document, but one thing that I am doing is writing a blog about what I've found, what I'm looking for, etc.  It's less formal and an easy way to share what I'm learning with my family.  It also helps to organize my searches.  Most of my posts are either about answering a question or identifying a new question.  Often, they're a little bit of both since every answered question seems to open the door to four unanswered ones! smiley

      I do save my blog entries on my computer in a Word document so I can print them out and perhaps bind them together at a later date or use them to work up some kind of narrative somewhere down the line.

      • Bill H

        Perhaps blogging would help me.  I tend not to document my search efforts as well as could be done. Some of it is probably as useful and interesting as the results.

        • Michelle Murray

          I find it quite useful if only as a release of some of those "woo hoo!" moments.  I know that sometimes talking to my relatives about what I've found doesn't generate quite the same excitement I've found when uncovering something new.  Oh sure, they're interested, but they didn't experience the direct thrill of uncovering something previously unknown, so their enthusiasm is decidedly less than mine.  I have no idea if anyone other than my mother reads my blog, but I can at least put into words some of the thrills I've had finding new information.  I'm going to have to work up a new entry this week as I had a "woo hoo!" moment this weekend when I discovered a marriage notice for my great great grandparents. (Woo hoo!) Hopefully none of my neighbors could see in the window next to my computer as I raised my arms and yelled "YES!" smiley

      • Richard Stoneking

        Hi Michelle,

        Thank you for your input. I am doing my overall ancestry as far as I can go back for my maternal and paternal sides and three generations on each offshoot siblings of my home member and their Ancestors. It is a daunting task to be sure. I want to publish it and that will be way down the road. 

        But you gave me an idea when you said you were doing a blog. A blog could be the best way to write write the book in little pieces as I go. I am wanting to become a certified Genealogist so I am trying to do this right. I would welcome any suggestions you or anyone else have on how best to proceed.

        At this point I will have to improve a lot just to be called an amateur. But investigations are not new to me. I used to be a Federal Agent at a time before CSI came along and we had to do our own crime scene processing and descriptive analysis about evidence and tie everything together into a written narrative for the final report. But doing a written genealogy seems a daunting task. The mechanics are different but the broad strokes are about the same.

        I appreciate this communities willingness to share.

        Sadly, I need to do a new post to ask a sensitive question about sharing. Look for it if you want. 

         

        God Bless All

        Rick

         

         

        • Bill H

          Rick,

          There is lots of leeway for personal preference in writing your family history. Yes, there are the standards that we should strive to meet. I may dust off and actually read the BCG Standards Manual from cover to cover before writing my next book.  blush  I do not own any of Elizabeth Shown Mills tomes on documenting sources but I do look up samples as I go. As mentioned in my first post, I have Producing a Quality Family History by Patricia Law Hatcher. and You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack as guides for all aspects of writing a family history.

          I believe it used to be said to "finish" your research before beginning to write, but that seems to have been set aside. First, we are almost never "finished", but must draw a line in the sand at some point. In recent reading I have found suggestion that it is truly better to write while still researching. The thought is that writing makes you acutely aware of what you know or don't know, and have well documented or not. Also, with word processors it is far easier than it used to be to add to and edit what is already written.

          I began writing my first as I researched. It was 14 years later before I published. I drew my line in the sand a year prior. Knowing I was close to where I wanted to be, but still having some loose ends to tie up, I took a 26 day, 7700 mile road trip from California to the primary homeland in Illinois and Indiana. I had multiple research stops along the way in both directions of my circular route. You may appreciate that I had a couple of family "mysteries" that I wanted to solve... and did! Even after that productive trip I spent another year writing and a few follow-ups.

          Good luck on your endeavor to become a Certified Genealogist. If I were 20 years younger and other financial means I might pursue it. Ten years ago I took the National Genealogical Society's correspondence course which was very useful.

          Bill

        • Michelle Murray

          Hi Rick --

          Bill has some good suggestions for a more formal writing process.  As for blogging, it's something I'm more comfortable with at this stage as it's more about documenting my process than documenting facts.  If you're thinking of starting a blog, first you need to identify who you are writing it for.  I learned from the way my uncle had communicated with the family while researching the maternal line of my family. Emails filled with facts and information were interesting, but tended to get way too dense.  Once he started a blog, the stories became more narrative in style.

