Monday, May 29, 2017

Writing a Family History – The Nitty-gritty

The book Guide to Genealogical Writing by Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff was mentioned in a couple of sessions I attended at NERGC. I decided to purchase a copy and am glad I did!

This book gets down to the nitty-gritty of producing a written family history. The first chapter sets the stage: “Shifting Mental Gears.” In other words, you have to stop thinking like a researcher and get into the mindset of a writer. Now, this is the heart of the matter and what I struggle with for my September presentation - how to encourage genealogists who love the chase, but feel they have no writing skills.

Some suggestions: After deciding the scope of your project, one ancestral line or several, determine your audience and time frame. Those decisions will narrow down your focus. From the research you have completed, develop a table of contents. This is not set in stone, but will serve as a guide to keep you on track.

Chapter two explains the genealogical numbering systems, and I admit I have not followed either in my previous monographs. That is something I have on my to-do list.

Chapter three explains how to make a style sheet, and this is something I have done. It is necessary to ensure consistency in your writing. I also use it for citation styles I use the most – utilizing the formats in Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

The above is a sample of the wonderful information contained in this book, taking the genealogist from the very start right through publication. I encourage anyone thinking about writing up family stories to purchase this book. It even gets down to the detail that there is only ONE space after a period! Not what our generation was taught.

A Worlds Collide Moment - I was surprised to see their example of a narrative geographic setting on page 48. The narrative, “On the Coast of Ireland,” starts by saying “… among the markers in St. Rose Cemetery in Sandy Hook, CT … “ That information, I believe, they got from the Irish Tombstone Transcription project I did in 2005!!!  My transcription of the Irish tombstones was published in Connecticut Ancestry (November 2005 Vol. 48, No2), and also resides on the Genealogy Club of Newtown’s website. It proves once again genealogy is a small world. After completing the transcriptions in St. Rose Cemetery, I then did the Irish tombstones in Old St. Peter's Cemetery, Danbury, CT, with the help of Harlan Jessup. Harlan took our project to the board of Connecticut Ancestry, who assembled volunteers to record the rest of Fairfield County's Irish tombstones.


  1. Mary, first let me say WOW about the Irish Tombstone Transcription project being recognized in the book. Fantastically small world! Also your book review is very timely because I'm in the middle of writing a family memory booklet this week. Going heavy on the stories and narrative, heavier on the photos, and light on the citations (relegating them to back of the book) to encourage younger readers to go ahead and read. Only older readers are likely to care about the evidence, IMHO.

  2. Marian: You make a good point and one that I will be sure to include in my upcoming presentation. There are so many ways to present your family history, but the main thing is to decide who your audience is, and write accordingly.