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    Great Weekend at Atlanta Family History Expo!

    This weekend Nancy and I participate in the Atlanta Family History Expo held at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. It was our seventh FHE this year. We have had a great time at every one.

    The Atlanta Expo offered the between 1000 and 1500 people who attended the two day session two days crammed with opportunities to learn and share ideas about genealogy and family history. There were thirty exhibitors, and 110 classes providing research tips and techniques, technology tools, opportunities to post and publish results, and resources of all kinds. Most of all there was plenty of encouragement and inspiration for the family historian.

    I think Ginger Smith, who writes the Genealogy by Ginger Blog, had a fairly typical reaction. She wrote, “This was a good experience overall though because I finally got to see exactly what a conference like this entails and it was very cool to be able to talk about GENEALOGY (and some about technology) for two whole days!!!!”

    Nancy and I had the opportunity to teach two classes twice each: Family History Books – Editing, Design and Publishing, and A Good Read – Make Family History Books Exciting. We always enjoy the opportunity to teach. It’s fun to share what you know with others.

    What’s even more fun at conferences like this is that we get the opportunity to talk with individuals about their own family history book projects. We spoke with people at all stages of the author’s journey from gathering ideas to choosing a printer. Our message was always one of encouragement. Anyone who wants to create a family history book can do it. We’re happy to offer advice and help.

    If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a Family History Expo or another big genealogy conference I’d encourage you to check into the possibility of doing so in 2011. I am sure you will find it both worthwhile and a lot of fun.

    Click here to read Ginger Smith’s post on the Atlanta FHE

    Click here to visit the Family History Expo site.



    Generosity Based Publishing

    We have written a lot in this blog about new directions in publishing. “Now,” as they used to say on Monty Python, “for something completely different.”

    The Concord Free Pressinvites readers to, "Be part of our revolutionary experiment in generosity-based publishing."

    Concord’s business model is simple.We publish great books and give them away. All we ask is that you make a voluntary donation to a charity or someone in need. Tell us about it. Then pass your book along so others can give. It’s a new kind of publishing, one based purely on generosity, and it’s changing the way people think about books.”

    Concord has generated $155,000 in donations to a broad spectrum of individuals and causes with its first four titles.

    The publisher is overseen by an advisory board which includes literary heavyweights Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Megan Abbott and Gregory Maguire.

    Novelist Stona Fitch founded Concord. “Give + Take , my fourth novel, inspired the idea,” she said. “It’s about a jazz pianist who steals diamonds and BMWs and gives away the money – in short, a modern retelling of the Robin Hood fable. But it’s also about the limits of generosity and the slippery nature of value. When the book ran into classic delay at a major New York publishing house, I decided to start the Concord Free Press and give it away, asking only that readers give some money to a charity they believed in or someone in need.”

    The Concord Free Press List currently includes five titles:

    • IOU: New Writing on Money edited by Ron Slate
    • The Next Queen of Heaven by Gregory Maguire
    • Push Comes to Shove  by Wesley Brown
    • Give and Take by Stona Fitch
    • Rut by Scott Phillips

    “I’m the Robin Hood of publishing,” Fitch laughs. “Or the Guy Fawkes of publishing. Or the death of publishing. The best phrase anyone has come up with to describe what we’re doing is ‘a grand experiment in subversive altruism’.

    “Our approach is certainly unusual and against the grain. But noble? Let’s just say that I’d rather make trouble than money.”

    Click here to visit the Concord Free Press website.

    Click here to read more about Concord Free Press in the


    A Guide to Self Publishing Options

    The author who is considering self-publishing may find his attempt to gather information about how to proceed obscured by an array of terminology. Mick Rooney clarifies some commonly used terms in an article on The Self-Publishing Review, “The Types of Self-Publishing – Peeling Away the Layers of Confusion.”

    Self-Publishing Review

    Rooney provides descriptions of Vanity Publishers, Subsidy Publishers, Partnership Publishers, POD (Print on Demand) Publishers, and Independent Publishers. Rooney brings some transparency to the jumble of terms which confront authors. That’s useful.

    But there’s one thing missing – true self publishing. In the most of the paths to publication Rooney describes the author signs an agreement with the publisher to provide services. Often in exchange the company receives control of rights, including copyrights to the book. The book then becomes theirs. The author receives royalties for a percentage of the sales. In the meantime the publisher often provides in-house editing and design services.

    In a true self-publication the author handles all the arrangements to produce the book and retains all rights to the book. If the author requires services like editing and book design, he contracts with free lance editors and designers. If the author wants help with marketing services she hires someone to provide them.

