5 Effective Tips for Self-Editing a Family History Book

“The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.” — Zadie Smith

Editing is a critical component of the writing process. After all, a well-written document needs polishing to ensure high quality. A common misconception is that editing involves “correcting” mistakes.

While proofreading takes care of typos and linguistic issues, editing is not about “correcting” issues. Editing involves fine-tuning texts to ensure they clearly communicate their intended message.

Editing, therefore, must become another tool that allows writers to get their message out there exactly as they intend.

When it comes to family history books, self-editing is a crucial first step in ensuring the best possible manuscript. Self-editing allows writers to see areas for improvement and refinement.

But how does one go about self-editing their own family history book?

Read on, as we discuss the essential elements to the editing process, as well as five effective tips for self-editing a family history book.

What is the editing process?

Writers consistently edit their writing. There is an ongoing process of modifying words, sentences, and paragraphs throughout the text. This editing process may cause writers to get stuck while attempting to phrase their ideas appropriately.

Generally speaking, most people believe that editing pertains to correcting grammatical and style mistakes.

While editing certainly involves these tasks, reviewing linguistic elements is just one of the steps in the overall editing process.

The overall editing process involves four main areas:

  1. Content and Developmental Editing. Content editing can happen at any time during the writing process. This part of the process involves reviewing the flow, organization, tone, and pacing of the material. This edit is crucial for family history books as it ensures the book includes the information needed to represent the family’s true identity accurately. Thus, content editing may involve verifying the accuracy of the information and sources to avoid factual errors.
  2. Line Editing. Line editing is highly useful to ensure the smooth flow of the narrative. Mainly, this edit seeks to eliminate repetitious phrases and run-on sentences, clarify meaning, and spruce up boring passages. Line editing reviews paragraph structure so that the entire text matches its intended tone.
  3. Copy Editing. In this edit, a review of linguistic conventions is key. A good way to ensure consistency throughout the text is to follow the rules contained in a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Style Guide. Also, this review must ensure the text follows American or British English conventions to avoid mismatching them.
  4. Proofreading. Proofreading is generally the last step of the process. This edit focuses on spelling, punctuation, prepositions, extra spaces, and synonyms.

Please bear in mind that content and line editing do not aim to highlight grammatical and styling mistakes. While the content and line editing may signal issues, copy editing and proofreading must weed out these issues to ensure high quality text.

Why Editing is a MUST

The editing process is paramount to any successful family history book. It allows the writer’s message to surface throughout the text. Moreover, readers will get the most out of the information contained in the text.

In contrast, a lack of editing may cause a family history book to fail its purpose.

Furthermore, the people depicted in the narrative may become misrepresented due to a lack of adequate language use. Therefore, the editing process must become a crucial element of all family history book projects.

5 Effective Tips for Self-Editing a Family History Book

Family history book writers must ensure a high quality product. Thus, editing their manuscripts is an essential part of the entire process. While self-editing may sound a bit daunting, there are five things family history book writers can implement to ensure a top-notch editing process.

1. Automate proofreading.

The proofreading process can be painstaking and time-consuming.

In particular, proofreading long manuscripts may consume a significant chunk of time. In some instances, proofreading might even lead to significant delays in a family history book’s completion.

Fortunately, technology has facilitated proofreading through the use of automated tools. Automated proofreading tools such as Grammarly or Hemingway can greatly reduce the time needed to review grammar, spelling, punctuation, and major style issues.

While by no means perfect, these tools allow writers and editors to spot superficial issues, thereby freeing up time for more in-depth analysis and review.

Please remember that automated tools use artificial intelligence to review texts.

Therefore, one cannot expect these tools to replace the human eye.

Nevertheless, automated tools help save brainpower for line and content editing tasks.

2. Become the reader.

One of the biggest mistakes that writers make is to edit texts using a writer’s mindset. This writer’s mindset entails thinking about a text from the writer’s perspective as opposed to the reader’s perspective.

Indeed, the reader’s perspective is much different as the reader does not usually think about intent. The reader sees words in black and white. If the words do not convey their meaning adequately, the message will not get through to the reader.

Thinking like a reader also involves understanding the target audience. This understanding leads to using language, tone, and style that reflect the target audience’s thoughts and perceptions.

For example, a family history book intended for children and teenagers needs a more appropriate tone for a younger audience. In contrast, a scholars-oriented family history book would require a formal academic tone.

3. Think objectively.

Undoubtedly, a family history book project involves one’s emotions. These emotions are the “secret ingredient” that gives the family history book a unique flavor. However, writers must cast their feelings aside during the editing process.

How so?

When writers become too attached to their prose, it can be hard to rewrite some parts, move others, or eliminate sections.

Becoming overly attached to one’s writing can cloud judgment. Therefore, it is crucial to keep a level head.

Keeping a level head requires thinking objectively. Objective thoughts lead to a pragmatic editing process. Consider this common situation:

Family history books are laden with anecdotes. Nevertheless, anecdotes must contribute to the book’s overall narrative.

If an anecdote does not contribute to this narrative, it must go.

Making these decisions can be difficult, heartbreaking even.

The emotional attachment that comes with sharing a family’s most beloved stories may cause writers to face a dilemma. On the one hand, they are eager to include the most interesting stories in their family history book. On the other, it can be extremely hard to let go of stories that do not fit the book’s overarching theme.

Ultimately, maintaining an objective mindset can help determine what goes into the book and what does not. In the end, the material that does not make the cut can always become part of future projects.

4. Listen to others.

Self-editing often involves other people’s opinions. These opinions typically come from friends, family, co-workers, or colleagues.

Authors enlist third-party opinions in something akin to a beta reading project, where a group of people read the author’s manuscript and provide constructive feedback.

While this approach can yield some very good insights, it needs to follow a structured format. Otherwise, feedback may come haphazardly, essentially defeating the task’s purpose.

When enlisting third-party opinions from friends and family members, it is helpful to furnish them with a checklist they can use to provide structured feedback. This checklist can be as simple or as extensive as the author needs it to be.

The aim is to give the reader a framework they can use to hone their observations. Otherwise, broad statements and subjective valuations may overshadow the exercise’s purpose.

Consider this sample.

A family history book author used a Likert scale to gauge readers’ perception of specific elements. Here are the valuations:

  • 1 = totally agree
  • 2 = disagree
  • 3 = neutral
  • 4 = agree
  • 5 = totally agree

The questions on the checklist looked something like this:

  • Do you feel the book’s pace is appropriate?
  • Do you feel the book provides enough information about the characters?
  • Do you feel the book provides enough information about its historical context?
  • Do you feel the book’s tone is appropriate given the topic and context?
  • Do you feel the book is easy to read?
  • Do you feel the book describes situations clearly?

Lastly, the checklist provides space for readers to fill in comments and observations. This space allows folks to shed more light on what they feel requires improvement, revision, or inclusion.

This exercise enables writers to harness feedback and tweak the narrative to accurately reflect third-party readers’ impressions. In lieu of a professional editor, getting real-life feedback from real people can prove to be a valuable source of feedback.

5. Follow a style guide.

Following a style guide is crucial throughout the editing process.

While the writing process may involve a free flow of ideas, the editing process must have as much structure as possible.

Therefore, implementing a style guide can help focus the editing process, thus maintaining consistency throughout the text.

Here are the three most common style guides in use today:

  1. Associated Press Style Guide
  2. Chicago Manual of Style
  3. APA Style Manual

These style guides are the most common since they have stood the test of time. All three guides are highly useful in helping editors revise texts to meet the required criteria for publishing.

Please bear in mind that there is one monumental reason why self-editors must swear by a style guide: Using a style guide provides objective criteria.

Writers can take these objective criteria to mold linguistic and style elements. In short, using a style guide removes the guesswork from the editing process. It eliminates ambiguities and allows writers to structure prose carefully to match the tone and target audience.

When to Hire a Professional Editor

Writing a family history book is a serious endeavor. The editing process is even more so. Consequently, authors may feel that outside help is necessary.

The question lies in knowing when to bring in outside help. So, here are five reasons why family history authors may choose to forego self-editing and enlist the help of a professional editor instead.

1. Content and Developmental Editing

It is often the case that authors find themselves with a massive manuscript but cannot seem to find an appropriate organization for it. In such circumstances, content editing is a must. A professional editor can take a manuscript to determine what should make the cut and what should not. From there, the author can refine the content to suit the book’s proposed content layout.

2. Lack of Editing Experience

When authors lack editing experience, it helps to bring in a professional editor.

Professional editors can tackle everything from developmental editing to proofreading.

By hiring a professional editor, authors can take the editing pressure off themselves and focus solely on researching and producing high quality content.

The professional editor will then ensure the content meets such high quality standards.

3. A Human Pair of Eyes

Even when automated tools save time and effort, a human pair of eyes is always welcome.

As of today, artificial intelligence cannot replace the value of the human brain. Therefore, family history book authors may choose to utilize automated tools for proofreading purposes but rely on a professional editor to review the manuscript.

This approach is highly useful when authors seek publication for their works.

4. An Objective Third Party

A professional editor is an objective third party. They can judge if information contributes to the overall narrative or not.

Moreover, professional editors do not have an emotional investment in the text.

While this does not imply editors are uncaring, they can see the forest for the trees. This objective insight is a valuable tool to ensure a top-notch product.

5. A Trusted Partner

Family history book authors do not have to go at it alone. Authors can enlist the help of a professional editor from the start.

In such cases, a professional editor can help an author produce a great text following a structured and measured method.

This approach is highly useful, especially for inexperienced writers. A professional editor’s expertise and guidance are crucial to seeing a family history project to fruition.

Final Thoughts

The editing process is just as valuable as the writing portion when producing a family history book.

While automated tools and style guides provide the fundamentals authors need to produce great texts, the role of a professional editor can take a great family history book to the next level.

A practical approach is to begin the self-editing process to refine a finished manuscript. Then, enlisting the assistance of a professional editor is important, particularly if the author plans to seek publication for their work.

It is pivotal for authors to view a professional editor as a trusted partner. In doing so, any family history book project will surely come to fruition regardless of how ambitious it may be.

10 Best Formats for your Company History Book

Given all that goes into starting and successfully running a business, chances are that your company has a story to tell.

Have you been tasked with sharing it? Maybe you have a milestone anniversary to celebrate, a legacy to preserve, or a great brand origin to share.

Whatever the reasons, if you’ve thought about chronicling your company history, you may have discovered there are several styles and formats to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, here are 10 company history books to get your creative juices flowing.

10 Best Formats for your Company History Book

1. Beyond the Pale- The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Ken Grossman’s memoir chronicles his personal experience as a homebrewer turned mega-successful craft brewer. In some 250 pages, Grossman shares not only his adventures and anecdotes but also the approach and mindset that built his brand. The book also contains a section of full-color photography depicting his journey, serving as a well-done combination of memoir and illustrative history.

2. Kaufman Fruit 100th Anniversary Book

In this 145-page history, the Kaufman family includes a wide variety of family and product photographs, more than 50 fruit recipes, and stories based on 30 interviews – a style to consider if your family business has interesting anecdotes to share.

3. Anadarko 20th Anniversary Book

This 165-page company history may look standard at first glance, but what stands out is the use of large, high-end photography, sometimes spanning a page or a full spread, as well as the incorporation of employees, past and present. If you have a strong culture and/or strong company imagery, this may be a style to consider for your book.

4. Behind the Cloud – The Salesforce.com Memoir

Written by the founder of Salesforce.com, this memoir reads like nothing else on our list. In fact, it’s more like a playbook on how the startup became one of the world’s fastest-growing software companies. If sharing industry or entrepreneurial knowledge is more your thing, this may be the history book style for your company.

5. The Cullen Way – J.P. Cullen 125th Anniversary Book

Family owned businesses and construction companies will want to consider this corporate history commissioned by three brothers in honor of their late father. In 155 pages, the book highlights the company’s construction project portfolio, a family tree, and a history that not only chronicles the business but also the family, dating back to the 1800s.

CAPTURE YOUR STORY, TODAY

Preserve your company history

6. Aerojet 100th Anniversary Book

If the length and level of detail of some anniversary books make you shy away from the idea, take a look at Aerojet’s concise compilation of history and photos in just 45 pages. Bulleted copy and a timeline make the book easy to comb through, and there is no shortage of imagery, from products to personal photographs, to advertisements and newspaper clippings over the years.

7. Korte Company 50th Anniversary Book

If your company history archives include plenty of tangible mementos, consider a scrapbook-style chronicle. For this 145-page book, everything from drawings and floorplans, to newspaper clippings, to hand-written notes were scanned in and used to illustrate a 50-year history.

8. Godiva 90th Anniversary Coffee Table Book

As you might expect, Godiva Chocolate’s anniversary book is a decadent journey through the company’s craftsmanship over the years. Unlike many of the others on our list, this one takes a coffee-table-book approach, full of attractive product photos and pitched as the perfect gift for chocolate lovers – an angle to consider if you have an aesthetically pleasing product or service (think architecture, food, fashion, travel).

9. Black Hills Corporation 125th Anniversary Book

This 200-page company history includes a nice balance of text and imagery, but unlike some of the other books featured here, its design relies heavily on the energy company’s corporate colors – a great example of what can be done through graphic design should your business be lacking on photography.

10. Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic

In this memoir penned by the founders of retail great Banana Republic, husband-and-wife team Mel and Patricia Ziegler write in alternating voices to tell their remarkable story. The nearly 100-page book is filled mostly with text supplemented by black-and-white photography and artist illustrations. Said by reviewers to read like fiction, this book may be a good example for companies with a charismatic voice and a surprising story to inspire entrepreneurial success.

The 5 Best Sites for Family History Research

“History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”— Laurence Overmire

Recording one’s family history is a combination of mystery, admiration, and excitement. And pulling back on the layers of family history is one of the most rewarding endeavors anyone can undertake.

While tracing one’s roots is indeed a gripping proposition, finding reliable sources of information can prove to be challenging.

In some cases, enthusiastic family historians may have the willingness to do the legwork. However, they may not know where to begin.

In this article, we will discuss the five best sites for family history research. These sites contain a trove of genealogical information compiled through decades of research and data processing. Consulting these sites can provide family historians with a nudge in the right direction.

Understanding Sites for Family History Research

Traditional family history research involves going through archives such as birth, marriage, and death records, newspaper articles (still on microfiche sometimes), church registries, military documents, and personal items (photographs, letters, and diaries).

While these information sources can prove highly insightful, tracking down records can be extremely time-consuming and costly.

But what if there was some way to gather all of this information into a single database?

Thanks to information technology, compiling millions of records is now possible.

As computers took over every component of society, the gradual digitalization of most public records has enabled the creation of vast databases.

Nowadays, a great deal of information is publicly available.

The key is knowing where to find such information.

Even with a high degree of digitalization, it can be quite complex to sort through vast amounts of records. Doing so can prove equally time-consuming. Of course, sifting through digital records does not compare to thumbing through paper files at a local library or town hall.

Sites for family history research offer a viable alternative for uncovering one’s roots. These sites offer free and paid subscriptions that enable users to go through available records in hopes of finding useful data. For instance, a basic query using a family name can reveal the names, birthdates, and places of residence of long-lost relatives. More in-depth services can locate information on birthplaces, dates of death, and descendants.

Nowadays, family history sites offer a wide range of services. For instance, these sites offer comprehensive family history reports, photo albums, and video presentations. Indeed, paying for these types of services can greatly facilitate building one’s family history, particularly when there is very little to lead the way.

The question then becomes: What are the best sites for family history research?

The following sections will shed light on this crucial question.

The 5 Best Sites for Family History Research

1. Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com has established itself as the market leader in the online genealogy industry. Its ubiquitous television and internet advertising have positioned it in the minds of consumers. Most users regard Ancestry.com as the best overall family history research site.

In general, Ancentry.com has access to more than 27 billion records. Also, this family history research site offers DNA testing services. Its price ranges from $16.50 to $49.99 a month. The subscription packages’ costs increase depending on the options and services chosen.

Pros:

  • It has an enormous archival database.
  • It is quite user-friendly and has an intuitive feel.
  • It boasts great customer support.

Cons:

  • It is one of the priciest options on the market.
  • It offers a free 14-day trial. Access locks following the trial period.
  • Price increases are based on the types of records accessed.

The verdict:

On the whole, Ancestry.com is the best all-around value for serious family historians. It is a great starting point for anyone looking to recreate their family history, given its massive database and intuitive feel.

While it can get somewhat costly, access to Ancestry.com’s vast archives makes it a worthwhile investment. Users should strive to get the most out of this genealogy site considering its overall cost.

2. MyHeritage

MyHeritage is a relative newcomer to the online genealogy scene.

Nevertheless, this family history research site offers good value for money.

MyHeritage is not quite as robust as Ancestry.com. According to its company information, it holds roughly 12 billion records. It also offers DNA testing services. It offers virtually all of the same services as Ancestry.com, but it costs less, ranging from $129 to $299 annually.

Pros:

  • It offers a robust database.
  • It is a fun and user-friendly site.
  • It allows photo updating, such as colorizing older black and white photographs.

