Are you are a family historian working to transform your research into a book? You want to make sure it is one family members will enjoy reading. Here are six things to keep in mind:
Make it a story Remember when we were young kids, pleading to our parents “Tell me a story!” Readers are looking for the same experience. As a researcher you may have gathered a mountain of facts, but your readers will be more pleased by the narrative that weaves those facts together.
Make it a part of the historical context. Ancestors’ lives didn’t happen in isolation. They happened at particular times, in particular places. Your ancestors lived in Boston – was it during the revolution? Or in California – did they come during the Gold Rush? In Mississippi – what was happening with the Civil War? Adding details of time and place makes their story more interesting.
Make it thematic. What’s the “big idea” behind the events you describe? What values motivated and affected your ancestors? Families are shaped by ideas, not just events, like the importance of education, patriotism, community service, overcoming adversity, entrepreneurship, religious faith or the search for opportunity. Describe and discuss the particulars of this theme in your family’s history to understand them in a broader context.
Make it personal and emotional. What were your ancestors thinking and feeling at important moments of their lives? Why did they do the things they did? If you are fortunate, they left records behind in letters, diaries, or newspapers. If they didn’t, you can certainly speculate on what they might have been thinking or feeling at a particular moment. Use the facts you have, and consider the historical context. For example: a family fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s – it’s easy to guess they would have been thinking about loss, and about new opportunities. Just make sure to play fair with your reader by letting him know when you are speculating and why you’ve reached the conclusions you have.
Make it illustrated. The digital age has made us all, especially younger readers, more visual. Fortunately, digital publishing has made it easier and less expensive than ever to include photographs, documents, charts, and images of family artifacts. Images will improve the reader’s experience and enhance the story you are telling. Let your reader see the times, places, and people you are writing about.
Make it professional. You have done the work of creating a memorable family history. The book will be a family heirloom. Make sure it looks good, so that you look good. It should be well edited, professionally laid out and displayed in a well-designed cover. Don’t have the skills or software to design your book yourself? Few researchers do. Get help from services like ours to complete and publish your book professionally.