    David Carnoy, a columnist at cnet,  wrote about is own experience in publishing a book  in an article “Self Publishing: 25 Things You Need to Know,” advised,  “I’d never work with [a publisher’s] in-house editors, copy editors and in-house design people…it’s better to hire your own people and work with them directly.”

    When the book is ready the self-publishing author can seek someone who will offer the best price on printing it without any related services added on.

    Is self publishing the route for your book or would you be better off with one of the publishing arrangements Rooney describes? The answer depends on your goals for your book, your budget for its production and your comfort level with managing all of the arrangements independently. But it’s certainly a possibility that any author seeking a path to publication should consider.

    Click here to read Mick Rooney’s “The Types of Self-Publishing – Peeling Away the Layers of Confusion.”

    Click here to read David Carnoy’s “Self-Publishing: 25 Things You Need to Know.”



    Is a Writing Group for You?

    Writing can be a solitary task. Sometimes it is difficult to get a good perspective on the manuscript you’re producing. One solution is to seek out other writers and join with them in a writing group or workshop.

    A recent interview between Kate Bittman of the New Yorker and actor James Franco, star of films like Milk, Pineapple Express and Howl. Their conversation which appeared in the magazine’s online Book Bench focused on Franco’s newly released story collection Palo Alto.

    Franco said he had written for years, but had only recently begun showing his work to others. When asked, what was the best advice about writing he had ever received, he said, “I suppose it’s finding good mentors and good readers; people who will give you a good sense of what you’ve written, because you can’t always assess it on your own.”

    About five years ago Franco discovered writer’s workshops when he could feedback from fellow writers about how to sharpen his writing skills.

    “Once I started enrolling in writing workshops and had people reading my work, it immediately gave me a new perspective," he said. "I was suddenly writing to communicate with others, which made all the difference. I no longer cut corners. I could no longer judge my work by its potential. Instead, I had to listen to how it was being perceived by others. I could no longer fool myself in isolation.”

    The advice and support provided by members of a writer’s workshop can make the difference in whether a project gets finished or not. It can almost certainly make the manuscript you ultimately create better.

    You can locate online groups or groups in your neighborhood with a quick Google search.

    Click here to read Kate Bittman’s interview with James Franco.



    Using Photos - Giants Win It All!

    I’ve been a San Francisco Giants fan for all 52 years since they came west from New York. Only baseball fans in places like Chicago, Cleveland and until fairly recently, Boston can understand what that means. Watching year after year as your team struggles futilely in its quest for a championship is indeed as a Giant’s broadcaster described it “torture.” So I am feeling a very strange sense of excited contentment today.  The photo below captures the reason.

    Freelance writer Randy Murray, in his blog First Today, Then Tomorrow, offers some excellent tips on using photos and illustrations.

    Murray begins, “Here’s the big secret: the image has to contribute to the reader’s understanding and comprehension of your text, not just to make the page more visually appealing.”

    How do you decide when the image does contribute to the reader’s understanding. Murray suggests four guidelines to decide:

    1.      You are referring to the specific image in your text – they purpose of your text IS the image.

    2.      The image will allow you to take a shortcut. By pointing to the image you can significantly reduce your description or be more accurate. “It looks like this,” with a picture, might save you 500 words and keep your readers’ interest.

    3.      The image reinforces your message

    4.      The image provides credible evidence to back up your words. Think “news photo,” like the picture of a house fire. [Or maybe the Giants!]



    Organizing a Family History - BYU Ancestors

    If you’ve been following our recent posts (or even if you haven’t) we have been looking at how to organize a family history book. The Brigham Young University TV series Ancestors offers some good insights on the subject. The website for the series which first aired in 1997 addresses several questions you’ll want to think about as you decide how to organize your book.

    • What type of history do you want to create?
    • How many people or generations should you include?
    • Who is your intended audience?
    • What style will you use? This section focuses on decisions about chronological or topical organization or combinations of the two. It also offers video clips which explain some of the choices you will face in organizing your family history.
    • Do you need an index or source citations?

    The website offers a variety of resources for family historians. It’s worth a look.

     Click here to visit the BYU Ancestors site.



    Rock Memoirs - The Good and the Bad

    I recently ran across a blog post on TheWrap which boasts it “Covers Hollywood” titled “Sex, Drugs & Publishing: Music Memoirs on a Rockin’ Roll.” Leading with the news that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has collected a $7.3 million advance for his just released memoir Life, the post notes that Rock memoirs have become a reliable cash cow for the publishers.

    “They’re pretty easy to produce, and with an already built-in audience, fairly cost-effective,” a NYC-based publishing executive told TheWrap. “Pretty much all you have to do is interview the subject and just get a ghost(writer) to polish it into prose.”

    Richards leads the Amazon preorder list.

    That might lead to a bit of justified cynicism.

    But on the same day I saw the post I heard Terri Gross on NPR interview singer Patti Smith, a punk icon, about her memoir Just Kids which has been nominated for a National Book Award in non-fiction. What a contrast.

    Smith’s book recalls the late 60s and 70s in New York City and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Together they grow up in the avant-garde world of Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsburg.

    Smith described their life together in this way, “We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed.”

    N.Y Times reviewer Tom Carson called Just Kids “…the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print.”

    The book deals with events before either Smith or Mapplethorpe had achieve the fame that would come later.

    As Carson put it, “Just Kids captures a moment when Ms. Smith and Mapplethorpe were young, inseparable, perfectly bohemian and completely unknown, to the point in which a touristy couple in Washington Square Park spied them in the early autumn of 1967 and argued about whether they were worth a snapshot. The woman thought they looked like artists. The man disagreed, saying dismissively, “They’re just kids.”

    It’s nice to see that the rock’n roll genre can produce art as well as schlock.

    Click here to read the complete NY Times review of Just Kids

    Click here to read TheWrap’s “Sex, Drugs & Publishing: Music Memoirs on a Rockin’ Roll”



    Unlocking Family Photographs

    Too often we meet people who say I have all kinds of old family photographs, but I can’t identify most of the people in them.

    Maureen Taylor’s book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs is a tool that can solve their problem. Taylor shows her readers how to use historical photos as research tools. She demonstrates how a family historian can unlock clues contained in the pictures. For example:

    • Using clues about the type of photographic process used to take the picture helps to accurately date it.
    • Historical details like telephone lines visible in the photograph demonstrate that it couldn’t have been taken before a specific date.
    • Details of the dress, studio props and poses of photo subjects can be compared to historical records to help date the photograph.
    • A close examination of a photograph may allow the researcher to determine its location.
    • These clues may also reveal the identity of the photographer.
    • And finally all of this information combined with a family historians knowledge of ancestors may allow her to identify the people pictured.

    “If you are only going to buy one book on this subject, this is the book for you,” said reviewer Carol Boston of Eureka, Illinois.



    Facts and Imagination in Memoir and Family History

    In writing a memoir or family history is your goal a factual retelling of your memories of your life story or those of your ancestors? Or is it to imagine what it must have been like to be a particular person living at a particular time and place? Is your goal to write a personal history or a piece of creative non-fiction or to blend the two?

    Richard Gilbert in his blog Narrative uses a recent interview in The Writer’s Chronicle to explore these questions.  Faye Rapoport Des Pres conducted the interview with Michael Steinberg, author of Still Pitching, a memoir of growing up in New York in the 1950s.


    At the core of a memoir [And I believe a family history as well.] are facts often based on extensive research. Says Steinberg, “Memoirs are set in real time and in real places, and they include real people and real events. Whatever else we think of the form, none of us would be inclined to trust a writer who fabricated those things. It goes without saying that a memoirist’s credibility, like the journalist’s, rests in part on those things that can be verified, even fact checked.”

    But the memoirist or family historian must make an important decision about what to do with the facts. Are the facts a limit or a point of departure?

    In Steinberg’s view a writer needs to add creative elements to the facts to get at the real story. He said, “…in my memoir Still Pitching I needed to re-imagine my childhood in order to better understand it. This was the only way I could express and articulate what it felt like to be that kid growing up in New York at that particular time in history (the ‘50s). In order to understand your past—in my case, childhood—you have to be able to imagine that past and the person you once were.

    Choosing that course may depart from the strictly factual.

    But by using the facts of the historical context in which the people about whom you write lived, you stand a much better chance of using you imagination to bring them to life for your reader.

    Click here to read Richard Gilbert’s full post on Narrative.


    Add Your Insights, Along With Family Stories

    I recently read a novel I would recommend highly, called The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. In it, an institutionalized woman secretly writes a memoir of her life in Ireland. In just the first few pages, I was hooked. The book is part mystery, part memoir, and contains insightful passages that shine like small jewels.

    I was delighted with this passage about the role of family stories. The narrator is remembering a story her father loved to tell. He had experienced a miracle, he said, when an Indian friend saved his life and appeared to sprout wings from his back like an angel. She concludes,

    " father's curious happiness was most clearly evident in the retelling of this story. It was as if such an event were a reward to him for being alive, a little gift of narrative that pleased him so much it conferred on himself, in dreams and waking, a sense of privilege, as if such little scraps of stories and events composed for him a ragged gospel. And if ever there were to be written an evangelical gospel of my father's life – and why should there not, as every person's life is said to be precious to God – I suppose those wings merely glimpsed on his friend the Indian's back would become more substantial, and things merely hinted at by him would become in the new telling by a second hand solid, unprovable, but raised up even higher into the realms of miracle. So that all and sundry might take comfort from it.

    My father's happiness. It was a precious gift in itself, as perhaps my mother's anxiety was a perpetual spanner thrown into her works. For my mother never made miniature legends of her life, and was singularly without stories, though I am sure there were things there to tell as good as my father's.

    It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.

    My father's happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, like a second more patient and more pleasing soul within my poor soul. Perhaps his happiness was curiously unfounded. But cannot a man make himself as happy as he can in the strange long reaches of a life? I think it is legitimate. After all, the world is indeed beautiful, and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it.

    There is a lesson, or sevaral lessons, to be learned here. It is not just the family story that captivates us. The author who comments on the story, who draws conclusions about what it means to her, can add a whole new level of meaning. What an opportunity for all of us, as authors, to not only reproduce and record family stories, but also to enrich the family narrative by conveying our own vision of the world.



    Topical Organization for a Family History

    Best-selling author Bill Bryson (Mother Tongue, Made in America: A Short History of Nearly Everything) has written a new book that might be of interest to people planning a family history.

    The New York Times recently reviewed Bryson’s newly published At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Says reviewer Dominique Brown, “Bryson’s focus is domestic; he intends, as he puts it, to ‘write a history of the world without leaving home.’” The book is organized around the rooms of Bryson’s house. “Moving from room to room, talking while we walk…” he touches on such disparate topics as antique parlor chairs, buttons, vitamins, stairs as a cause of fatal accidents, the Erie Canal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, the history of ice, Building materials, the numerous words important into English when India dominated the cotton trade, pillows, petroleum, and guano as fertilizer.

    “Bryson’s conceit is nifty, providing what business majors might recognize as a “loose-tight” management structure,” said Brown, ”flexible enough to maintain a global scope without losing track of the mundane.”

    It’s that organizational structure that can be useful for a family historian looking for an alternative to lock-step chronology. Whether frustrated by a shortage of stories to supplement the genealogical facts about some ancestors or simply looking for a more interesting way to relate the family history, topical organization can be a useful tool.

    A book might be organized around

    • Life experiences such as occupations, education, child raising, military service, migrations (everything from the stories of immigration to America to moves across the country or across the street) or food.
    • Values like courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work
    • Character traits including courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work

    Whichever topics around which you decide to organize your family history you will be able to add interest by using the historical context of the time and place in which ancestors lived to supplement their stories.

    Click here to read the full review of At Home: A Short History of Private Life.



    Organizing a Family History Book, Part 2

    There is another way to assure your book is compelling, and that is to proceed from the best of what you actually have. This may mean taking a topical approach, grouping your stories and research into sections and chapters that are something other than time periods.

    Here are some examples if you were to group stories and research around important events:

    • Places We’ve Lived
    • Good Family Times
    • Careers & Skills
    • Travels
    • Achievements
    • Other/ Etc


    On the other hand, you can use a topical organization for deeper themes:

    • Guiding Principles & Beliefs
    • Triumphs &Tragedies
    • Heroes & Villains
    • Faith & Religion
    • Historic & Social Changes
    • Other/ Etc


    The possibilities for these topics are endless, and they are created from the family history stories and research you actually have. It takes some thought, though, and this may be an area where you work with an editor for “developmental editing”, to figure out the best way to organize what you have.

    Within your topical order, you should be able to include all the same records, photos, stories, profiles, and whatever else you have gathered, that you might have put into a chronological book. Or you may choose to narrow your focus, developing the topic and eliminating some of the artifacts.

     The value of a topical organization is that for a casual reader that you hope to “hook” on family history, a topical order emphasizes what is important. You will be contextualizing information that otherwise they might find boring and distant.



    Possibilities for Organizing a Family History Book

    If you have been researching your family history for some time, you have probably accumulated a lot of information, too much to fit into one book. That’s OK. Much of that information may not be suitable for a book anyway, if you want your book to be a pleasurable reading experience. This is the first criteria to help you sort through the abundant possibilities of what to include in your book: what will your readers find interesting and valuable? (The drier, less engaging information can be shared on a companion CD, so you needn’t worry about depriving the reader of some critical facts.)

