As Dan Rowan and Dick Martin used to say on Laugh In, “Hello from beautiful downtown Burbank.”
Nancy and I are here for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. We taught our first class, “The Many Ways to Organize a Family History Book,” this morning.
The class reminded me that many genealogists and family historians think the process of creating a book begins after they finish their research. That’s just not true.
First, genealogical and family history research is a lifetime pursuit. Most of us will never be “finished.”
What we need to understand is that if we begin planning our book as soon as we decide we want to write one we’ll save ourselves a lot of time and effort by avoiding detours we might otherwise have encountered. Let’s look at how that planning process might work.
Begin by imagining what your book might look like when you finish it. Don’t worry about what you have already documented with research. Think about the big ideas you want to include. Create three lists – People, Ideas and Events. Almost anything you’ll want in your book will fit one of those three categories. Make then as extensive as you want. Feel free to add to the lists when a new idea occurs to you.
When you finish your lists, it’s time for a quick inventory of the research you have already done. You need to determine what you have and what you think you will still need to find. Create a chart (or better yet ask us about the one we have available on CD) with columns for people, events, ideas, when where, why, stories, images, and documents. Transfer the information from your big ideas lists to the first three columns. Then ask yourself what you know about where the items/people were and what you know about that setting. Do you have a relevant date? Why did the event happen? Do you have stories related to the listing? Do you have photos or other images? Do you have documents? List what you have in the appropriate columns? What you will see from the chart is where you have enough, or even too much material and where you will need more to include it in the book. This will really focus future research on things you really need to know.
A thoughtful review of your chart will help you conclude that you have way too much material on your grandmother. You’ll probably want to consider which of the many things you could say about grandma are the most interesting. Maybe you’ll want to cut some of the rest. At the same time you may see that your knowledge of your ancestor’s decision to leave the old country and come to America is somewhat sketchy. You’ll want to look for more material to add here. You may find that there are themes running through your lists. For example you may find multiple ancestors have operated businesses or served in the military and decide that you can combine your remarks on those experiences by focusing on entrepreneurship or patriotism as a family trait. By looking at what you may want to cut, add or move at the beginning of the process of creating your book you can increase the efficiency with which you progress towards its completion. The additional research you will need to do is reduced significantly and grows much more targeted.
When you have finished this preliminary organization you should consider how you want to tell your ancestors’ stories – the style of your book. But that’s a topic for a future post.