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    Photo Choices in Your Family History Book

    Have you ever watched a person look through a book they’ve picked up for the first time? If it has pictures, you can bet that’s where they’ll stop to take a look. That’s great news for family historians who have photographs to use in creating an illustrated book. Good pictures will make the book much more visually attractive, especially for younger readers who are growing up in a digital age.

    To gain maximum advantage from your photos there are some important choices to make:

    • Which photos will be featured? After reviewing your photos decide on 10-15 you think are excellent. The two best can be used on the front and back covers. Others can be displayed throughout the book as full pages (or significantly enlarged if the original is too small).

    • If you don’t have many photos to use in illustrating your book, there is an alternative. Scanned family documents or photos of the time and place where ancestors lived, which can often be found by consulting local libraries, historical or genealogical societies, can give a sense of the lives your ancestors lived.

    Historic buildings  in Deadwood, South Dakota

    • There are a number of considerations in placing photographs. When possible, locate photos to accompany the text describing people or events in the picture. It is often wise to group photos of the same branch of the family tree to accompany their stories. However, not every image is, or must be so literally connected to your stories. To include more loosely related photos, you can group them together or place them between chapters. You can place up to a dozen photos on a page, but you may want to limit groupings to two to four photos so that they are bigger for better visual effect. We don’t recommend photo collages because they are often difficult for the reader to comprehend.
    • Consider whether the image needs identification (who, what, when, where, why, how). Not every photo needs a caption, and documents often speak for themselves. Consider grouping pictures without captions in some sections of your book. Self explanatory photos, such as multiple images of the same person, are better off without a caption.
    • Graphics like timelines and charts often benefit from effective use of photos. For example adding wedding pictures and fiftieth anniversary photos to a timeline can bring it to life. Thumbnail photos of heads of different branches of the family will bring a family group sheet will make it more interesting.



    Identifying People in Old Family Photographs

    Are you a mystery fan? I am. I love to watch detectives on the trail of clues, unraveling the past before my eyes.

    Old family photos can offer the mystery-lovers among us a chance to become the detective. We’ve all got at least a few of those family photos that are interesting and probably important, but they feature people we simply can’t identify. It’s frustrating, but don’t throw the photos back into a box and bury them back in the garage. Here are some tools to help you discover your mysterious ancestors.

    Kimberly Powell on offers 5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Family Photographs. Her suggestions:

    • Identify the Type of Photograph – Daguerreotypes were popular from 1839-1870, Cabinet Cards from 1866-1906, and no Polaroid photo could have been taken before 1948 (when the Polaroid camera was invented).
    • Who Was the Photographer? – Check the front, back and frame or cover of the photo for the photographer’s name and possibly location. Local city directories, libraries, and historical or genealogical societies can help you track when the photographer was in business.
    • Check Out the Scene or Setting – Clues to the time or location may appear when the family is posed in front of the family automobile or home. The Family Chronicles site on Dating Old Photographs suggests that it is often possible to establish the date by carefully comparing with other pictures of known date. For example, note details in the painted canvas background used for a studio shot. The drapes or woodwork in the scene may be clues to the photo’s date.

     Visit Family Chronicles Dating Old Photographs to see how to date this photo.

    • Focus on Clothing or Hairstyle – The Costume Detective website helps you to analyze costumes, fashion, hats, and jewelry to achieve a date within five years of the date the photo was taken. The Costumer’s Manifesto site offers numerous links for dating old family photographs, using fashion history and styles of photo-mounts. It promises, “These links are provided so you can teach yourself to do this for yourself.”

    Visit The Costume Detective to see how to date this photo.

    • Match Up the Clues with Your Knowledge of Family History – Once you’ve identified the time and place of the photo, use your knowledge of ancestors to begin trying to identify who is in the picture.

    Click here to read Kimberly Powell’s 5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Family Photographs

    Click here to visit Family Chronicle’s Dating Old Photographs

    Click here to visit the Costume Detective

    Click here visit the Costumer’s Manifesto



    Tools for Preserving Your Digital Family History Files

    We’d like to thank blog reader Richard Skooter who commented on our previous post “how to Digitize Your Family History.” Richard advised, “I'd like to add that once you've digitized your family's information, store it online so it won't become lost due to a hard drive crash or lost or stolen CD-ROMs. And you won't have to transfer the files from one to another every time you buy a new computer.” I agree.

    Preserving data is essential. CNET UK’s Cloud Computing Guide offers a simple explanation of  online storage is a great way to achieve this goal:

    “…backing up data to the cloud means you're backing up data to a hard drive in a secure data centre via your Internet connection, instead of just to a hard drive in your house. In fact, that data centre might be located on the other side of the world.

    Using cloud backups, you've removed from your shoulders the burden and stress of protecting whatever device your data is stored on.”

     Richard recommended two services for online storage. Amazon’s S 3 and Rackspace.

    Amazon S 3 promises to protect your data with a “a highly durable storage infrastructure designed for mission-critical and primary data storage.” New users get up to 5 GB of storage free for a year, then modest fees kick in. The Best Techie website review concludes, Amazon S3 provides a highly durable storage infrastructure designed for mission-critical and primary data storage.”

    Rackspace is a bit more expensive. But Clloud which offers “Web Hosting Tips and Reviews” observed, “We quite like that Rackspace Cloud File comes with a control panel to allow you to manage your files, unlike Amazon’s S3 that throws you in at the deep end so-to-speak and expects you to find your own tools.”

    We’d like to add a word about our own favorite, Dropbox. Dropbox promises, “A single secure place for all your stuff.” This includes providing you easy access to files from all of your devices including phone, laptop and desktop. Says CNET, “It’s a breeze to use, works as intended, and is stable.”

    As you make the transition to digital files for all you family history research, documents, photos and objects consider one of the many good options for online storage to assure that your data will always be there.

    Click here to read the CNET UK article Essential Backup Services Compared

    Click here to visit the Amazon S 3 website

    Click here to read the Best Techie Review of Amazon’s S 3

    Click here to visit the Rackspace Storage website

    Click here to read the Clloud Review of Rackspace

    Click here to visit the DropBox website

    Click here to read the CNET Review of DropBox



    How to Digitize Your Family History 

    Got questions about digitizing your family history research?

    Make it Digital available on the website of Digital New Zealand has answers. “The Make it Digital approach is to identify elements of good practice for digital content creation.”

    The site offers guides to digitizing documents, photographs, audio and video. There are a series of Guides to various aspects of the process of creating digital content. The most relevant for family historians and genealogists is the Guide to Digitising Family History and Whakapapa (Maori Genealogy). (One thing you’ll see is the British spellings of some words like digitising.)

    The Guide begins with a section to help you “Choose What to Make Digital” which includes the Make It Digital Scorecard to help you decide.

    The “Create Longlasting Digital Copies” deals with issues like how to digitize family photos, documents and objects, the best scanner settings and image formats, and digital cameras.

    There is a section on “Recording Family History Digitally” with information on both audio and video recording and a separate guide to “Transferring Oral Histories from Cassette to Digital.”

    The final section offers advice on “Protecting Your Digital Copies.”

    Make It Digital offers simple, but complete advice to people who need some guidance in navigating the available digital technologies to enhance their family histories. It’s definitely a site worth visiting.

    Click here to visit the Make It Digital site and the Guide to Digitising Family History and Whakapapa



    New Books for Memoirists, Family Historians and Self Publishers

    My bookshelf is stacking up. I have three books that I want to get to in the next few days. You may hear more about them when I do.

    The first to arrive is Mark Levine’s The Fine Print of Self Publishing. Levine is the President of a division of the Hillcrest Publishing Group, Inc. He has researched self publishing options offered by 45 companies. The book’s goal is to help writers choose ethical self-publishing companies and avoid book publishing companies that are nothing more than dream-crushing scam artists.

    Tim Bete, Director, Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop said of Levine’s book, "It would take years for an author to compile all the research that Mark Levine has and, even then, most authors wouldn't be able to analyze the self-publishing companies and their contracts the way Levine does. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing will save time and money with your next self-publishing project."

    I am sure this will be a valuable tool to help us in advising clients. I’m sure you see some of that advice here in future posts.
    Click here  for more on The Fine Print of Self Publishing

    Next, I ran across Piers Steel’s, The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done at my local public library. After my most recent post, Write a Family History in 28 Days? Maybe!, not to mention my ever lengthening to-do list, and the diet and visits to the gym that I really will start tomorrow, I had to see what Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, Steel is one of the world’s leading researchers and speakers on the science of motivation and procrastination, has to say.

