A good reporter must "…provide the emotional reality of the news, for it is the emotions, not the facts, that most engage and excite readers and in the end are the heart of most stories," said Tom Wolfe, journalist and author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities. It’s good advice for family historians as well as reporters.
Some of our Stories To Tell workshops begin with a “Dedication Page” exercise. We ask participants to answer two questions: • Who is your book for? • Why are they special to you? The exercise is designed to make participants think about the people who will be reading their books. Understanding the audience for your book can sharpen its focus and make it much more engaging.
What do you do if a family member is concerned about being listed in your family history book? This question comes up frequently, and together with client Marsha Allen, we devised a form letter to be sent to skeptical relations to solve the problem. Thanks, Marsha, for offering your records as examples.
First, we explain how genealogic records are recorded. Often, the relatives who distrust family histories are the ones who know the least about it. So we want to reassure them that we are following a tried and true format, one that every other researcher uses.
In many cases, the objection is based on a fear of identity theft. To alleviate that fear, we point out that this is information we have located through public records – we are not disclosing something “secret”. In fact, a cursory internet search will often turn up far more.
Next, we give an example of the record we wish to include. In many cases, the listing itself is enough to reassure the doubter. They will see for themselves how mundane these facts are, and that their family skeletons are not present here!
Most people, upon receiving this letter, will be satisfied that the author knows what she is doing! Those who had some concern will feel “heard” and be reassured; many will not care enough to take action. If you have a vehement objector, you have listened respectfully, and provided them with information and an appropriate action to take.
This win-win approach should settle any ruffled feathers among family members. Although you don’t need to send a letter like this to everyone, it is a helpful way to reach out to the few who may criticize, rather than applaud, your forthcoming book.
Thank you for the interest in the family history book I am writing. It will be called _____ and will be about _____________.
Genealogy uses documents that are in the public record. Birth, marriage and death records are catalogued by software databases for family lines worldwide. As I have worked on my book, I have adhered to the traditional format and standards used by professional genealogists. For example, here is the listing of my own father: (Insert a sample record from your family here)
GOLD, Everett Van Orden b. 6 Sep 1910 Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UT; s/o Cyrus William GOLD & Annie Alazana PECK; m. 3 Sep 1938 Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone to Thelma Lucille GRUBER; d. 9 Mar 1996 Scottsdale, Maricopa, AZ.
Here is a record of a living person, one of my own sons, as an incomplete record sample: (Insert a sample record from your family here)
ALLEN, Byron b. 1972 AZ; s/o David ALLEN & Marsha GOLD; m. Janice GALE.
The above living person would be listed in a complete record as: (Insert a sample record from your family here)
ALLEN, Byron Frihoff b. 17 Jan 1972 Mesa, Maricopa, AZ; s/o David K. ALLEN & Marsha Jean GOLD; m. 17 Nov 1994 Chandler, Maricopa, AZ to Janice GALE.
I understand that you have concerns about identity theft. Although this information is available in public documents elsewhere, if you prefer, I will edit your record to protect your privacy.
Now that you have been informed of what the complete record would state in the book, if you wish to limit your record, please mail me to identify which facts you do not want to be published.
Do not include for ______________________(name)
______ middle name
______ birth - date and month
______ birth - city and county
______ marriage - date
______ marriage - location
Thank you for helping me to contribute to our family’s history in as complete a way as possible. I am sure our descendants many years from now will appreciate knowing about all of us.
RootsTech, where we spent the weekend, as its name suggests was heavy on using tech tools for family history. There were sessions on software, apps, social media galore. Our own Stories To Tell sessions focused on using Microsoft Word and Adobe Creative Suite to self publish family history books. With the conference’s emphasis on high tech, it was great to see that the idea of family history as storytelling didn’t get lost. Ian Tester, a product manager at BrightSolid, a British online publishing company, offered a Friday session titled "Telling Stories: Transforming the Bare Facts of Genealogy Into the Astonishing Tale of You and Your Family."
We’re excited to be here in Salt Lake City where the RootsTech Genealogy Conference has brought over 4,000 people to an intersection of family history research, writing, publishing and technology. We will have three days to talk with participants about book projects and to advise them on how to decide which digital tools to employ, and which might best be left to the experts, as they create and self publish their books. Genealogists are tech savvy researchers who can tell you everything about how software programs or web based applications will help them find an elusive ancestor. Most of them will say that someday they’ll turn their mountain of research into a book. But for many of them that means a whole new skill set and a world of new world tech. Navigating it can be a daunting task.
