Writing family history articles, booklets and books

Share

Contents

Introduction

I decided to write a family history book, so the first problem which anyone faces with this idea is how much information do I include?

There are a number of webpages which provide generic information about writing a family history book. This article is different in that I will tell you about what I have done, using what tools and what I have found along the way that could be improvements.

I started by creating family articles which I printed and put in a folder. Later I combined these into a pedigree style book and later into smaller booklets for sharing specific parts with my extended family and distant cousins. These books work well and after sharing the information there are always corrections and further information made available. Using the ideas below, the second version of my family history book is still a long way off.

Researching, recording, presenting and sharing your family history is a task that is made manageable through the use of computers and a range of useful software. This article will only be considering the recording and presenting of information in family articles, booklets and books. For other information on relevant software see the article on Portable, Open Source, Freeware for Genealogy.

Family Articles

Family Articles are at the core of how I go about my research, save and record the information that I have accumulated. A family article could be described as a detailed family group sheet.

Layout

Each family article is a narrative about a particular family. Where known the information I include in each family article includes;

  • The husbands details of his birth and information on his birth family including his parents names and years of birth and death and a table where he is listed amongst all his siblings with their years of birth and death and where relevant the married names of any sisters. Also included is any known information on his early years.
  • The wife's details as above.
  • Any photos, newspaper articles and points of interest including any relevant local history which they may have experienced.
  • Also included is the same level of information on any additional spouses.
  • Information on their marriage and any points of note, followed by a table showing each of their children with their birth and death years and any relevant married names.
  • Then I include a brief narrative about each child providing their birth and death details along with information about any spouses including their parents and how many siblings they had. Below each of the children's brief narratives, is a table listing any children who of course are the grandchildren of the primary couple the article is about.

Sources

At the end of each article I then listed my sources, however I now have that separated out into 2 documents.

  • Beginning with a list of names of the living people who have provided information and their relationship to the deceased. The closer the relationship the higher up the list and all else being equal they are in alphabetical order.
  • Sources such as certificates, indexes, etc are then listed in a manner that roughly follows the flow of the article, with primary sources listed first and then secondary sources.
  • Creating a new document for your sources instead of including at the end of the document your article is written on may seem silly because then you would have to have two documents open to work on that family. As your research grows and you are creating booklets and books as described below then it becomes easier to place these sources at the end and keep the readability of the book.

Notes

A detail which should also be included is the date for the current version of the article. Another thing to include could be a link to the primary couples family page on WeRelate or Wikitree.

Writing family articles is a matter of recording what you learn and putting that into a narrative, of course the more you find out about a person the more interesting that narrative will become. Remember to include your sources and for writing family articles treat this document like a family group sheet and capture as much information as you can. Remember that when it comes to further details about siblings children, grandparents and others, then another family article may be the more appropriate place to record that information.

I use OpenOffice, Text document because it is Portable, Open Source, Freeware, but you could use Microsoft Word, Google Text document or any other similar program. Most word processing applications today have a method of saving the document as a PDF. This is useful for sharing your work with anyone who is interested in one or more people in that family article and it remains looking the same regardless of what program they use to view it. In case your program doesn't have this capability or you need to turn other items into PDF, there are a number of programs which will convert any document type into a PDF. One of these programs which is free and simple to use is Cute PDF, it acts like a printer, when you send your document to the CutePDF printer it saves it in PDF format.

Photographs, newspaper articles and other images are a great way to liven up a family article, however they are not always the right size or you may want to edit the image before including it in your family article. Fotografix is Portable, Open Source, Freeware which works well for editing images. Another free program Paint.net, is not suitable for a USB however it is very good for editing images.

Pedigree Books

The simplest way to create a book from here would be to print and combine all your family articles in a folder. My decision to use combined family articles has worked well from the perspective of knowing how much to include and how far you want your research to go. Like most people my family history research was initially focused on my ancestors and my first book went back as far as six generations using family articles and then a summary for the seventh generation because of the sometimes limited or non-existent information at this level. I call this a book even though there is only one printed copy and that is on A4 paper in a ring binder.

Using the same format It was also easy to create two smaller versions in PDF for each set of my grandparents and their ancestors because sharing it with my cousins, aunts and uncles I knew they wouldn't want all the information for the other side of my family. I also created another two smaller versions with the starting couples being great grandparents, because a second cousin is also researching our common great grandparents and the other went to a great aunt who had provided a lot of information including some wonderful photos of her parents, (my great-grandparents), their siblings and parents.

Layout

Using multiple family articles to present my family history in a book format meant that I needed a format to follow, I decided to follow the idea of a pedigree chart, start with the first couple, move back to the next generation and so forth until you get to the level you want. To make the book/s more presentable, easier to understand and a little more interesting I included general research on the relevant surnames and their origins and I created a few other pages to insert between each generation, indicating that the next family articles being read are about the next generation back in the pedigree chart. Each book includes;

  • Title page
  • Index
  • Acknowledgement for the help received from others
  • An appropriate Pedigree chart
  • An Introduction about how the book came about and general information stating what is and isn't included in the book.
  • Family Article 1
  • Surname pages for the couple in Family Article 1
  • Next Generation page
  • Family Article 2 and 3
  • Surname pages for the wives in Family Articles 2 and 3
  • Next Generation page
  • Family Article 4, 5, 6 and 7
  • Surname pages for the wives in Family Articles 4, 5, 6 and 7
  • You can then continue taking this back for as many generations as you choose

Sources

My original version of this pedigree style family history book had the sources listed at the end of each family article, yet I would have preferred to list them all at the end as you will find in any other book. As noted above in the section on family articles this can easily be achieved by creating a separate source document for each family article.

Notes

Once you have your family articles, surname articles and any other relevant pages such as an index and title page all saved as individual documents then you can create a book by printing them and put them in a folder. You can also save them as individual PDF documents and then it is easy to use PDFTK Builder, Portable, Open Source, Freeware, which will combine all of your PDF documents into one larger document and leave the originals intact as individual PDF documents. Now you have your book in PDF and you can share it as an e-book.

Descendant Booklets

The ancestor book worked well, however new connections with 3rd and 4th cousins and other levels of relations around my Great, great great grandparents revealed a lot further information and I was provided with a lot more information including corrections, certificates, photographs, family stories, descendant details and motivation to use the family article idea to also produce descendant booklets.

To create the descendant booklets I used the same family articles, a new index, new generation break pages and I had to create a few more family articles for the other children of the focus family. Saving them all in PDF and then using PDFTK Builder, the descendant booklets are created.

Layout

My chosen format for the descendant booklets has developed around my Great, great, great grandparents. They include;

  • A title page and index.
  • The family article for the couple.
  • Information on the origins and other details relating to both of their surnames.
  • A generation break page followed by the family article for each of their parents.
  • If any further generations are known about then also a pedigree chart.
  • A link page to their children followed by a family article for each of their children.

This creates a descendant booklet down to the names of their great grandchildren and I have not gone to the level of including family articles for their grandchildren because a) in my booklets that starts to run into privacy concerns, b) that is a lot of additional work.

Notes

By sharing these descendant booklets I have then been given a lot of extra information including further information on their descendants and photos of my ancestors and their family members.

The combining of these articles into descendant booklets did create some repetition of content. A solution I have used to eradicate most of the repetition is to save a copy of the family article for the primary couple without the narratives for their children and as mentioned previously, by creating separate source pages all of the source information is at the end instead of with each article.

Even though some of my descendant booklets are quite large, I refer to them as booklets instead of books because together they all form a part of my overall family history book.

A Big Family History Book

Using the idea of both the Pedigree style ancestor family history book and the descendant booklets I am taking all of this a step further. I refer to this as a great big book because it is a pedigree style ancestor book inclusive of descendant booklets, some of which can be quite large by themselves.

The layout below uses booklets for generations four and six from a seven generation pedigree chart. It would work very well if you used generations three and six or four and seven, remembering that if you were using surname articles you wouldn't repeat those. Because in my big family history book the booklets are only two generations apart I have used two types of descendant booklets. The descendant booklets described above are used for all sixteen couples who are my Great, great, great grandparents. For my great grandparents I have used the same idea but I have cut out the articles on their parents, the surname articles and any pedigree charts because these all appear in my sixth generation descendant booklets and would be repetitive.

Layout

  • Title page, index, acknowledgements, introduction and Five generation pedigree chart
  • Family article for my parents
  • Generation break page
  • Descendant booklets for all 4 sets of great grandparents (without articles for their parents, surnames or pedigree charts)
  • Generation break page and Seven generation pedigree chart
  • 16 Descendant booklets for great, great, great grandparents
  • Information about Onto the Seventh Generation

Notes

The layout described above is a big project, however within it are a multitude of small and medium projects which are satisfying to work on and complete. Each family article takes time to research and compile and each descendant booklet has it's own rewards as you share what you know with newly found relations and receive more information in return.

Over the years I have followed tangents and found out a lot about families who are not a part of my family history books, as a guide to where I should put my efforts I use two ways to keep my research focused;

  • The level of detail in the family articles is one level of focus because otherwise it can be too easy to go off on a tangent, which can be interesting but not what I am looking for.
  • The other focus for my book is the Onto the Seventh Generation principle. Keeping the book to a particular generation means that it isn't going to get lopsided.

WeRelate and Family history books

Using WeRelate to record family history is a way to refine your narrative writing and to compile your family articles one person at a time. Using the Criteria for Genealogy Well Done you may get one or more of your pages put up as a feature page, but more importantly, you will likely try harder and learn additional information about the family while you are trying to make sure there are no red links or question marks.