    Library Journal promises, “Why you ‘put off till tomorrow what you can do today’ forms the crux of Steel’s book, in which he not only answers that question but details specific techniques to reign in the impulse. . . . Offers good advice.”  

    Let’s hope!

    Click Here  for more on The Procrastination Equation

    Finally, we’re always looking for examples of memoirs, biographies and family histories that use stories to bring their subjects to life. On a recent visit to the Redding Barnes & Noble (No, we’re not related. Too bad!) we ran across Stacy Schiff’s, Cleopatra - A Life

    Schiff is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, Vera.

    Margaret Flanagan, Booklist says of the book, “Demonstrating the same narrative flair that captivated readers of her Pulitzer Prize–winning Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (1999), provides a new interpretation of the life of one of history’s most enduringly intriguing women.”

    It looks like exactly the kind of creative approach to using literary techniques we like to recommend to memoirists and family historians. Look for a review soon.

    Click here for more on Cleopatra.

    What are you reading? Post a comment.



    Write a Family History in 28 Days? Maybe!

    Lynn Palermo at the Armchair Genealogist recently issued a challenge on her blog. The challenge - Write Your Family History in 28 Days. Palermo asks her readers to commit to producing a family history in the month of February.

    Is it doable? Maybe. Maybe not. A lot depends on you and how ready you are to begin writing and how much of an organizational plan for a book you already have. In either case, I absolutely agree with Palermo’s statement that, “Too often genealogists put off writing their family history. They feel the research is never done and therefore they are never ready to start the writing.”

    If you want to get a family history book written set a completion date. Then work backward from that date to create a calendar of things you need to do to meet the deadline. Then do it.

    Beware of the trap that snares so many genealogists. Your research will never be finished. Research is a pursuit that will last a lifetime. A book is a presentation of what you know now. Don’t be afraid to write because your research isn’t finished.

    Click here to visit the Armchair Genealogist and see Palermo’s challenge.  



    Narrative Nonfiction = More Interesting Family History

    Wow! What a weekend.

    We spent Friday and Saturday at the Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona, where we spent two days talking with enthusiastic genealogists and family historians and presenting classes about creating family history books. It was a great event. We met a lot of wonderful people.

    One of the topics often at the center of our conversations was how to use the art of the storyteller to make family history come to life. We found ourselves introducing the techniques of creative or narrative nonfiction to many people faced with a dilemma. They thought they were duty bound to stick to only documented fact, but they also wanted to make their books interesting for their readers. We tried to show them how borrowing methods from literature could help them accomplish both goals.

    So, it was a little ironic when I opened my Google Reader this morning and found a post from Richard Gilbert’s Narrative blog on exactly that subject.

    Gilbert had run across an old copy of an article, “A Brief Introduction to Narrative Nonfiction,” by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Edward Humes who has written 10 books of narrative nonfiction.

    Edward Humes

    One of the things we talked about at length this weekend was how getting away from straight chronological organization could make stories more interesting. Here was Gilbert providing two examples of how Humes explained his rationale for doing just that.

    Here they are:

    I hated the fact that Bill Leasure, the corrupt LAPD traffic cop in my second book, Murderer with a Badge, chose murder as his first crime. Only later did he segue into stealing a few million dollars worth of yachts. Chronicling events in that order would have been anticlimactic. So I abandoned any pretense of a chronological structure, and started the first chapter with Leasure aboard a stolen boat. The murders unfolded later in the book, in a section that dealt with an earlier period in Leasure’s life. Then the narrative jumped forward again to a time after the yacht thefts, when those unsolved murders were finally linked to Leasure by the police. That kept the tension in the narrative building, though structurally it was kind of messy—like my main character’s life.

