You’ve traced your lineage back ten generations. You know who came over on the Mayflower, or crossed the Middle Passage on a slaver, or came steerage to Ellis Island. You have all the details documented to the highest possible level of proof. How do you pass the product of your years of diligent research on to the next generation?
Put it in a book!
Think about the people with whom you want to share your knowledge of the family’s history. They are your book’s intended audience. What will they want to know? Think about how you can chronicle the family history in a way that will engage them – even the grandchildren.
It means looking beyond the vital records and pedigree charts to tell the family stories. Why did your ancestors leave the old country to come to America? What did great-great- grandfather do when he fought in the Civil War? What was it like when dad graduated from high school in 1930 and the country was slipping into the Great Depression? Give your audience a visit to the world your ancestors lived in.
Have you ever watched a child looking at a book? What’s the first thing they do? Look at the pictures. (Incidentally, so do adults.) So make your family history an illustrated book. Choose the best of the family photo collection to include. Enhance them with historical photos or images of family memorabilia and documents.
The good news is that digital printing has dramatically reduced the costs of publishing a family history. The days when authors who wanted to publish privately for family and a few friends had to pay a high price for hundreds of copies are gone. Print-on-demand publishing has made it possible to print a single copy of a bookstore-quality book. Online bookstores make it possible for each family member to order their own copy of your book.
Marty Daniels, whose great-great-grand-aunt Mary Boykin Chesnut’s Civil War journal was called “…one of the half dozen or so most important diaries in all literature…” by Reid Beddow of the Washington Post Book World, said when she donated Chesnut’s papers to the University of South Carolina, "We're just the custodians of a few threads. It's our challenge to pass it on."
Your family history book will do that for generations to come.
(This is post was originally published in October, 2012.)