You are receiving this because your address is subscribed at:
Proformat News
No: 54
August 2010
August Seminars
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

September Seminars
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.

Writing down your family history
I 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?

In this issue:
August seminars
September seminars

Feature article
Writing down your family history


Adelaide Proformat
5 Windana Mews
Glandore SA 5037

Tel: +61 8 8371 4465
Fax: +61 8 8374 4479

Breaking news @Twitter:


Drafting charts
Locating documents
Seminar presentations
Writing & publishing
SA lookup service
Ship paintings

Adelaide Proformat uses
The Genealogist - for UK census, BMD indexes and more online simply because it contains quality data checked by experts.

Proformat News acknowledges the support by awe AWE

How 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 your research.

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 of writing.

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 credibility.

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.
To unsubscribe send a blank email via the following link using the same address you subscribed to: