Recently a reader, Jim Saunders, posed a question in a comment on one of our blog posts titled Identifying People in Old Family Photographs. Jim said, “I have an old photo album dated from 1887. I don't know very many of the people in the photo album, but I know most of the pictures are family members. Is there a website out there where one could post a picture or two. This way viewers could comment on dating, identifying what type of occasion might have triggered the picture to be taken and and help identifying who might be in them.”
“The genealogical equivalent of “Eyewitness News” is the oral history. And since genealogy is history, what could be better than the oral rendition of an eyewitness?” asked Craig Manson in a post on his blog Geneablogie titled The Reliability of Oral Histories Considered. If you are writing about your past or your family’s past in a memoir or family history you have no doubt been advised to interview everyone who might be able to help recall details of bygone days. Use the tools of the oral historian.
“Just get it down on paper and then we’ll see what we can do with it,” advised the legendary editor Maxwell Perkins who edited Hemmingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins believed that the key to a quality book was revision. How could one disagree when one looks at the books his authors produced. Until you have a draft of your manuscript of your memoir or family history your book is nothing more than an idea and a pile of research. But when the draft is finished you have something with which you can sharpen the ideas and polish the prose until you have a quality book.
When you begin to think about writing a memoir or family history it’s best to do so from two perspectives. The first is, of course, your own perspective as the book’s author. But there’s another perspective to consider as well. Who will read your book?
How much research is enough? When we speak at family history conferences we talk to many people who say they would like to write a family book. But not right now. They need to do a little more research before they are ready. I thought about those dedicated researchers recently as I was rereading Practicing History, a collection of essays by historian Barbara Tuchman, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, one for The Guns of August, an account of the first month of World War I, and the second for Stillwell and the American Experience in China. Tuchman offered a great piece of advice on when to quit researching and begin writing.
A family history writer is something very different from a family history researcher even if they are embodied in the same person. A researcher ransacks the vital records to discover the facts. A writer goes beyond those facts to find their meaning.
I love tools that make it easier to do things. We just discovered a simple web app that will help you plan and organize your book. It's called Thoughtboxes. The app will allow you to brainstorm ideas and organize them into categories and subcategories. This is exactly what an author does in developing an outline for a book. Let's look at how that might work.
“I plan to write a family history book someday, I just don’t have time to work on it right now,” said person after person at the Colorado Family History Expo in Loveland where we spent the weekend. They all wanted to write a family history, but believed that it would never happen or at least it would be a good long time before it did. That’s too bad. It doesn’t have to be that way.
We’re packing for the Loveland, Colorado Family History Expo this Friday and Saturday. We love appearing at conferences like Family History Expos. The people who attend are always fun to meet and anxious to learn. We’ll be teaching three classes at Loveland:
“Does anyone bother to write down personal family history anymore?” asked Bob Brody, who blogs at letterstomykids.org, today in a San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum piece titled Connect Your Children with Their Family History (It will appear online in the paper’s sf.gate.com site Sunday, June 19th)
In our last post we looked at the first steps in organizing your family history book: listing ideas you want to include and taking inventory of your existing research to see what your already have and what you still need to gather to write about those ideas. Today we’ll focus on makin
Nancy and I are here for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. We taught our first class, “The Many Ways to Organize a Family History Book,” this morning. The class reminded me that many genealogists and family historians think the process of creating a book begins after they finish their research. That’s just not true. What we need to understand is that if we begin planning our book as soon as we decide we want to write one we’ll save ourselves a lot of time and effort by avoiding detours we might otherwise have encountered.
Is there a danger for writers who employ the tools of creative nonfiction? That’s a question worth some reflection. I have recommended that memoirists and family historians employ the techniques of creative non-fiction in telling their stories. The goal is to help them to bring documentary evidence and historical context to life by using literary tools like details of setting, scene and dialogue. So, should that advice come with a caveat?
We are getting ready for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree next week at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport. We hope to see you next week in Burbank.