    Finding the right structure for No Matter How Loud I Shout, my juvenile court book, was even more challenging, as I was weaving together an ensemble of characters with different story lines that only occasionally intersected—a kind of literary version of Hillstreet Blues or ER. Yet these varied threads had to build toward some sort of critical mass and shared climax in order to make sense. Finding those intersection points was not a matter of clever writing. It was a matter of being there, day after day, haunting the courtrooms, the juvenile hall, the offices of the prosecutors and public defenders and judges. In the end, I have found, even the most thorny sorts of questions about structure and character development end up being less about writing technique, and more about reporting technique. Narrative nonfiction requires authors to immerse themselves in their subjects, to painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) interview characters, research place (past, present and future), and reconstruct dialogue (spoken and interior).

    That final sentence is great advice to family historians seeking to create more interesting books.

    Click here to read Richard Gilbert's post on Narrative.



    A Great New Site For History Fans

    The History Department at the University of Texas at Austin has just launched a website “For history buffs who want reading recommendations and short, interesting, digestible stories every day, the website offers a meaningful, dynamic, and ongoing conversation about history in the form of text, audio, and video histories on subjects that span the globe. The site is designed for anyone who is interested in history, from an avid reader of history to a history film aficionado.”

    The site offers six sections. Here’s a preview of the initial offering in each section

    • Main Feature – This section will focus on a recent book by a member of the University’s History Faculty. This month’s book is Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War by MacArthur Fellowship and Bancroft Prize winning Professor Jacqueline Jones. The site offers a summary of the book, a video interview of the author and a video of the author reading from her book.

    • Read - This section presents brief reviews of books: in the initial post Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975); Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England 1780-1860 (1998) and Frederick Douglass, Narrative of his experience as a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  It also includes a book talk by Professor George Forgie (from whom I took a seminar during my summer as a William Robertson Coe Fellow in American history at Stanford many years ago)  on seven Civil War related titles.
    • Watch – This section features reviews of films dealing with Chinatown, San Francisco in the 1970s and The Old Man and the New Man in Revolutionary Cuba. All films can be purchased and downloaded from the site.
    • Discover – Presents images of Navajo rugs from the University’s Art and Art History Collection and illustrated texts created in a 12th Century German monastery.
    • Listen – Presents an oral history interview “Voices of India’s Partition” with Zehra Haider whose Muslim family left India for Pakistan when the countries were partitioned in 1947. A second audio, “LBJ and Vietnam: A Conversation” between the President and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy is also available.
    • Texas – This section includes articles on Texas’ current budget crisis, Texas Jewish cemeteries and “Mexicans in Texas During World War II.”

    It looks like an interesting site doing everything it can to use multimedia tools to bring history to life. Not Even Past will be a welcome companion to the University of Houston’s Digital History site.  

    Click here to visit Not Even History.



    Lessons for Family Historians from Paul Theroux’s "The Trouble With Autobiography"

    In 2500 rather turgid words on, American travel writer (The Great Railway Bazaar) and novelist (Mosquito Coast) Paul Theroux tells us The Trouble With Autobiography.

    He begins with a short account of his own family history, a terse, factual summary of several generations. He then states, “And these 500-odd words are all I will ever write of my autobiography.”

    I am sure Theroux didn’t mean for his brief sketch of his family history to be interesting. He was making a point about why he wouldn’t write one of any greater length.

    Theroux’s foray through the genre isn’t all that interesting on its own terms, but it does offer a couple of unintended lessons for family historians. Unfortunately, many drafts produced by novice family history writers resemble Theroux’s abbreviated account. They reduce people’s lives to lists of facts, rather than capturing the stories behind the facts.

    Let’s examine a paragraph from Theroux’s summary:

    My maternal grandparents, Alessandro and Angelina Dittami, were relative newcomers to America, having emigrated separately from Italy around 1900. An Italian might recognize Dittami (“Tell me”) as an orphan’s name. Though he abominated any mention of it, my grandfather was a foundling in Ferrara. As a young man, he got to know who his parents were—a well-known senator and his housemaid. After a turbulent upbringing in foster homes, and an operatic incident (he threatened to kill the senator), Alessandro fled to America and met and married my grandmother in New York City. They moved to Medford with the immigrant urgency and competitiveness to make a life at any cost. They succeeded, becoming prosperous, and piety mingled with smugness made the whole family insufferably sententious.

    Just look at the untold stories! His grandfather’s “turbulent upbringing in foster homes’; the “operatic incident’; his grandparents’ meeting in New York City; and, the story of how they made a life. To bring these people to life, a family historian would have to tell these stories. It is the stories that will draw readers into a family history.

    Interviews with living relatives and close examinations of family documents provide windows into the family lore that provide the researcher with the stuff of stories. Yet there’s another lesson to be learned from those stories in Theroux’s piece. It’s good to conduct your interviews and research with a degree of skepticism.

    Why? Theroux quotes Rebecca West, the English journalist and literary critic, who said, “Everyone realizes that one can believe little of what people say about each other. But it is not so widely realized that even less can one trust what people say about themselves.”

    A family historian seeking the truth about her ancestors may need to look carefully into the margins of what they wrote and said about each other and about themselves.

    Click here to read Paul Theroux’s The Trouble With Autobiography




    Every Document You Ever Needed On Your PC? Maybe!

    Here in the age of the Google search it sometimes seems as if any information anywhere is available instantly after entering a few search terms and a mouse click or two. And for the most part it is. That is unless what you want is a document in an archive or a special collection somewhere. There is no database for those documents. If you’ve ever done archival research you know that first you have to locate the library, historical society or archive where the information you are looking for might be located.  Then you have to travel to the archive. When you get there you will be presented with boxes or folders of documents which are sometimes handwritten and illegible. Organization is of the most general sort only, often all documents for a particular period of time, some important most irrelevant to what you are seeking. It often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    The reason the process is so difficult is that scholars and archivists have been unable to transcribe and publish the huge volume of documents history has left us. That may be about to change.

    Scholars tasked with transcribing troves of historical documents have decided to seek help through crowd sourcing.

    University College London has been transcribing the papers of Enlightenment Philosopher Jeremy Bentham for 50 years and have completed less than have of the documents in its possession. The New York Times reports that, “Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged, if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online.”

    The work of volunteers will be corrected by editors and eventually published.

    Sharon Leon of George Mason University is working on a project to publish 55,000 War Department documents destroyed when the British burned the capitol during the War of 1812. To further the project she has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create a digital tool that any library or archive could make available to enlist public assistance in transcribing documents.

    Max J. Evans, the former executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission applauds the effort. “This way, at least, the papers of the founding fathers and others, despite being tough to read and unsearchable, would not be ‘held up in these scholarly editing offices for years and years, and not only available to a select group of scholars,’” he told the Times.

    The road to crowd sourced document transcription will not be without bumps. Daniel Stowell, the director and editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln tried hiring non-academic transcribers and discontinued the practice because “we were spending more time and money correcting them as creating them from scratch.”

    “We’re not looking for perfect,” Ms. Leon of George Mason said of crowd-sourced transcription. “We’re looking for progressive improvement, which is a completely different goal from someone who is creating a letter-press edition.”

    While I won’t hold my breath waiting for every document I may ever need to examine to be available on my office computer, there may come a day when it does take only a Google search to locate virtually anything a researcher might need.

    As a researcher who has spent many hours digging through boxes of miscellaneous paper I can only say I hope it’s soon.

    Click here to read the New York Times article “Scholars Recruit Public for Project.”



    Triggering Stories - Tools for Collecting Family History

    January is the most popular month for family history research reported Shelly Talalay Dardashti on the My Heritage Genealogy Blog.

    I’ll bet that one of the big reasons is the holiday family gatherings that so many people attend. They sit around the living room or the dinner table and sooner or later begin to tell family stories. They recall the one about Grandma Bertha’s adventures in the 1893 land rush to homestead the former Indian Territory. Someone else remembers the story of how Grandma Cecil and Grandpa Merritt moved to San Francisco after they came west from South Dakota to start a hog ranch in Roseville up near Sacramento only to get wiped out by hog cholera. Someone from another branch of the family tells the one about always eating venison because Uncle Tommy got hired by the State of New Jersey as a hunter to kill deer to thin the herds.

    Those conversations stimulate everyone’s desire to make sure their family stories are preserved. So January is a big month for research.

    The problem is that when your new enthusiasm for recording the family history leads you to call or visit Great Aunt Tillie the convivial stimulus of a holiday glass of hot mulled wine or a slice of pumpkin pie has also become a memory. You ask Tillie to tell you what she remembers and she’s like Ronald Reagan after the Iran-Contra scandal. All she says is, “I just don’t recall.”