Not every photo needs a caption, and documents also frequently speak for themselves. Consider grouping pictures without captions in some sections of the book. It allows the reader to enjoy a purely visual, non-verbal experience, and breaks up the “wordiness” of reading stories. Photos that are best without a caption are self-explanatory. For example, if you have a grouping of baby pictures of little Joey, you needn’t identify him again and again. However, as a general rule, stimulating captions will complete your photographs and improve your book.
In recent years many people have taken to calling memoir personal history. This term gives the product an autobiographical cast. However it is important to remember that there is a significant difference between memoir and autobiography. An autobiography is a full chronological account of both the life and times of its subject with an emphasis on the interaction between the person and unfolding history. A memoir has a narrower focus placing the emphasis on the author’s memories, feelings and emotions. Nevertheless there is a place for historical detail in your memoir.
Almost anyone who begins a memoir or personal history project of any sort will sooner or later confront the limits of her memory. She will find herself or someone she is interviewing unable to recall the name of a person or the details of an event and that person or event is critical to the story she wants to tell. “I attribute this to what I call the ‘overfilled filing cabinet,’’ says Fred Cicetti author of The Healthy Geezer. “As we get older, we accumulate so many memories that it’s impossible to find the ones we want.” However, memory researchers have found that it may take some doing, but it is very possible to access those elusive memories.
David McCulloch, who has won Pulitzer Prizes for his books on Harry Truman and John Adams, knows how to write a good life story. Says McCulloch, “I believe very strongly that the essence of writing is to know your subject…to get beneath the surface.” As you create your personal or family history book that’s advice you should take to heart. Unfortunately it’s something we often forget when we set out to research our genealogy or create a family history. We turn into Joe Friday, the character played by Jack Webb on the old TV series Dragnet, who was fond of saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” A plethora of tools beginning with ancestory.com and familysearch.org help us find more and more of those facts. But as we gather the facts we may miss the stories that would make the family history memorable.
Tribute books are written to express appreciation. They may focus on the positive influence of a person on your life, or focus on their accomplishments. In many cases both topics are combined. These books are often created to commemorate a milestone or special occasion like a retirement, a fiftieth anniversary, or a special accomplishment like winning an award. Tributes can celebrate the success of a group, a business, or an organization, rather than an individual. Another type of tribute book is written to preserve the memory of a person who has died, focusing on their special traits and the contributions they made to the lives of others. Tribute books are sometimes created by a group with each member contributing their story.
Not everyone who thinks about or even starts to write a memoir succeeds in completing her book. One of the things that helps many who are successful to achieve publication is having someone to support them in completing the project. One great way to find that kind of support is to organize a group of other people in the process of creating memoirs. Here are some simple tips on how to do it.
You’ve been thinking about creating a memoir or family history book. But you may feel a bit like you’re set off on a bit of an uncharted course. Creating a book seems like an overwhelming task. Looking at creating a book as a six-step process helps give you a roadmap which will make successfully seeing your book through to publication much less daunting.
When you set out to preserve your personal or family history there are a lot of ways to do it. Technology has provided a lot of tools that seem attractive: audio CDs, video on DVD, and numerous internet photo storage sites. But the Library of Congress warns that books remain the best method of preservation. Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley advises, “…consider paper the archival medium.” In creating an archival quality book there are a number of things to consider to insure its longevity. Make sure that as you decide on a printer you review the features of the book they will produce for you.
Many first time memoirists and family historians think that their first responsibility is to create a complete record of everything that happened. As a consequence their initial draft often reads like a list. All events great and small get equal treatment. Unfortunately these lists are missing the elements that make stories interesting and compelling: conflict, emotion and drama.
If you have finished writing and revising your memoir or family history book, you may imagine that completing your manuscript means you're done. But authors who self-publish have a a final critical step to take before publication – book design. Book design combines decisions about elements of the book, style, organization, illustrations, layout, and cover design. The choices you make about the design of your book will give it the unique character you wish to create. Here are some of the things to consider when designing your book: