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    Tuesday
    Apr192011

    Why I Celebrate National Library Week

    I walked into my hometown branch of the Shasta County Library on Monday afternoon. Near the front desk a colorful sign invited me to Celebrate National Library Week. As it so often happens, I missed the memo. The celebration was last week, April 10-16. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the celebration, no matter how tardy I might be

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    Sunday
    Apr172011

    Memoir or Autobiography: Which One's for You?

    This post looks at how a memoirist approaches the process of writing about his or her life.

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    Friday
    Apr152011

    Bring an Ancestor to Life with a Biographical Sketch

    This post offers a look at how excellent historians have created biographical sketches to enliven figures in their books and how you can do it too.

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    Wednesday
    Apr132011

    What Makes a Good Memoir?

    This post looks at several answers to the question, "What makes a good memoir?"

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    Monday
    Apr112011

    Editing and Design Make Your Book Look Its Best

    See how working with a professional editor and book designer can give your self published book a look of professionalism.

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    Saturday
    Apr092011

    The Value of a Journal 

    The Black Book, a journal of political aphorisms, quips and observations from four generations in the Adlai Stevenson family demonstrates the value of journaling for family historians and memoirists.

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    Thursday
    Apr072011

    Self Publishing Success Story

    Author Johnna Tuttle describes her experiences with writing, editing, designing, and self publishing.

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    Tuesday
    Apr052011

    Family History With Feelings

    "No one’s family history is compelling and interesting, until you make it compelling and interesting," said family historian Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Absolutely! But how do you do that? One important part of the process is recognizing that there is an critical difference between genealogical research and writing a family history.

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    Sunday
    Apr032011

    More Sources of Photos for Your Family History Book

    Still looking for photos to illustrate your family history book? Here are two more excellent sites you will want to visit.

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    Friday
    Apr012011

    Images of Ancestors for Your Family History Book 

    This post offers suggestions of the best online sites to search for old family photos to use in illustrating your family history book.

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    Wednesday
    Mar302011

    Creating a Vivid Portrait of Distant Ancestors

    In my last couple of posts, we’ve looked at to problem a family historian faces when trying to write a book about relatives accessible only through written records. Today we’ll look at what can be done when dealing with more distant ancestors for whom written records may be less plentiful.

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    Monday
    Mar282011

    How Family Historians Can Use Creative Nonfiction

    Write a family history that brings ancestors to life by using facts as a basis for creative speculation. Audio examples from Paul David Pope's The Deeds of My Fathers.

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    Friday
    Mar252011

    A Chasm for Family History Writers

    Once the family historian moves beyond what direct sources can tell her the Ancestry Insider’s chasm opens. Finding stories and narrative details becomes more problematic. She must rely on indirect sources, written records. These may be obscure and difficult to locate. The other alternative, when the records don’t materialize, or never existed, may involve speculating from the historical context of the ancestor’s time and place. How does the responsible family historian who wants to stick to the facts do that?

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    Wednesday
    Mar232011

    Guided Story Recording

    In my first and second blogs about the Oakland Museum’s interactive history exhibits, my photos showed how history can be gathered from large numbers of people with common and inexpensive materials – post it notes and maps and dot stickers. This exhibit has the same aesthetic – I am charmed by the construction paper and the large print, easy to read instructions. It suggests that this task is “child’s play”, so that anyone can do it. The answer to recording oral history lies in this room. There are two chairs, facing one another. This, to me, is symbolic of how stories should be told – face to face.

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    Monday
    Mar212011

    Crowdsourced mapping

    I’m still reflecting on my recent trip to the Oakland Museum, and how we can apply the methods used by these curators of culture in our own learning. In my last post on the subject, I talked about their interactive timeline.

    The interactive map below is another example of using the information provided by a large group. How simple – a map, and stickers. In this case, the question is, “Where did your family come from?” Yet there are other questions you might ask, such as where have you traveled to, or where did your ancestors live in the 1600’s – each of which would produce wildly different data. You can do this - anyone can.

    The graphic doesn’t have to be a map, either. Like the timeline I discussed earlier, these are just representations of the scope of the question we’re asking. If we want to know about places, maps are good. Time? You get it. The key is the ease with which people can give their answer. That’s what is clever here – a sticker, or a post it note is very user friendly. And the internet has made this kind of data collection even easier.

    I first fell in love with the idea of crowdsourcing when Wikipedia appeared ten years ago. It seems the ideal way to tap into the knowledge of the masses. Crowdsourcing is controversial - in this Wikipedia article about crowdsourcing, I just discovered that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales objects to the term. It has a negative connotation of taking advantage of free labor. (If you have a moment, check out the article’s list of terms related to crowdsourcing, including citizen science, collective intelligence, and a new one to me – dotmocracy.

    So this most commonly used term, crowdsourcing, is a misnomer. Instead, the admirable model used at the museum would be called mass collaboration, or mass cooperation. That’s what’s happening on Wikipedia, and in different iterations it’s happening everywhere else, too. I always read the user reviews on amazon.com before I buy, and I’m careful to check that the majority rated the book highly. Don’t you? I filter my Yelp! searches so that I only need to consider 4-star restaurants. My favorite use of crowdsourcing (sorry, the term is imprecise, but you know what I mean) is the excellent user reviews on newegg.com, without which I could not navigate the world of technology.

    The thing that ties these examples together is the absence of “experts”. It assumes that all of us have useful knowledge to share. The charm of crowdsourcing is that no one can force people to contribute; and yet people do, willingly. We are happy to help, happy to give what knowledge we have, especially when it’s a subject we care about.

    The interactive map in the museum is just the tip of the iceberg – a literal, hands-on sign that people are willing to contribute. If you want to frame a question, any question, posting it to an well-chosen internet bulletin board will gather results from masses of distant strangers – and isn’t that something to bolster your faith in humanity?