          When I started my research two years ago, I wanted an easy way to let my family know what I had found without blasting emails to everyone since their level of interest varied.  I started up the blog and sent the link out to the family and let them know that I would be documenting my process and if they wanted to see what I was up to, they could check it out at their leisure. I was more consistent with my entries last year (averaged about 2 per month) than this year (only 7 entries since January) but I hope to get back on track as I do more researching in the coming months than I have over the course of this year.

          Because my current target audience is my immediate family (and by this I'm including my father's siblings and my first cousins with whom I am quite close) and a few extended family members I know are also working on the family tree, I write as if I'm writing a letter to them or as if I'm keeping a diary.  I do keep in mind that as I go along in this process I will eventually (hopefully) connect with far flung relatives who might be interested in what I've found so try not to be too casual with my references.  I do refer to people I knew (e.g. my grandparents) by the names I called them by, but I try to make sure I include some mention of their proper name.  So when I reference Nana, I try to also say Elizabeth Coleman somewhere in the post.  The blog is entirely in a first person point of view since I am writing about my experience.

          One other thing I do is avoid mentioning living people by name. Similar to Ancestry keeping living people's info private, anyone other than myself who is mentioned by name is an alias I devised to make the narrative clear rather than saying things like "cousin A sent me some pictures as did cousin B which I gave to cousin C to duplicate."  Also any photos are of people who are no longer living or of buildings, tombstones, etc. I do need to go back and fix a couple photo captions that I excerpted from some of the documentation I found here at Ancestry, but the majority of the photos are ones I took myself.

          If you'd like to take a look at my blog, send me a private message and I'll send you a link (while my blog is searchable, I'm not quite ready to post it in a public forum like this.)

          Michelle

    • Terry Reigel

      I guess one would say I'm more of a family history buff than a true genealogist - I get quickly bored with just names and dates and move on to family members about whom I can learn more details. As a result when I publish my work I do it in narrative form, and strive to make the text beyond the basic birth / marriage / death / burial details at least somewhat readable. In fact, if I don't have something beyond that basic info I don't publish it.

      So far my publishing has been on my website. Because of my interest in "readable" narratives I use a genealogy program that that produces true narrative text, and allows me to customize the output as needed for each person to produce the best output for the information I have on that person. I am also concerned about my citations, and require that my genealogy program to produce citations to my standards. As as result, the information on individual people on my website is produced directly from my genealogy program. Only the introductory pages are hand-crafted. The ability to create useable output directly from my database makes updates simple.

      But it's clear that online publishing is not yet anything like permanent, so I'm now in the beginning stages of gathering some of this information into a book. I'm finding that while I can get the basics of what I want from my genealogy program, it will take a lot of hand editing to get what I have in mind. The link-based presentation of a website that lets you easily include collaterals and even people who aren't related, but that's much more difficult on a two-dimensional paper. More thoughtful organization than a standard journal presentation will clearly be required. Citations will also have to be thinned out otherwise they will take over a third of the book.

      But my biggest obstacle is clearly to stop chasing down cousins, record the data I have already found, and start editing. Progress has been slow, at best. sad

    • Bill H

      Terry,

      I’m not sure the terms were intended to define the person as regards to being a “true genealogist”, but rather to what is published… a genealogy or a family history. My personal interpretation of a “true genealogist” is one who cares to dig for the truth, to verify it, and to provide their proof.

      I fully agree with you about desiring to write a narrative rather than a mere list of names and dates.  I tried to achieve a level of interest with my first narrative family history book and know what a task it is. (I did that one manually with MS Word.) That being said, I believe this goal is a big reason that keeps so many good genealogists from ever publishing what would be useful to family and other researchers. Most people are intimidated by writing and the structure and style that go with it. Too often our work will go by the wayside after we are gone… and that is a huge waste!  How many times would I have been satisfied to find a long list of only names and dates for my ancestral families?!