    It’s frustrating. It’s an experience that every family history researcher has had.

    So what can you do to help Aunt Tillie remember?

    The key to a successful interview is preparation. Begin by creating a Memory List. Brainstorm your own family memories and list anything you can remember about people, places, actions, or ancestors. Anything you recall is important to include, even if it is only a fragment of a memory. Once you have your list go back through the items and add a memory prompt or cue for each item on the list. The prompt should be short – three to six words. Here are some examples:

    • Aunt Ceil – had five husbands
    • Grandpa – lost print shop in Great Depression
    • Great Uncle Louie – a boxer as a young man
    • Grandma – a beautiful rose garden
    • Cousin Eddie – died in Flu Epidemic in 1918

    Each prompt is designed to trigger some memory or recollection about the ancestor.

    When you get together with Aunt Tillie, whether in person or by telephone, use the memory triggers on your list to help her get started talking. Not every prompt will necessarily lead to a story, but many will. Once she starts talking, interrupt as little as you can. She may take off in a completely different direction than you expected and you’ll hear stories you didn’t anticipate and knew nothing about. Let her talk. When the conversation runs down you can ask for clarification or additional details.

    A second thing to remember is to keep the conversations relatively short. Older people get tired. You’ll learn more while Aunt Tillie is energetic. Two short conversations will often net more good family stories than one long one. You may also find that when you return for the second conversation she has recalled stories triggered by reflections on your earlier interview.



    Memoir and Family History as Stories Well Told

    A reader of the Ask the Book Doctor Blog recently asked, “What's the difference between narrative nonfiction and memoir?”


    It's an important question for family historians as well as memoirists.


    Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications responded, “All memoirs [family histories] and biographies are considered narrative nonfiction...”


    For authors seeking contracts terminology is important. Slotting the book – the industry term for how to market the book and shelf it in the bookstore – is essential in pitching a book to an agent or publisher.


    For authors who are planning to self publish the term is not so critical, but what is important about what it says about what makes a good memoir or family history.


    The key word is narrative. Merriam – Webster online say it's “the representation in art of an event or story.” Too often memoirists and family historians see themselves as writing a historical record, or as just reporting the facts. As a historian myself, I would suggest that the narrative style of a writer like David McCulloch or Barbara Tuchman a generation earlier, who present history as a story is far more pleasing to readers than authors who employ a purely factual, academically reportorial style.


    Christmas advises, “Well-written memoirs [and family histories] include vignettes or scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends and include action, dialogue, narrative, settings, and other elements of fiction to make readers feel as though they are watching the story unfold.”


    The family historian who tells the stories that lie behind the facts of pedigree charts and GEDCOM files can draw readers into her account. That's why genealogy research should always be accompanied by the search for family stories to bring ancestors to life. It's also why we often advocate employing the techniques of creative non-fiction to make tell those stories more vividly.



    Get Your Book into Print in 2011

    Happy New Year!


    I have a suggestion for a New Year's Resolution for anyone thinking about getting a family history book or memoir published this year. Set a date to get it finished.

    We've just finished the holidays. In the couple of months leading up to Christmas and Hanukah we've talked to too many people who have said, “I'd like to get my book done to give as holiday gifts.” Unfortunately, we've had to tell some of them that they didn't have enough time to get it finished.


    So if you want to have a book in print for next holiday season, plan now for what you'll need to do to get it finished. Work backwards from the finished product creating a timeline for all of the various steps: completing the draft of your manuscript, choosing photos and illustrations and getting them scanned, getting the draft edited and revised, designing the cover, laying out the pages, choosing a publisher, getting the manuscript shipped off to the printer and printing it. Will you need help with any of these steps? If so, decide who you want to help you and get them scheduled.


    A caution to family historians – when you begin working on a book recognize that you are dealing with a product not a process. Doing family history is a process. Research is ongoing. You'll probably be doing research for the rest of your life. But a book is an end in itself. Recognize that your research won't be finished. Your book will be based on what you know now. If you are going to get your book into print, you've got to be willing to say, “I am ready to publish what I know at this point.” If later research gives you new information or insights, great. Publish a second edition of your book. If you think about your research and realize that you have things you won't have ready in time to publish, limit what you will include in your book to what you know. When you finish the research you still haven't done, write a second book.


