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Family History Books

Updated: Apr 5

Yesterday, in the family researchers club, we talked about creating family history books. How to create them? What to include and what not to include? How to compile the information? I will share insights in this post as well.

Desk of a researcher

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe, and each writer will have to make their own choices.

Firstly, it's important to understand the purpose and audience of your family history book:

  • Is the book written to document research results?

  • Is its purpose to interest other family members?

  • Maybe the goal is to pass family stories on to future generations?

Approaches and writing styles are very diverse, and everyone needs to find the one that suits them best. There are strictly scientific genealogical registers listing all ancestors with birth, marriage, and death dates.

One can create these according to Register system, starting with ancestors and listing all descendants.

Another numbering method is the Ahnentafel, which starts with oneself and then lists direct ancestors on the right side. You can see such a family tree scheme here.

These days, a creative approach and storytelling are becoming more popular. In this approach, it's not so important to list all ancestors and their data, but to tell the family's story. In this case, the book's purpose is to engage and captivate the reader, it's not a "family encyclopedia".

It's recommended to supplement facts with contextual information:

  • Explain what was happening in the parish, country, or the world during that period.

  • Add additional information about people's daily lives – what did they eat, what did they wear, how did they entertain themselves?

  • Explain about ancestors' occupations. If, for example, they were farmers, describe what that meant at the time? What responsibilities did they have? What were their duties? How big was the farm, and how was the land cultivated then?

Enrich facts with memories, interview relatives, and keep their living language with all its expressions and dialect words in the text.

All family book creators agree that nowadays it's extremely important to supplement the text with images:

  • family photographs,

  • photographs of documents,

  • pictures of places and buildings,

  • photographs of family objects,

  • maps

People with less knowledge and interest in history might only look at the pictures. They will not read complicated and lengthy texts. Approach the process creatively - invite grandchildren to illustrate family stories or see what artificial intelligence can do in this field.

drawing of an interior

However, remember that images have copyrights. The photographer owns the copyrights during their lifetime and 70 years after death. If the book is published for a wide public, copyright permissions must be obtained.

If you want to publish the book through a publishing house, the images must be of high quality, with at least 300dpi resolution.

If you are writing a story, then references in the text will not be appropriate, but they can be indicated at the end of the text. In any case, references to used sources are important; they will allow other readers, even decades later, to navigate the sources and check them if necessary.

Pay attention to text formatting as well:

  • divide the text into sections. It's best to separate the father's and mother's families into different parts of the book or even into separate books.

  • use headings and subheadings.

  • Split the text into paragraphs and don't make them too long. Long, uniform texts without spaces and paragraphs are very difficult to perceive and most likely, readers will not want to read them.

Finally, the advice is to start writing parallel to researching and not wait until the entire research is complete. For an enthusiastic researcher, the work will never end, there will always be some side branch that one will want to explore.

If you have decided to write a family history book, don't delay, start with any chapter. The desired order can be established later. Style and grammatical errors can be corrected at the end.

Start writing, allocating a specific time for it each day or week!



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