      This exchange has made me think more about how we preserve the results of our efforts. Too often our work will go by the wayside after we are gone… and that is a huge waste!  While I will continue working on a narrative history for other of my lines, I am considering publishing a less sophisticated and slightly less voluminous computer generated genealogy as you discuss, but without extensive, laborious, follow-up hand editing to make it more narrative. I will of course proofread it and make any changes required for accuracy and understanding. It would also need a brief introduction, citations and a full name index. Accuracy, proof and preservation are ultimately more important than interesting reading.

      This is a topic I intend to bring up for discussion at the next meeting of our local society's Publishers Special Interest Group.

      Bill

      • Terry Reigel

        Bill,

        I was thinking of the term "genealogist" as related to its root "gene" and thus the identification of those genetically related; in other words pursuit of just names and dates. But your definition is at least equally sound.

        I share your concern for preservation of one's work - that's what's driving my interest in publishing in a permanent medium. And I totally agree about the need for accuracy and proof. That's why my current draft has 213 pages of text and 234 pages of citations, despite the fact that the citations are in 9 pt font while the text is in 11 pt.

        On the other hand I think there is room for debate about the importance of interesting reading. In the end, what's the point of a well-documented genealogy if no one will read it? It may be of use to others like us who suffer from the obsession of genealogy, but to me to be useful family history needs to be of interest to family members, not just those of us with a compulsive hobby.

        Actually my current thinking is I'd like to produce two books on this family. I've found that covering the scope of the family I've researched, with the depth of information I've found on some of the more interesting members, would require something in the neighborhood of 1000 pages. So I'm thinking of doing a fairly traditional genealogy with just basic information on the whole family, and separately a narrative history of just those I've found interesting information about. It's the draft of the latter that I mention above that runs over 450 pages while still incomplete. You can catch an idea of the content of this from my website.

        Terry

    • Bill H

      As I noted, I too still prefer to write a narrative that is an interesting read with stories about what people did, as long as I can find them. When I published mine (of 420 pages) I heard from a distant cousin that she wouldn't buy it if it was just a list.  So she waited until a closer cousin of hers got one before deciding to get one for herself.

      Your approach of two publications is pretty much what I am considering... print a genealogy and then compile a narrative family history. 

      I realize that MyCanvas exists for making money as a printing service, but it would be nice if Ancestry would allow us to create a PDF of the full tree and reports as FTM does so we can take it and do as we please with editing and printing them. Another reason I have FTM.

      So, to all you reading along, I suggest you go for what suits your goals... just don't let all your hard work be lost for want of being somewhere tangible other than a tree on Ancestry or in your computer. Use the automated tools that are available to get started. We usually hope that someone else will pick it up and run with it, but that doesn't always happen, especially if the information, including citations, photos, and documents, are not neatly in one place.

      Citations is the topic for yet another post or 2 or 3!  frown

    • Bill H

      Using FTM to generate a printable/publishable genealogy...

      I've been experimenting with the Book feature under Publish in FTM 2014. It provides an approach to compiling the elements of a genealogy with little of the writing effort. While it wasn't as intuitive as it could be to get started, I was eventually able to navigate the options after a few tries and reading several of the Help items.

       

      The Book feature allows you to combine into book format and output onto PDF the following:

      1. A Title page (Word processing like page which is editable and to which more pages can be added to include other front matter such as Copyright, Preface, Introduction, etc.)

      2. The main body (in my case a Descendants Report)

      3. The Sources (which were generated as part of the Descendants Report)

      4. An Index (all names, generated independently based on the Descendants Report)

      5. Place holder ()

      6. A Table of Contents (not as useful as it could be since it does not list the Generation changes in the report; If desired a TOC could be manually created like a Preface, etc.)

       

      After a cursory look I was feeling this could be a viable way to generate a book-like genealogy with the necessary elements. However, there is a serious drawback that for me will keep me from using it for such UNLESS someone with more experience with it can show me a way around the issue. That issue is the size of the Source Citations. We all know they are needed to prove our research, but in my humble opinion the creators of Ancestry and FTM have gone overboard. As a simple short example, I reated a 2-generation Descendants Report which resulted in 55 pages of family genealogy. Then I regenerated the report to include Sources. The resulting report ballooned to 537 pages!  The math is pretty easy... 482 pages of cited Sources.

       

      Looking at a sample Source entry for a census record (exactly as generated for print) it is clear to see why...

       

      Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Online publication - Provo, UT, USA:

      Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. .Original data - United States of America, Bureau of the

      Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and

      Records Administration, 1900. T623,), Ancestry.com, http://www.Ancestry.com, Year: 1900;

      Census Place: Lexington, McLean, Illinois; Roll: T623_322; Page: 6A; Enumeration District:

      110. Birth date: Oct 1879

      Birth place: Illinois

      Marriage date: 1898

      Marriage place:

      Residence date: 1900

      Residence place: Lexington, McLean, Illinois.

      http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1900usfedcen&h=12298741&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt

       

      I would have considered making the effort to edit out the extraneous, sometimes duplicated verbiage but unfortunately FTM does not offer the option... that I could find. Nor can it be output as a Word document.  So I will continue to prepare my family history manually while I look at other options.

       

      Bill

      • Terry Reigel

        Bill,

        I'm afraid I can't help with FTM - I've not used it for nearly 15 years. It seems to me that if one hopes to publish a book based on the output of one's genealogy program a number of features are required, among them the ability to control the format of citations, and the ability to output to a work processor so the work can be edited and re-formatted as desired. I've attached a screen grab of a portion of the citations of my draft book.

        The notes in the attached are directly out of my genealogy program, but I've formatted them in my word processor into two columns, and reduced the font size. I can also edit the text of the notes if I like, and since they are recognized as endnotes by the word processor, if I edit the body to remove or rearrange the text the notes adjust accordingly. Seems to me this is essential if you intend to produce anything more than a basic genealogy report.

        Terry

         

        Capture.JPG (224KB)
        • Bill H

          Terry,

          Thanks for your sample. Yes, any genealogy reporting program needs to allow its output to be edited. Besides the fact that the out put of FTM is absurdly verbose, we need the capability to insert additional citations. I'm not sure what they were thinking unless they just don't like Word.  It would be possible to edit their PDF format but that means buying another software product. I even experimented with their Rich text RTF output, but the use of boxes and/or tables to contain text make it a nightmare to edit... at least within Word.

          I did the citations for my previous book using the Endnote feature of Word. It does a good management job but I had to create each one manually, of course.

          Bill

          PS: I found this a few days ago about an on-line presentations regarding writing a family history. I still haven't signed up but may yet.  http://hackgenealogy.com/genealogy-writing-boot-camp-23-november-2013/

          • Richard Stoneking

            Hi Terry,

            Quick comment. You can get an open source copy of PDF as well as Open Office that has all microsoft office programs, They work just like the original versions and can be imported into each other. I had both on my last computer before it got ruined by hackers. And that wasn't due to the programs. It was chinese and N. Korean Intelligence services

            Rick

    • Terry Reigel

      Bill,

      You have raised issues around the production of a family history book, but I've also given some thought, as yet unresolved, to two other aspects that seem to me to be related: physical form and distribution.

      Other than giving copies to my children, siblings and first cousins, who is my target? I'm thinking I want to donate copies to the FHL and some other major genealogical libraries, local libraries and historical societies in the areas where the people mentioned in the book lived. Then I would want to offer it to the extended cousins who I've corresponded with and to those on the surname lists. I'd probably list it on Amazon.com since I have a seller account there, but I doubt I'd get many takers.

      Related to that is the physical form, which drives costs. I'd really like to do it in hardback, both because I just want to, and because that makes it a more significant gift to close family. I know at least some libraries accept paperbacks, but hardbacks hold up much better in library use. Preliminary discussions with my publisher suggest my book in hardback would run $45 or more to print. I wonder how many of my correspondents are in a position to spend that much for a copy. I'm wondering if I do it in hardback will I end up selling copies below cost?

      I'd welcome any thoughts on these issues.

      Terry

      • Bill H

        These topics get discussed in our publishing group as new participants come. Expected distribution is pretty much as you describe... immediate family, nieces and nephews, and closer cousins. During my research on a paternal gr-gr-grandfather's descendants I had met and contacted a number of cousins out to 4th and 5th which expanded my potential. I gave a freebie each to my only surviving brother and sister and to my 2 children. I likewise donated one to the genealocical/historical society where my gr-gr-grandfather lived and his 6 children grew up. I considered the FHL but as I understand it they now want a digital copy within certain parameters which I didn't feel like dealing with at the time (3 years ago). I took non-committed pre-orders prior to printing. In the end I distributed some 30 books.

        Within our group members have done a variety of bindings: looseleaf, spiral, comb, hard (glued and sewn). Some people like to do shorter, single family photo books with some narrative. Shutterfly and Costco are popular for those.

        My book was 420 pages (210 sheets) including Index and citations. I self published, having the printing and hard binding done at Staples. It was at the maximum thickness on 24# paper for their deepest binding.  With some discounts, the first printing of 25 books cost about $35 each. On a smaller run of 15 the second printing cost more like $40 each. I asked $50 per book to cover packaging and shipping.

        I provided one other option. I created DVDs with a graphic label using a special DVD writer and software. I offered this as a data disk containing the PDF of the book and more photos and record images that were not in the book. We already had the hardware and software for other projects so the cost for this was only the blank DVDs and shipping. These I priced at $10 with shipping. I think I distributed about an equal number of these as I did books, sometimes both to the same person/family.

        I have recently experimented with adapting that history to a multimedia "movie" on DVD using the iMovie and iDVD software on our iMac. It is a fun, but challenging project waiting for me to get back to it.

        Bill

    • Paul K. Graham

      Speaking to the distribution aspects of book printing, I have experience with both sewn hardcover binding and print-on-demand paperback binding. While it's nice to have some nice hardcover copies, I definitely have to give a thumbs up to print-on-demand. You can load your book into a service like Lulu or CreateSpace and make it available on Amazon.com and other online book sites. You don't have to pay up front to print copies, and you get revenue when people buy the book. I have books for sale this way and money trickles in over time. They are being bought mostly by people I would never have known to contact. It's also much easier to direct inquiries to a point of sale online, rather than collecting money and shipping the books yourself.

    • Bill H

      Michelle,

      I'd like to try your blogging technique but I've never been good at journaling. I usually last a week or two at best.  But it does trigger the thought of including in a family history, as an appendix, some of the more memorable research "Woo Hoo" moments. Because I love the thrill of the chase and discovery, I know that I would find other people's moments interesting reading. Perhaps they don't all need to be "Woo Hoo" level but just interesting experiences during the process.

      Bill

      • Michelle Murray

        Bill,

        Since you've been working on your research for a much longer time, I can see how a journal style might not work as well, especially if you want to share the years of your research. Something you might consider is writing about the results in a short form narrative (I try to keep my posts to 1,000 words or less when possible.) Pick a member of your tree and write about what you learned about their life, what life was like in the area your ancestor lived, or even just historical events that happened in and around the area your ancestors are from. My uncle recently visited the area in Germany where some of our ancestors were from. While he didn't discover much about our family, he did learn a lot about the history of the area, so his blog entries covered some of the history of that area of Germany. While it didn't cover much of our family history, it did give me a better idea about what was happening where they lived and why they might have decided to leave for America.  One of the things I hope for long term with my blog is that when someone runs a Google search on someone in their family tree, the names in my blog pop up as being possibilities.  Right now, it's probably a pretty big long shot, especially since I'm still figuring out how best to make names stand out. Somewhere down the line, though, who knows who might find it.

        Michelle

    • Bill H

      Michelle,

      I think what you describe for writing short narratives is what I had in mind to include in the planned book.  But I also have plenty of stories from the previous book's research to write as well and make available.

      The rest of what you talk about in your last post is something too often overlooked... that is to know and understand situations and places our ancestors were experiencing. Someone on here has said it well... "To be a good genealogist, you need to also be an historian".

      Bill