    It will all be worth it. We had a number of clients who did complete their books for this holiday season. Seeing their happiness, excitement and pride was really wonderful.


    So if you want to create a book, make your New Year's Resolution to get it done for the 2011 holiday season.


    Best wishes. Have a great 2011!



    Finding an Editor For Your Memoir or Family History

    For the first time writer, working with an editor can be a daunting task. The Northwest Independent Editors Guild offers a good list of Tips on Working with an Editor.  


    When you begin seeking an editor, contact potential candidates well in advance. Editors can be booked for several weeks out. (Having just helped a number of clients who were rushing to get books completed for Christmas, I can sympathize.) Recognize that many editors have projects they will need to wrap up before they get to yours.



    When you contact potential editors you should be prepared to discuss the following topics:

    • The subject matter and length of your book. (Some editors talk about the number of double spaced pages. We prefer to use the word count which eliminates variables like font size, margins, etc.)

    • The date by which you would like to have your project completed.

    • The level of editing you are seeking: developmental or content editing, substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, or proofreading. The Guild recommends reviewing A Guide to Common Rates for Editorial Services created by the Editorial Freelancers Association as you are considering the type of editing to seek.

    • Do you want the editor to mark up a hard copy or provide the feedback in digital form, as with MS Word "track changes"?

    • What are your style preferences? Chicago Style manual, AP Stylebook, MLA Style or the editor's in-house style

    When discussing the amount of editing you seek, you will want to consider:

    • Are you seeking light, moderate or heavy editing?

    • Do you want true editing or are you querying the editor about substantive problems with inconsistency of tone or character?

    • Do you want the editor to fact check questionable items or simply flag them for you to check?

    • Will you need help preparing the manuscript for publication?

    • Are there any specific problems you want the editor to watch for?

      The editor may ask to see a segment of your manuscript o help make decisions about some of the questions above. You in turn may want to see a sample of how the editor edits a segment of your manuscript. (This is one of the reasons we offer a low cost manuscript evaluation service.) You may also want to ask the editors you talk to for references, clients who can provide feedback on their experiences with the editor.


    When you have decided upon an editor you want to work with, he should provide you with a specific quote for the services you seek. If the quote is satisfactory, the editor should ask you to sign a specific agreement or contact covering the entire project.


    Click here to read the full post by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild


    Click here to read the Editorial Freelancers Association Guide to Common Rates for Editorial Services




    Paid Obituaries Will Be a Loss to Family Historians

    David Phillips, publisher of the Bluff County Newspaper Group, in Southern Minnesota, decried the nearly universal trend among newspapers to charge family members to place obituaries in the paper. It's an issue that should be of concern to genealogists and family historians as well.


    Phillips' concern is that payment for obituaries, or for placement of stories of any kind for that matter, blur the line between news and advertising. “It makes news a commodity to be sold, not information that a newspaper publishes because it is important to readers,” he says. “The content is dictated by the institution and the timing is dictated by finding the sponsors willing to pay for its publication.”


    That' certainly a valid concern for a publisher. When Phillips opened up the topic for discussion among members of the International Society of Weekly Newspapers a second issue emerged. Obituaries are an important part of the historical record of a community. Anyone who has attempted to research a person fro an earlier era whether a historical figure or a family member has undoubtedly found useful information in obituaries. When obits become a paid service of the newspaper they are less likely to appear, or at least less likely to be more than cursory death notices.


    An editor from Maryland wrote: 'Think about the community history that's lost because obits have become ads. Many people's lives have been boiled down to a name, age, hometown and date of funeral - two or three sentences tops. Why? Probably because these families don't have the money to capture their loved one's life. That's a sad delineation and a loss for history. If your paper insists on money for every obit, you'll actually be preventing the community from knowing anything about certain deaths. It will be creating, in effect, a separate system for people with money and those without.'"


    While newspapers attempt to cope with the myriad of problems threatening their very survival, it's nice to see publishers thinking about what might be lost as they try to generate enough revenue to try to keep their ships afloat.


    Researchers certainly know that if obituaries do disappear their task will become difficult in future years.


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