1: Coming to grips with FamilySearch WEA
Centre Adelaide 10:00 to 1:00pm
13: Organising, recording and preserving your
family history Payneham Library 9:30 to 12:30pm
14: Accessing the secondary research stream
State Library for the Flinders University 9:00am to 4:00pm
15: Family History on the Web WEA Centre
Adelaide 10:00 to 1:00pm
22: Cops, crooks and victims 1840s style
West Torrens Public Library 1:30 to 3:00pm
28: Interpreting the record State Library
for the Flinders University 9:00am to 4:00pm
11: Climbing the genealogy barriers State
Library for the Flinders University 9:00am to 4:00pm
See the seminar program
for more details and bookings.
down your family history
continue to be amazed at the number of people who, without any skill,
experience or concepts of what is involved, start out to write a family
history with a view to getting it published as a book. Now writing
down your family history as a set of personal memoirs is one thing,
but turning that into a book is quite another. If you are planning
to write with a view to preparing a book, there are a few things to
consider before you even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Firstly you need to consider the type of book you want and the potential
audience. Is it a book to be shared amongst the family or a work of
academic standard designed to be a reference for other genealogists?
Likely as not, it will fall somewhere between these extremes—somewhere
between a stapled photocopied set of A4 sheets passed around to interested
family members and a full-scale hard bound reference tome. Have you
considered other forms such a book may take? The proposed book could
easily be a collection of stories and personal experiences—memoirs
contributed by family in their own words. The book could be a narrative
generally embracing a group of ancestors. I have seen very successfully
produced scrapbooks and albums which are one-off productions passed
around families. I have come across cookbooks where the recipes accompany
the story of the family contributor. Even if the vast majority of
family histories are narratives with photographs and charts, the options
are wide and all are valid choices if they suit you. Have you thought
of publishing an ebook?
down your family history
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are people to be included in your story? Are you going to start with
a distant ancestor and work towards the present day restricting yourself
to a surname or indeed do the reverse and start with today and work
back. Rather than a single line of descent, perhaps you aim much higher
and plan to follow all the descendants of a person in the past—a
much more difficult task. A little easier is tracing all the ancestors
of a particular person. Some people pursue a one-name study whereby
they look at all the people in a region who share the same surname
regardless of their relationship.
Consider a differing way of starting your story by determining what
is the most interesting part of your family's story? Perhaps your
ancestors left a life of poverty or persecution for a better one in
a new country? Make this the starting point of your narrative. Just
like the fiction books you read for pleasure, a family history book
does not need to begin at the beginning. An interesting opening will
grab the reader's attention, and with good writing will draw them
past the first page.
Having made these basic decisions you now have to determine the theme
and the plot.This is one good way to avoid churning out yet another
bland family history. Too many histories lack interest, even to the
family, because they are simply uninteresting! They are uninteresting
because they often relate a succession of people with uninteresting
lives. Often to maintain goodwill, any controversy is omitted and
this adds to the dull stories, but importantly, the author has not
considered a theme for the book and thought about a plot! Look at
your family's lifestyle then and now and you may come up with a theme
along the lines of rags to riches or perhaps, how the
mighty have fallen, and so forth.
Once you commence writing keep the theme in your mind and make sure
it is always present. Write like a writer of fiction writes and not
like a chemistry professor writing a textbook.The writing needs to
appeal to the reader's imagination and drag them into the story so
they become an eyewitness.
I suspect you may now be thinking that your ancestors did indeed live
bland lives—they did not, what is more likely is that they left
nothing for you to hang your story on and so you have to get busy
and find the stories. No one leads a life in isolation unless they
are a professional hermit. Put your ancestors in their historical
context. Read town and city histories to learn what life was like
during your time period of interest. Research timelines of wars, natural
disasters and epidemics to see if any might have influenced your ancestor.
Scan the news columns of the local newspapers of the day and extract
reports of all the events that may have impacted on your family's
communities. Investigate your ancestor's occupation to gain greater
understanding into their daily activities. Read up on the fashions,
art, transportation and common foods of the time period and location.
Anyone who reads your family history will probably be interested in
the facts, but research reveals that what readers enjoy and remember
are the everyday details. It is the stories or anecdotes featuring
the embarrassing moments and family traditions that people relate
to and unfortunately it is often these very aspects of our history
that many people omit in case someone is offended. The result is a
bland uninteresting, unrealistic chronology, when a simple and careful
crafting of some of the more controversial happenings in the past
will bring a family to life for the reader. Often humour can be used
in such cases to very good effect. Consider including varying accounts
of the same event from parties. Personal stories will keep your reader
interested and if your ancestors left no personal accounts, just tell
their story as if they had, using what you've learned about them from
Develop a timeline for each of your main characters and make sure
you have material for each phase of their life—childhood, adolescence,
young adulthood, mature adulthood, and the years of retirement. Make
sure you have covered all the major events in a person's life, like
birth, marriage, death and so on. Seek out photographs of people and
places. Consider including maps and plans. But whatever you write
avoid including material that is not obviously part of your family.
Many a family history is ruined by the regurgitation of history. Every
second family history you pick up in Australia will mention, not the
voyage their immigrant ancestors endured, but a general story about
immigration to Australia—avoid this. I am forever reading about
coats of arms associated with family surnames when there is not a
shred of evidence that the family involved was ever granted the particular
coat of arms—avoid this.
Diaries, Wills, newspapers, military accounts, obituaries and other
records offer first-hand accounts of your family's history. Anything
written directly by your ancestor is definitely worth including, but
you may also find interesting accounts that mention your ancestor
in the records of the media, neighbors and other family members. Include
short excerpts within the text of your writing, with source citations
to point readers to the original record. Photos, pedigree charts,
maps and other illustrations can also add interest to a family history
and help break up the writing into manageable chunks for the reader.
Make sure to include detailed captions for any photos or illustrations
that you incorporate.
You should ensure that the writing remains consistent throughout the
book. There are standards for writers in a book called Style Manual:
For authors, editors and printers, 6th Ed that outlines how writers
should present their work according to the current acceptable standards
An index is an essential feature of a family history publication.
The index should always include the names of the people and places
within the book. Consider how to index married women so that they
can be located via their married and maiden names.
Source citations are an essential part of any family book, to both
provide credibility to your research, and to leave a trail that others
can follow to verify your findings. Books that fail to do this and
the failure is common on the Internet means that the stories lack
Once you have all these considerations out of the way, you need to
determine how you are physically going to produce the proposed book.
Clearly you are going to use a computer as few of us can afford to
employ a typist to type out our long hand and in any case few typists
will have an understanding of the software and special requirements
of laying out books. MS Word is simply inadequate for producing
a book and you will need to consider a publishing software package.
Graham Jaunay has edited and published 41 books including
27 he has written himself and is currently researching and writing
on behalf of a client, A proud heritage, which is the story
of the Foords from Caldicot in Monmouthshire and the main South Australian
families associated with them.
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