Every writer needs to figure out their audience. Will you write a more research-oriented monograph, or write a short family story for the younger audience? Whatever you decide, you need to Hook your reader with . . .
- A favorite family story; or
- A favorite/interesting ancestor; or
- An interesting time in your ancestor’s life, or
- Why/how you got started in researching this family line?
- Start with action – start with a compelling story, place, or thing;
- Add context as you go.
To hook readers of my Nunn family history monograph, I used a technique called “I imagine.” I imagined how my grandfather felt when he learned of his sister's death in early 1947. This is the last paragraph of the prologue.
He sat down and closed his eyes as flashbacks of his childhood overtook him. They had survived, most of them, because of Lizzie. The acrid smell of unwashed bodies, dirty diapers, overcooked onions and cabbage in that small crowded Manhattan tenement came back to him like it was yesterday. Eleven babies had arrived; some didn’t survive. Despite all this Lizzie cared for them when their mother couldn’t. Harry never mentioned his childhood. He didn’t remember much about his parents, but he never forgot the day the authorities arrived.
Harry Nunn and his family, by Mary Nunn Maki ©2014
This is how I do it. I write my family history in Word. I develop a descendant line, and then find as many children as I can utilizing the census and other resources, adding dates as I find them. Direct line ancestors are in bold.
Descendants of Joseph Nunn b: 1857; d: May 1900 and Catherine Kurtz Nunn b: 1859 m: 14 Apr 1883; d: 12 May1917
Joe Nunn b: 1884; d: 6 Nov 1894 age 10
Unknown Nunn *
Elizabeth Nunn b: Oct. 1886 m: Louis Siebert b: 1881; d: 22 Apr 1916
Kathie Nunn b: 9 Apr 1888; d: 16 Aug 1891 (?)
Ignortz Nunn (Harry) b: 10 Sept 1890; d: 8 Nov. 1957
George Nunn b: 5 April 1892; d: abt 1985
Kate Nunn b: 21 Dec. 1893; d: 1928
Joseph Charles Nunn b: 23 Aug 1896
Amelia (Emilie) Nunn b: 8 March 1897 d: Aug 1980
Emma Nunn b: 8 Feb 1899; d: 18 May 1959; m: George Dorn
Charles Caspar Nunn b: May 1900 d: 8 Sept 1900
* Catherine consistently reports she had eleven children. I can find birth records for ten. I placed the unknown child in the biggest gap between Joe and Elizabeth.
Chapters or Sections
Each person has their own section or chapter in which I drill down and find out as much information on them as I can. I leave my direct line to last as a lead in to the next section. This way, if I can’t find much on one person, I move on to the next, and keep working on those giving me trouble. New information is coming online every day, and connections are made with those who might have the information I need.
Introductory paragraph on Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Nunn) Siebert. It took me nine years to break through the brick walls (yes, there is an “s” on that). It was Elizabeth who held the answers.
When Elizabeth Nunn married Louis Siebert in June 1905 she had one thing on her mind – bring her siblings out of St. Joseph’s Home and get them back under her roof. To do this she needed to retrieve the $300 she gave her neighbor Mrs. Louis in June of 1900 for safekeeping. And therein lies the problem. Mrs. Louis no longer had the money, which left Lizzie only one course of action.
That course of action: Elizabeth sued her neighbor Mrs. Louis for the money. This normally would not have been newsworthy to the New York Times, but in this case, it went to a jury trial, the verdict was in favor of Elizabeth. Mrs. Louis and her 8 children were in the courtroom and their heartbreak was so apparent that the jurors decided to take up a collection to pay Elizabeth so that Mrs. Louis wouldn’t have to go to jail. That short article in the Historic New York Times broke down a big brick wall for me in understanding what happened to this family. You never know where that small piece of information will appear to give you the breakthrough you need.
Some genealogists write their stories in prose only – no citations
“She was often called Veronica, although her given name was Verona. I called her “Grandma.” She came to America in 1922 via Ellis Island, just as some 6,000 other Slovak immigrants did that year.” Three Slovak Women, by Lisa A. Alzo ©2005
This paragraph in John Phillip Colletta’s book was found at the very end. I think it would be a great hook – why not at the beginning? If you run into him at a conference, please ask and report back. I also included this because of the sensual details. He takes you right into that dining room with his grandmother.
“In 1963 when I was a boy, my grandmother came to our house in a suburb of Buffalo. Smoothing out a length of cotton fabric on our dining room table – I think it was a floral print in soft yellows and greens – she told me while she cut out a dress that my great- great grandfather had been murdered. And I did not believe her. Since that distant summer afternoon, 30 years of searching in thousands of historical sources have vindicated my youthful skepticism. Grandma was wrong. Joe Ring was not murdered after all.” Only a Few Bones, by John Philip Colletta @2000.
Colletta used chapter notes at the end of his book for his citations.
Important stuff to remember
- Source citations – Cite as you go
- Copyright laws
- Footnotes and explanatory footnotes
- Numbering system –Register Style begins in the past and moves forward; Ahnentafel or Ancestor Table begins at or near present time going back to earliest known ancestors. The man’s number is even; the woman’s odd. Our software does this for us.
- Online doesn’t necessarily mean forever. Retain control of your information!
More stuff to remember
- Ancestral names in small caps bold.
- One space after a period
- Punctuation inside quotation marks;
- Decide on appropriate cover art – a family photo? If you take something off the Internet, get permission!
- Do you include living persons? [It is our personal policy not to include living persons, because we share our monographs with public institutions. If you decide to include living persons you must have their permission.]
- Questionable data, missing information; [For questionable data, use qualifying words like perhaps or probably. Write so that uncertain information is paired with certain facts. If you know that Mary Smith was born in Richmond, Virginia, but are not certain of the date, state Mary Smith was born in Richmond, Virginia probably around 1840.]
The beginning and the end – this is how your document will flow
-Introduction - How did you get started with this family line? Did you have some interesting adventures along the way? This is your chance to connect with your readers.
-Table of Contents and Photo list (page numbers can be put in at the very end)
-Appendices (Obits, family group sheets)
-Index – A must have – not negotiable. If you can’t do this, find someone who can. Hint: Index as you go; add page numbers when final draft is run. This is another good way to catch errors.
Title – This is serious business!
- Ancestral Journey – NO!
- Our Funny Family – NO!
- Cutter, Davenport & Butterfield Families of Elkhart, Indiana – Yes!
- Hardenbrooks of Upstate New York 1830-1996 – Yes!
Edit – You’re almost done! Read through, double check names, dates, copyright on your work, find qualified genealogists as beta readers.
Practice – Write a genealogy Blog, newsletter articles, or submit to a genealogy publication.
Decide how many copies you will need – Share your work
Family, repositories (historical societies and libraries where your ancestors lived), Allen County Public Library, Family History Library, Library of Congress.
My genealogy writing bookshelf
Guide to Genealogical Writing – Penelope Stratton and Henry Hoff
The Chicago Manual of Style
Evidence Explained – Elizabeth Shown Mills
Producing a Quality Family History – Patricia Law Hatcher
But most of all, have fun!