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From: Stephen Hayes
To: All
Date: 2003-12-25 19:16:16
Subject: Writing a family history

* Forwarded (from: GEN_BRITAIN) by Stephen Hayes using timEd/2 1.10.y2k.
* Originally from Roy Stockdill (8:8/2002) to All.
* Original dated: Tue Dec 23, 05:48

From: roy{at} ("Roy Stockdill")

The current debate about a coat of arms, and whether anyone should 
use on a family history a depiction of armorial insignia to which 
they are not entitled, prompts me to suggest that anyone seriously 
wanting to write up their family history - always something to be 
encouraged for the sake of posterity - should do some good, 
solid research first before embarking on what is, after all, a major 

I would first recommend reading an excellent book on the subject by 
the well-known genealogist JOHN TITFORD, a colleague of mine on the 
SoG Publications Committee. "Writing and Publishing Your Family 
History" is a u4.95 paperback published by Countryside Books and the 
Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd. It's an 
easy-to-read, step-by-step guide telling you everything you need to 

"Writing Up Your Family History" is also one of my own lectures and I 
am happy to share with listers here some of the general principles 
I always give to my audience:-

1) Before you write a single word, devise a "game plan". Do NOT sit 
down at your computer surrounded by hundreds of documents and notes 
and files, etc, with only the vaguest idea of where to start and what 
you are doing because you will end up in a hopelessly confused muddle 
and probably tears of frustration. By "plan" I mean get an idea very 
clearly in your mind of what form you want the book to take and 
devise some clear chapter headings and contents. Jot down some notes.

2) Plan the layout of the book carefully. Will you introduce family
trees and charts in the context of each chapter as you go along or
will you put them all together in a separate section? Either way is
equally valid, as long as if you plan to put them all together in one 
section you cross-ref where appropriate to the chapters or pages of 
the particular branch they cover. Secondly, will you write the book 
in chronological order, starting from as far back as you know and 
working towards the present? This is one way of telling a family's 
story in a narrative style. But there are others that are equally 
valid - one way is to tell the story of how you set about tracing 
your ancestors and how you achieved it stage by stage. A third way is 
to write a separate chapter about each branch of the family or, if 
they warrant it, devote a whole chapter to one particular person.

3) Decide which family line you are going to follow and stick to it,
otherwise you will end up very muddled!

4) Who are you writing the story for? Other genealogists, historians, 
the general public  or your own family? Remember that the great 
majority of your readers will not be family historians at all, 
therefore you must explain what, for example, bishops' transcripts 
and the Hearth Tax are. And be sure to annotate and reference ALL 
your sources, 

5) Setting people in a historical and social context. This, too, is
vital in bringing home to the reader some understanding of the kind of
times our ancestors lived in and how difficult in many respects their
lives must have been. Mention the great national and international
events they lived through - wars, battles, dramas, tragedies,
triumphs, celebrations etc - as well as incidents of a more localised
nature, which may seem trivial but again give a valuable picture of
the times. What stories were in the local papers at the time
(especially if your ancestors figured in them), what kind of goods
were being offered in adverts and in the local shops, what was the
premier industry of the area, where did most people work, what clothes
did they wear, how did they spend their leisure time - and a million
other questions.

6) Finally, remember the old adage "A picture is worth a thousand 
words." It's true! Pictures of your ancestors, their houses, churches 
where they worshipped, maps of the places they lived, shops, 
memorabilia such as certificates, military service records, etc, all 
help to bring a family history truly alive.

Designing and publishing your family history is a whole different 
ball-game in itself and I may post another message later, or if 
anyone wishes to ask me a question on a particular aspect, feel free 
to e-mail me.

Roy Stockdill
Web page of the Guild of One-Name Studies:-
Newbies' Guide to Genealogy & Family History:-

"It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of
people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean
advantage of them." 

- P. G. Wodehouse

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