Helen’s post about back-up and disaster recovery highlighted the wisdom of securing the future of your research, whether this be in print, online, in the cloud, or in any other format. One of the most satisfying ways of preserving the fruits of your labour is to publish a family history.
When writing a record of your family, you can do a chronological history, delving back into the earliest records you have found; or you can focus on a specific ancestor with whom you feel a particular connection; or separate your family history into the different branches.
|Is this your family history?|
The options for writing a family history are endless. One way in which you can decide what suits you and the story you wish to tell is to browse through family histories that others have written – you will quickly gain a picture of what you like and, importantly, what you don’t like.
|A page from WIIFY?|
GSQ has an extensive library of family histories, biographies and autobiographies. These are catalogued in the 500 series: Biographies/Memoirs/Lineage/family histories (see GSQs catalogue What’s In It For You? or WIIFY?). The books are located partly on the shelves in the WorldWide section of the library, continue on the shelves facing the microfilm cabinets and finish on the shelves facing the research tables.
I am currently assisting in a stocktake of our library holdings. One of the benefits of this task is that in taking the book off the shelf, checking its title and catalogue number, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of the material we have in the library.
The family histories come in a wide variety of formats. Some of the earliest ones look as if they were typed up on a manual typewriter, copied and stapled down the side. These family histories were often printed on now out-of-date paper sizes, such as foolscap and quarto, as opposed to our modern standardised A4 or A5. This format provided limited scope for including photos – any that were included were black and white. The copying process makes it difficult to discern any fine details on the photos; family trees were handwritten or laboriously typed. Many of these histories are slim documents, perhaps reflecting the reduced amount of information available to researchers.
Advances on this format include spiral bound books, books in plastic covers, bound books with soft covers, and myriad variations on hard-covered books. More recent histories produced on computers are much more sophisticated, with colour on the covers, coloured photos inside, pedigree and family history charts produced by computer software, copies of certificates and a wide range of other documents, including extracts from newspapers. The content of family histories is only limited by the imagination, research skills and perseverence of the writer and the story that the writer wants to tell.
Carol Baxter (http://www.carolbaxter.com/) sets out a simple format for a family history in her book Writing interesting family histories. You need a title and introduction, and details of how you went about researching the family. You can then talk about family 1, family 2 and as many other families you wish to include: these sections should form the bulk of your family history. Tie up the family history with a conclusion and provide full reference notes, bibliography, and an index. Carol has written several books, gives numerous talks, and publishes a regular newsletter The History Detective.
|Examples of family history titles|
Within this overall format, there is significant scope for what material you include and how you present it. It is worth deciding at the beginning who you are writing for – this will have a significant impact on what is included – and importantly – what is excluded. What do you want to say? If you are not a seasoned writer, practice by writing a short article for a family or local history magazine, such as GSQs Generation, Australian Family Tree Connections, or any other relevant publication. Do you want your family history to stand out? Be creative in the title – My family tells the casual reader very little about what’s inside. The structure and style often emerge during the writing process, so it’s important not to focus too strongly on this at the beginning. Often the most appropriate beginning comes when you reach the end – writing up your research can take on a life of its own and steer you in a direction quite different from what you had intended. Attending a writing class or group where you can get feedback and help to develop your skills is worthwhile.
Family histories can not only be found at GSQ, but also in local libraries – so do take the time to browse as this may give you the inspiration to get writing.