23 Tips for Writing a Family History

As stated in previous posts, I learned a lot between the time I started researching my family history and the time I published Spring House: Book 1 in the Westward Sagas. Here is a list of tips I wish someone had given me before I started:

  1. Begin by determining your purpose. Is your goal to pass on the family heritage to your descendants? Or do you want to reach a wider audience? Do you want to write just the known facts, or would you prefer to write the story as fiction to fill in the gaps?
  2. Decide on your focus. Your family tree has many branches, and you’ll be most effective focusing on only one branch—or at least one branch at a time. As you gather information, you may change your focus based on what you learn, but you’ll accomplish more if you have a focus.
  3. Plan ahead for the publishing and marketing of your book. Be alert for contacts and opportunities for promotion as you research and write. Keep contact records of anyone who might be potential book buyers or who could help you publish and distribute your family history book. Even if you are publishing only for family members, include all the relatives you interview or come in contact with during your research.
  4. Develop a system that works for you to organize information: a notebook with a page for each ancestor, a file box, computer files—whatever is easy for you to use.
  5. Get a small tape recorder you can use for interviews so you can enjoy the conversation without worrying about taking good notes.
  6. Make copies of valuable documents as you research to preserve the originals.
  7. Begin your research close to home. Interview your parents, grandparents, and other relatives and ask to research any family records they have available.
  8. Take advantage of your public library and libraries in the areas where your ancestors lived. Many libraries have extensive genealogical departments with staff knowledgeable about the history and people of the region or state.
  9. Join genealogical societies and historical associations in the locales you are researching. Even if you live too far away to participate in local meetings, you can access valuable records and dedicated genealogists who are familiar with the history of the region.
  10. Use online resources: archives of source documents; places to search for ancestral information; discussion forums to share with other researchers; and blogs that offer advice, links to other resources, and opportunities to make contacts.
  11. Be as eager to share information as you are to obtain it. You may have a piece of information that fills a gap for someone else, and the more gaps that are filled in genealogical records, the more information is available to everyone.
  12. Gather enough information to work with before you start writing but expect to continue to research throughout the writing process.
  13. If you are not confident of your writing ability, join a local or online writers group to learn about the craft of writing or take a writing class at a community college.
  14. Start writing with the intent of getting some ideas down. Don’t think that the first draft has to be perfect—you’ll probably think it’s awful—but if you worry about writing a great first draft, you’ll never finish.
  15. Get a “second opinion” or several other opinions after you’ve written part of the story—from people you interviewed to be sure you understood their meaning, from people who don’t know anything about your family to see if they understand, from people who know something about writing.
  16. Decide whether you agree with the feedback you get from early readers; use the input you find helpful to improve the story as you continue writing.
  17. Only if you find you’ve veered far off-course should you revise what you’ve written before moving on. Otherwise, wait until the second draft to make changes in the first part of the book.
  18. When you’ve finished the book, start on revisions. In the first edit, concentrate on the organization and content. Is the story in the right order? Did you include all the characters and events you intended? Is it clear to readers who these people are and why they do what they do?
  19. In the second edit, flesh out the characters, descriptions, and dialogue (if you have included dialogue). In the next edit, work on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and transitions to polish the story. Edit the story as many times as necessary to make it the best you can, but realize it will never be perfect. You have to stop editing and finish at some point.
  20. After you’ve edited the manuscript several times, ask one or more other people to read it. A professional editor can make a big difference; if you plan to publish for an audience larger than your family, professional editing is essential.
  21. Make any needed revisions, then, in the final edit, read the manuscript aloud, preferably with someone else. You’ll be amazed at how many problems show up when you’re reading aloud that you missed when reading silently.
  22. If you’re publishing a few copies of the book for your family only, you can lay the book out in a word processor and have it printed at a local printer or even print the pages on your computer printer and insert them in loose-leaf binders.
  23. If you’re publishing for a wider audience, you’ll need to hire professionals for the interior and cover design and printing. You can contract with individual vendors for the various services you need or hire someone to handle everything. Be wary of publishing companies that charge you large fees to “publish” your family history, then require you to purchase the copies of the book. Check the credentials and references of professionals you use and interview them to be sure you’re comfortable working with them.
© Copyright The Westward Sagas ~ Contact: info@westwardsagas.com

Design by PRO Marketing Links | Powered by PML Web Hosting