    Organizing a family history book can be imagined as two broad categories: a chronological approach, and a topical approach. Within these categories, there are many possibilities for crafting your family history into a compelling narrative. As long as the premise of the book is cohesive, such as focusing on one branch of the family, or a given period of time, both chronological and topical orgnizations can work well.

    Most people begin planning with a chronological approach. This seems the most logical, because that is the way history actually occurs, and your research is organized in this way. It seems logical to transfer the research to a book, in order. This has inherent problems, though. Usually the earlier periods lack specifics, and you’re less likely to have interesting stories about those earlier ancestors. The danger is an unbalanced book, one that is short and boring in the first chapters, and that only becomes interesting as you move toward the present.

    There are ways to compensate. The incomplete stories can be supplemented with some research and speculation, a reconstruction of the world that surrounded your ancestors. Another technique we often recommend is to use one section at the opening of the book for your most distant and incomplete research, which may only be a summary. Then launch the interesting stories in section two.

    How do you decide whether to use a chronological or a topical approach? As always, when planning a book, think of your reader first. If your readers are also historians, they will appreciate a chronological approach. It allows them to easily add your information to their existing knowledge. For more casual readers that you hope to “hook” on family history, a topical order emphasizes what is important.

    Our upcoming blog, to be posted on 10/14, will explore topical organization and give you some examples of how to re-think your family history.



    Who is Lightning Source, and Why the Buzz?

    If you Google “self publish a book”, you’ll see all the commercial leaders: CreateSpace, (Amazon’s self publishing division), Lulu, Xlibris, and more. CreateSpace and the others cater specifically to authors who want to directly access printing and publishing services. They have user-friendly websites with simple requirements. If you don’t have your book adequately prepared, they are happy to sell you supplementary author services. They will design your cover, sell or give you an ISBN, and offer you marketing services, too.

    Your Google search won’t reveal Lightning Source. Why not? Lightning Source emphatically doesn’t market to authors. Their niche is for publishers, people in the business of publishing books for commercial distribution. The website is nearly impenetrable to the casual browser, requiring an account login before you can learn about pricing or print specifications. One must apply for an account by passing a quiz on your publishing experience (!) and then following up with an account rep.

    So why bother with Lightning Source? Because they are the biggest print on demand (POD) supplier in the United States, supplying books to brick and mortar bookstores and fulfilling the orders of online booksellers such as and barnes& As a division of Baker & Taylor, your book is listed in the B&T catalog, and that puts you on, barnes&, etc. (The only retailer that does not sell Lightning Source books is

    No matter where your book order is placed, Lightning Source will print and ship your book in one day. Even better, you don’t have to pay for shipping This fast, reliable, free order fulfillment is wonderful for authors. If you’ve ever tried to sell your own offset printed books, or if you have been responsible for shipping costs from POD online stores, you know this is fantastic.

    A wide distribution, easy order fulfillment… what more could an author want? Higher profits, of course. With Lightning Source, you can sell your book on at a “short discount” of 20%. That means will take a smaller cut; just 20%, off the cover price of a Lightning Source book, while they take 35% or more from a CreateSpace book!

    For all these reasons, self publishing through Lightning Source can be the best game in town – in certain cases. Look for my upcoming blog, “Is Lightning Source Right for Your Book?”



    Want to Write a Family History, but Aren't a Writer?

    It’s always interesting to see how someone else responds to a situation you’re often presented with. That’s why I liked Lynn Palermo’s recent post at The Armchair Genealogist.

    The problem she faced was one we regularly encounter. "’But I’m not a writer’ is a common excuse I often hear when I am encouraging family historians to record their genealogy in a book format,” said Palermo.

    For people who feel that way, she offered a list of a dozen tips to help them get their family history written. It was a sound list, worth taking a look at. However she acknowledges that developing one’s writing skills can be an arduous task which can take some time.

    The alternative we frequently suggest to non-writers who want to create a family history book is to record the text, then transcribe it or get someone else to do it for you. All of us have told stories all our lives. Simply telling them into a digital recorder is an easy way to create a manuscript. And recording your stories will make sure that your distinctive way of speaking – what creative writing teachers call your voice - will appear in your book when the stories are transcribed. (If you didn’t see our series of posts on story recording in late August and early September, check them out. You’ll find plenty of advice on how to employ voice recording and transcription tools even if you are a non-writer.)

    Whether you decide to employ digital recording technology to “tell” your stories or sharpen your writing skills to the point where you’re ready to draft a manuscript, I think you’ll find that as Lynn Palermo says, “…the satisfaction of having written a family history book will be reward enough.”


    Click here to read Lynn Palermo’s post.