Cons:

  • It offers an annual, not monthly, subscription but it has a 14-day free trial.
  • Its database is not quite as extensive as Ancestry.com’s.

The verdict:

MyHeritage is a great alternative to Ancestry.com. It essentially offers the same features as Ancesty.com at a lower price point. Given that MyHeritage also offers DNA testing services, users can find a viable alternative in MyHeritage. Overall, MyHeritage offers good value for money.

3. Archives

Archives is a great option for family historians who want to conduct a profound search on specific topics.

This family history site holds more than 11 billion records. The bulk of these records come from official sources such as government records.

Nevertheless, Archives has access to a substantial number of documentary sources. Archives is a relatively simple, no-frills service. There is no specialized app. Its interface is rather simple but effective. Archives starts at $9.99 a month.

Pros:

  • It has a substantial database filled with official documentation.
  • It is an affordable option at $9.99 monthly and also has a 14-day free trial.
  • It allows users to build their family tree using quick search features.

Cons:

  • It does not offer DNA testing services.
  • It does not offer hints or search suggestions.
  • It has a relatively simple interface which may get somewhat cumbersome at times.

The verdict:

Archives is a great supplementary source for other databases such as Ancestry.com or MyHeritage. Archives is great for searching old government or military records. As such, it is highly useful in tracking official information. Archives is a go-to option when searches hit dead ends.

4. FamilySearch

FamilySearch arguably delivers the best value for money as it is free to use.

This family history site functions on volunteer work. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs and maintains this site, hence its no-cost offer.

Overall, this site has uploaded more than 6 billion records since 1999. It is a great alternative for those looking to deepen their detective work. Like Archives, FamilySearch is a great ancillary source of information. The site is nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, the value it delivers more than outweighs its lack of a snazzy interface.

Pros:

  • It is totally free to use.
  • It offers a significantly large database filled with census data, military records, and certificates.
  • It is a long-running site that offers a reliable service.
  • They offer free genealogy classes.

Cons:

  • It limits one family tree per account. Multiple trees require multiple accounts.
  • There are no DNA testing services available.
  • It’s interface may be relatively unfriendly for some users.

The verdict:

Given that FamilySearch is a free site, it is a no-brainer. While some may choose to use it as a springboard before committing to a paid subscription service, FamilySearch does have its limitations. Therefore, FamilySearch could very well serve as a great starting point for novice family historians. And the free genealogy classes offered by the site is an added bonus for beginning family historians.

5. Find My Past

Find My Past is a great option for persons of European descent.

This great family history research site focuses on European family history, particularly British and Irish ancestry.

Anyone who wishes to trace their European roots can find a great deal of information on this site, as it holds more than 2 billion records.

Find My Past’s archive may seem small, but it holds a treasure trove of data, considering that it has records dating back to AD 850.

Subscriptions on this site start at $129 annually.

Pros:

  • It is ideal for those researching European roots.
  • It offers DNA support services.
  • It allows users to create multiple family trees.

Cons:

  • It lacks a dedicated app.
  • Its archive is relatively limited, particularly to those who do not have European roots.
  • The DNA testing kit costs $89. Nevertheless, users can upload their DNA information from other sources.

The verdict:

Find My Past is a highly specific tool that is a useful secondary research alternative. This site can serve as a springboard for those who have European roots. From there, users may choose to sign up for other services such as MyHeritage or Ancestry.com. Find My Past offers good value for money despite charging extra for DNA testing services. On the whole, Find My Past delivers good overall value.

When to Hire a Genealogist

Online family history research sites help facilitate genealogy. These sites can greatly support in-person research, such as going to local libraries, town halls, or military offices.

However, there may be times when family historians may hit a wall. This proverbial wall usually entails leads drying up or somehow being unable to tie up loose ends.

In these situations, genealogy experts can provide an effective service.

A genealogist is a professional who specializes in researching family ancestry. These professionals have the knack for following leads and tying up pesky loose ends.

While they are research experts, they have something even more valuable: experience.

A genealogist’s experience lies in solving situations novice family historians may be unable to decipher. For instance, genealogists are familiar with records, archives, and databases that can help overcome dead ends. Moreover, a genealogist can help family historians craft an accurate representation of their family tree, narrative, and identity.

Additionally, enlisting the help of a professional genealogist can expedite the research process. Genealogists can aid family historians in sourcing records and even use their connections to gain access to archives. Indeed, hiring a genealogist may prove to be the best investment family historians can make.

When to Hire a Professional Writer

Some family historians may be eager to put their family history on paper. After all, extensive research into family history merits a worthy vehicle to showcase its value. For example, family historians may opt to write a book or memoir chronicling their entire family history or highlighting specific chapters of it.

Writing a book, memoir, or diary may prove to be a substantial undertaking. As a result, hiring a professional writer can help get this part of the process off the ground.

Professional writers have the skill and experience to take raw data (dates, numbers, facts) and translate them into an articulate narrative that appropriately depicts a family’s underlying narrative.

While they are both very valuable on their own, in tandem, a genealogist and a professional writer can form a successful collaboration.

These professionals can come together to build a clear representation of a family’s history.

After all, extensive data, records, documentation, photographs, and even DNA information need someone to thread them together into a seamless tale that preserves the voices of the forgotten ones.

One Final Thought

Researching family history is a marvelous undertaking. It is a labor of love. Thus, attempting to rush it may prove counterproductive. However, allowing a family history project to stagnate also does a disservice to a family’s heritage. Consequently, utilizing family history research sites can spur a stalled family history project onward. These sites can help untie knots and overcome obstacles. There is a very good chance that the missing piece of the puzzle is just a few keystrokes away.

Author and professor Liam Callanan once noted, “We all carry inside us, people who came before us.”

Indeed, every individual on this planet is the sum of their ancestors. So, it is only fitting that those that have come and gone take their rightful place in their family’s history.

While society may only celebrate the lives of a few, genealogy has the power to bring back those left behind by the history books.

Picking the Best Format to Write Your Life Story

You’ve had an interesting life, and you want to share your story with the world. You want to share lessons learned, leave a legacy for your family, or preserve favorite memories. You’ve thought about writing a book more than once, but you’re not sure where to start.

In fact, you’re not even sure what kind of book you should write.

Should you tell your story in chronological order, starting with the day you were born? Should you aim for a series of “snapshots” of important events in your life? Do you want to focus on one aspect of your life, like your career? Do you want to write about a challenge you’ve had to overcome?

We know. That’s a lot to think about.

First of all, don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed.  A book is a big project, and there are several great options for writing your life story. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular options, and help you decide which is best for you.

Autobiography or Memoir?

Although you’ve probably heard these two terms used interchangeably, there’s actually a difference between an autobiography and a memoir. Both are great options for telling your story, but the option you choose will depend on things like your goals for the book, the focus of your book, and the types of stories you want to share.

The Autobiography

An autobiography is a sweeping factual narrative of your life.

It’s written in chronological order from your birth to the present moment.

It is based on factual events rather than memories and emotions, and highlights the experiences and accomplishments throughout your lifetime.

All autobiographies are written in first-person, typically by the author themselves, but can also be written by a ghostwriter.

While this format is normally used by famous people who have a lot of accomplishments and experiences to document, anyone can write an autobiography.

Within the autobiography format, there are two main approaches.

  1. You can write your life story strictly based on your history and accomplishments, listing the events of your life in consecutive order so your readers can learn about you and your life experiences.
  2. You can write your life story based on a particular theme. How would you define your life in one key message? Maybe it’s the idea that love conquers all, or a theme like overcoming adversity and never giving up. By determining one main theme and weaving it through the all facts of your life, it makes for a more interesting story and creates a better flow.

In fact, many of the best autobiographies out there have a central idea that blends with the author’s entire life story throughout the book.

Pros: This is a little easier to write, due to the chronological and factual nature of the format. Unlike some of the other options available, an autobiography can be straightforward and simple; there is no need to use literary devices or embellishments.

Cons: Presenting your life story in a strictly factual, linear way can be less interesting than a memoir. The “just the facts” approach also means you’ll need to do lot of fact checking and research. Also, it can be difficult writing about yourself, especially in the first person, without it feeling stilted. You might find that you sound too humble or even too arrogant — it’s hard to strike the right balance.

Suggested Reading:

The Memoir

Unlike an autobiography, a memoir focuses on a more specific point in time based on your memories and the feelings of that time period.

It is meant to re-create the past instead of merely record it, which makes for a more interesting read.

This format is also written in the first person but is less formal. Instead of emphasizing factual events, a memoir is focused on how you remember or were affected by these events.

One of the great things about this type of format is that it gives you, the author, great flexibility. You can write about anything. This is also a great option if you find that you really enjoy writing:  because a memoir covers only one aspect, event, or time period in your life, you can write numerous memoirs about other experiences.

You can write a memoir about your childhood, your travels, your family, your career, or anything else. Think about a key theme or lesson and how it affected or shaped you then and now. You can write about a single personal event that happened; a single historical event; a series of connected events that have a common thread; or an external person or event to you and how it/they affected or shaped you, your life, and your outlook on life.

Pros: You can write  about virtually any topic, theme, experience, or event. Plus, because you’re writing about your own memories and events in your life and not about your accomplishments, it’s easier to write without sounding stilted or over-indulgent. And if you love to write, you can write numerous memoirs.

Cons: Writing a memoir takes a little more writing skill to make the story flow in an interesting way. Also, your memories could be less clear than the real events which could possibly open you up to liability issues. Other things to consider are privacy of others and the potential of alienating yourself from friends or family depending on your subject matter.

Suggested Reading:

Many Ways to Write Your Life Story

Now that you know the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, it’s also important to know that these aren’t the only two ways to write your life story. Consider these optional formats:

The Diary or Journal

Many people regularly journal or keep a diary to chronicle their life’s experiences. If you have kept a journal over the years, then you are even closer to writing your life’s story.

It doesn't matter if you have never journaled before.

You can start right now to keep track of your daily life and use that as a springboard to writing your story.

Using a theme or single topic as you journal can be a good way to get started.

Plus, if you do it in this format, you can take a mix of both the autobiographical format and the memoir format by doing it chronologically but with more emotion and not as much fact.

You can also simply intermix the memoir and diary formats together and write your memoir as if you were doing journal entries.

Pros: You may have already been keeping a diary or journal throughout your lifetime, so it makes a great format to start with as much of the writing is already done. You can also still build around a central theme or simply write your memories out in this format.

Cons: Many diaries or journals contain mundane thoughts, feelings, and daily events that aren’t interesting to write about or read. It can be harder to go through each entry and extract the interesting parts from what is probably not all that interesting. Oftentimes, keeping a diary or journal will lead to a lot of rambling and usually there isn’t a cohesive theme or event to it.

Suggested Reading:

The Biography

A biography is the telling of person’s life story—typically a famous person—by another author.

It is usually written in the third-person voice (he/she) and is also factual in content and written in chronological order from birth to the present moment, just like an autobiography.

But just because biographies are normally written by someone else, there is no rule book that says you can’t write your own biography!

All you need to do is take your story and write as if it happened to someone else. 

You can also write your memoir this way using a he/she form of writing.

Pros: Writing in the third person vs. first person can help you detach from your story so you can see it more objectively. Also, much like an autobiography, this format is based on facts and an easy to follow timeline, so you can write in a more direct way without a lot of added fluff like you would in a memoir or autobiographical novel.

Cons: Writing in the third person form can be difficult when writing about yourself and your achievements. You also must still focus on the historical events of your life and the facts which means a lot of research and fact checking is necessary.

Suggested Reading:

The Autobiographical Novel

Another way to present your life story is writing a fictionalized book based on the true or remembered events of your life.

Why write your life story as if it were made up and put it into novel form?

Certainly, there are risks when you write your life story and present a factual (autobiography) or semi-factual (memoir) account.

Liability, privacy, protecting other people who are still living, and a sensitive subject matter are all good reasons to choose this format.

Of course, writing in a fiction format can also be a good way to embellish on facts that aren’t quite so interesting. Just remember to never make up facts and portray them as truth within your life story. You can use truth within your fiction, but not the other way around.

Pros: By choosing this format, you can avoid hurting family, friends, and other people that are a part of your story. You can also protect yourself from liability issues by presenting sensitive topics and information as fiction. Plus, if you don’t fully remember all the events you’re writing about, it might be better to present them as fiction. And writing in novel form allows you to embellish on the facts that aren’t quite so interesting.

Cons: Presenting the truth as made up doesn’t give the healing or closure on certain events or topics in your life which is something many people try to do when telling their life story. Also, you want people to know it is your story and writing in fiction can cause confusion to your audience.

Suggested Reading:

Alternative Formats

Want to do something completely unique?

The great thing about writing your own story is that, well, it’s yours. And that means you can tell it any way you choose.

The only limit is your creativity.

Here are some ideas of other formats you can try:

  1. Like almost everyone, you probably have a phone in your hands at any given moment. Start taking video of important experiences and events to create a video autobiography.
  2. Create an audio or oral autobiography by voice recording yourself talking about your life, history, events, or anything you want to talk about to your intended audience.
  3. Take a series of photos of you with captions and create a digital photo autobiography that chronicles your life by placing it online, CD, or another digital format.
  4. Using photos, letters, certificates of achievement, journaling, and paper, make a one-of-a-kind keepsake scrapbook that tells your life story. It will be visual, unique, and something you and your family can treasure.
  5. Do you like to take your own photos? Create a digital memoir using photos you have taken across a life event, experience, or topic.
  6. Maybe you’re an artist and have created paintings and drawings over the years. Consider putting them all together into book form that helps tell a story of your life, similar to a memoir or across your life like an autobiography.
  7. If you are an avid social media user, you could consider taking your social media conversations, social media posts, even your text conversations and compile your life story around these things, even using a similar format. Group them together by topic or theme to make for easier reading. If using text messages or comments made by others, be sure to get permission from them before you publish in any sort of way so as not to plagiarize.
  8. Write a series of short stories and put them together into a book, like an anthology. They can be stories about similar topics or events or can be completely separate and random.
  9. Create a book of poetry with each poem detailing aspects of your life or memories.

Pros: You can present your life story in anyway you choose! You can be as creative as you want while possibly even starting a new niche in this genre – you could be a trendsetter!

Cons: You have fewer examples to follow to help you along with telling your story, especially if you are a new writer. You’ll have to be extra creative and make up your format as you go which might extend the time it takes to get your project completed.

Suggested Reading:

10 Things to Consider When Writing a Family History Book

“We all carry inside us, people who came before us.” — Liam Callanan

Writing a family history book is an endeavor rooted in love and admiration.

Choosing to chronicle a family history is about honoring beloved ancestors, and giving a voice to those who may no longer be around to share their story.

Crafting a family history book requires a combination of skill and dedication. And sometimes those skills may be beyond the ability and availability of the interested parties.

Before setting out with a project like this, there are 10 important factors to keep in mind to make sure the project proceeds smoothly.

10 Things to Consider When Writing a Family History Book

1. Determining the Project’s Scope

The first step in the process is getting clear on the scope of the project.

This involves understanding the family’s expectations about what history will be covered and what is the outcome they hope to achieve.

Establishing the project’s scope is also connected to the message the project sponsors wish to convey.

For instance, a family history project may revolve around a specific family member. The project may also seek to tie the family history into the context of a larger historical event.

The project sponsors may also wish to shed light on unknown parts of their family’s history.

Ultimately, defining a clear outcome will help ensure everyone is satisfied with the final project. As author Sunny Jane Morton once stated, “A small, finished project is better than a three-volume tome that exists only in your dreams.”

Indeed, it is much better to focus on something tangible, such as a particular episode in time, than attempt to produce a voluminous, comprehensive family history book.

2. Conducting Family History Research

A family history is often a collection of stories handed down from generation to generation. These stories contain valuable pieces of insight and knowledge. Research can greatly enhance these accounts by framing them within their appropriate historical context. Hence, conducting historical research would add value to any family history project.

But conducting historical research takes time, skill, and experience.

Some folks do not have the time to conduct the kind of thorough research needed to build a full family history book. Others may lack the skills and experience needed for the job.

In such situations, hiring a professional historian can help. Historians have the skill set required to conduct the research necessary for a family history project. Because family history projects involve genealogy, some professional help may come in handy to fill in the gaps.

3. Choosing Sources of Information for a Family History

All family history projects benefit from having good information. Novelist David B. Coe famously said, “The closer you can get to your setting and your primary sources, the more authentic your history is going to be.” The job of a family historian is to get as close to the primary sources as they can.

The challenge lies in finding these primary sources.

Unfortunately, some of the family members may have long passed on. For example, grandparents and parents may no longer be around to provide information and insight.

Because of the time period being investigated, video or audio recordings may be scarce.

Nevertheless, sources such as journals or diaries may provide golden opportunities to uncover hidden treasures of information and personal experiences.

Additionally, documentary evidence can corroborate stories. Artifacts such as photographs, books, letters, invoices, official documentation, identification, or even bills can help prove the authenticity of personal accounts.

4. Sorting Through Information on Family History

The first step in the research process is uncovering as many sources of information as possible.

The next step is sorting through the information collected. If the amount of information is manageable, the sorting process may not require much time and effort. In contrast, abundant sources of information may prove complex and time-consuming to organize.

At this point, even a professional historian may choose to seek help. While historians can certainly provide good research support, a ghostwriter may also be needed for additional assistance.

A ghostwriter is a professional author dedicated to helping people translate their ideas into written content. A ghostwriter can sift through the collected information to determine how it can support the history’s narrative.

Remember that family historians ought to involve themselves in this phase of the project as much as possible. After all, the family members themselves are the best experts on their family’s history.

5. Conducting Interviews with Relatives and Local Community Members

After evaluating documentary evidence, photographs, and artifacts, family historians may choose to conduct interviews. Recording a family’s oral history can be one of the richest sources of information.

Elderly relatives and community members have a wealth of knowledge they can offer.

But obtaining their insights and experience requires more than just setting up a tape recorder or video camera.

Conducting good interviews requires careful preparation.

Family historians may need some assistance in this task. For example, a historian can help schedule interviews, write questions, and sort information. However, these tasks may already spread historians somewhat thin. Therefore, the project would benefit from having someone solely dedicated to sitting down and crafting the narrative.

At this point, a ghostwriter can help bridge the gap.

Professional ghostwriters typically have experience in a variety of subject areas. Some ghostwriters possess the unique set of skills needed to tackle complex projects such as a family history book.

Seasoned ghostwriters have experience in conducting research, interviews, and most importantly, sorting through volumes of information.

A ghostwriter can transform seemingly disjointed pieces of information into a fluid narrative. A professional ghostwriter might just be the missing piece needed to create a great family history project.

6. Hiring a Ghostwriter to Produce a Family History Book

Renowned poet Maya Angelou once wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This statement applies to the reality that many people face. They have the information, sources, and evidence (photos, letters, mementos), but an untold story inside of them.

There are countless individuals who want to tell their family’s history. They are eager to share it with their entire family and even the world. But most do not know how to go about it. This is when a ghostwriter can be brought in to help.

Hiring a ghostwriter to produce a family history book is not an easy decision. Initially, it might feel like bringing in an outsider to handle a deeply personal endeavor. Thus, a ghostwriter must be someone who can earn trust. After all, ghostwriters must be discreet, considering the volume of personal information they come across.

The biggest benefit that comes from hiring a ghostwriter is the savings in time and effort. Crafting a family history book may prove to be a monumental task. It involves a great deal of work that needs to be done in addition to one’s day-to-day responsibilities. It may be nearly impossible to find the time to research, organize information, and then write out the narrative.

These tasks are ghostwriters’ specialties.

Professional ghostwriters are capable of tackling these time-consuming activities. Their experience reduces the time and effort needed to produce a cohesive portrayal of the “untold story” within.

7. Choosing the Right Ghostwriter for a Family History Project

There are many professional ghostwriters, but not all of them have the specific skill set required for a family history project.

Hiring a ghostwriter requires careful consideration.

There are three main elements to consider when hiring a ghostwriter for a family history project:

  • First, a ghostwriter’s experience is crucial in finding the right fit. Ghostwriters have different areas of specialization. Therefore, family historians should be wary of hiring a ghostwriter who does not have the right experience for the project. For example, a ghostwriter specializing in business and management may not be the right fit for a family history book.
  • It is a good idea to take the time to talk with a prospective ghostwriter before making a final decision. The ideal ghostwriter should spark a personal connection with the people involved and the project.
  • Lastly, most professional ghostwriters are honest and straightforward about their skills and limitations. They should be transparent about their services and fees. A reliable ghostwriter will always strive to inspire trust and encourage communication.

Finding the ideal ghostwriter may take some time. Ultimately, it is worth making the effort to conduct a thorough search. The right ghostwriter can take an untold collection of stories and translate them into a cherished treasure.

8. Establishing a Timeline for a Family History Book

A key decision that must be made is establishing a timeline for the project. After all, the project cannot go on indefinitely. Both the project sponsors and ghostwriter must agree on clear deadlines. However, inexperienced project sponsors may be uncertain about how long the endeavor should take.

A professional ghostwriter can assist with setting timelines. An experienced ghostwriter will have a good idea about how long the research and writing will take. They can provide a reasonable timeframe for the project’s completion. From there, the project sponsor can decide if the proposed schedule meets their expectations.

Most professional ghostwriters will not ask for the bulk of their fee upfront. Experienced ghostwriters understand that their payment should coincide with their progress. Fee payments are part of the negotiation process during the project’s initial phase.

Once the project sponsor and ghostwriter have reached an agreement, it is best to draft a contract. This document should include the agreed-upon timeline, fees, and deliverables. In case of a dispute, the terms and conditions governing the project’s completion should remove ambiguity.

9. Monitoring a Family History Project’s Progress

Having a system for monitoring progress is a good way to keep a family history project on track. A family history book may languish without proper monitoring. The project sponsor should request regular check-ins to ensure the project is moving along.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Success is steady progress toward one’s personal goals.”

Even with a great ghostwriter, the project cannot function on autopilot. There has to be some measure of accountability.

Regular check-ins should continue through the revision process.

Project sponsors should read through the manuscript to ensure their personal touch is present throughout the narrative.

A good approach is to break the project into chunks.

For instance, the revision process can take place on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

This will allow the project sponsor to ensure they are satisfied with how the project is shaping up.

10. Updating a Family History Book

Family histories will never be complete. There will always be new generations of family members. Moreover, new information or discoveries (old journals, letters, and even home videos) may come up over time. Some families may be interested in updating a completed family history book.

In such cases, there are two options: update an existing book or produce an entirely new volume.

This decision hinges on the extent of the updates. Essentially, if updating the family history will require a substantial revision, it might be better to produce a new volume exploring different facets of the existing narrative.

Consider this situation:

An unexpected discovery of old photographs serves to illustrate some accounts in a family history book. In this case, revising the book would make sense. The family history could be expanded to include the photographs as well as an explanation about their origin.

In contrast, discovering a long-lost relative may require an entirely new volume be written exploring this relative’s life. The insertion of this new family member may require a substantial rewrite, or it may not mesh well with the existing narrative. Consequently, a new volume would provide the opportunity to explore this new individual with total freedom.

Ultimately, making updates or additions may become a priority down the road. A great approach is to give future generations the leeway to build on the current narrative. As such, maintaining an ongoing relationship with a professional ghostwriter can make the update process easier to manage.

CAPTURE THEIR VOICES, TODAY

Preserve your family history

Preserving a Lasting Legacy

Writing a family history entails more than developing a family tree.

It is about building a coherent narrative that can endure the test of time.

Amateur family historians likely have every good intention to make this endeavor a reality.

However, they may lack the skills, experience, and knowledge to make it happen.

Hiring a ghostwriter to help with the research, writing, and updating process can facilitate the project’s completion.

An experienced ghostwriter can take the stories of a family and translate them into a tangible product. In fact, hiring a ghostwriter may be the single most important decision project sponsors can make.

Ultimately, producing a family history book is about preserving a legacy for generations to come. Moreover, it is an opportunity to build on the existing narrative so that future generations can have the chance to preserve their life stories as well.

10 Gift Ideas for the Historian or Genealogist in Your Life

If you have a historian in the family or a genealogist on your list for the 2021 holiday gift-giving season, you’re probably already well aware that shopping for such skilled and knowledgeable folks can be a little intimidating!

How do you surprise or impress someone who already knows so much about so many things?

Hopefully, the following guide will give you some inspiration and help you pick out the perfect present that they’ll surely love.

1.  Subscriptions! Subscriptions! Subscriptions!

Online databases are extremely useful when researching family history but maintaining their monthly subscriptions can be a real drag for historians and genealogists.

Brighten your favorite researcher’s holiday season this year by giving them the gift of access to one of the top three genealogical sites.

Ancestry

Ancestry is often regarded as the best overall value in genealogical research sites.

They host more than 27 billion historical records and offer subscription packages that range from $16.99 to $49.99 per month.

While the cost of their services is at the higher end of the scale, the quality and comprehensiveness of their offerings is way up there, too.

My Heritage

MyHeritage doesn’t offer as huge a database as Ancestry, but you’ll still find a lot of value on this more fun-focused site.

The service features very user-friendly navigation and neat tools like black and white photo colorization and animation.

Only yearly subscriptions are available, but their more affordable packages range from only $129 to $299 per year.

Find My Past

FindMyPast is even more limited because it is a service dedicated solely to Irish and British records.But the narrowed focus makes it a veritable treasure trove for researchers tracing their ancestry to that specific region of the world.

Their continuously expanding database also offers some of the oldest records that exist online.

Yearly subscription plans start at $129.

2.  Legacy Box Media Preservation

Your family’s historian has assuredly amassed a collection of old photos and assorted media. This year, give them the gift of preservation!

Legacy Box is a company that digitizes or “future proofs” your old family photos, film reels, VHS tapes, and even audio cassettes.

For many of us, the various players and projectors we once used to enjoy our home movies and recordings are now “dead tech.”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of memories out there locked up in unwatchable formats.

Legacy Box can bring them back to the present in digital form on thumb drives, DVDs, and as shareable downloads so they can be enjoyed once again.

Digitization packages start as low as $21.

3.  A Really Cool Magnifying Glass

If the historian on your list spends a lot of time pouring over small print in dimly lit spaces, The Wide View Lighted Magnifier from Hammacher Schlemmer might be just the thing for a holiday that’s both merry and bright.

After all, who doesn't want to look like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes?!?

This oversized 5-inch illuminated lens sells for $29.95 and makes for a great stocking stuffer.

4.  A Digital Recording Device

Genealogists and historians alike take lots of notes and conduct a lot of interviews. Their to-do lists are always expanding. A digital recording device is a great way to manage the chaos.

The EVISTR 16GB Digital Voice Recorder  is a highly rated budget option that will get the job done for only $39.99 on Amazon.

This handheld recording device offers crystal clear audio recording, voice activation, and MP3 or WAV formats for easy transfer to a computer via the supplied Micro USB cable.

It also offers seamless file management with a time stamp feature that makes it easy to find out exactly when you recorded.

And, as an added bonus, batteries are also included!

The Tascam DR-40X, priced at $199, is a higher end option that can record 192 hours of studio quality sound direct to an SD card. The internal battery can record non-stop for 18 hours on a full charge.

It has multi-track functionality, a reverb effect, and built-in, adjustable stereo microphones.

The capabilities of the DR-40X are simply amazing; it would make an excellent gift for any researcher, documentarian, or podcaster.

5.  Paper and Ink

Ink and paper are ancient technologies that work so well together that they’re still quite useful to this day—and they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Smartphones and tablets have undoubtedly brought more than a few convenience miracles to the table, but they’ll never beat the feel and familiarity of a quality notebook and a solid writing implement when it comes to making lists, jotting down notes, or making a quick sketch.

While Montblanc is known for fountain pens that sell for nearly $40,000, the Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum-Coated Rollerball, may be the best high-end pen on the market.

Priced at a measly $505 for the Classique model, it is arguably the snazziest writing instrument that someone might actually carry around with them during the day.

Its classic chrome and black styling pairs well with any ensemble, briefcase, or backpack.

And the rollerball tip reliably produces the finest handwriting.

If value over exclusivity is what you’re looking for in a gift, uni-ball Vision Rollerball Pens offer the same smooth flow of waterproof ink at a more down-to-earth price.

For just $12.65 you get not just one great pen, but an entire pack of 12!

That way, your recipient will always have an extra pen on hand when needing to jot down their fascinating discoveries.

When it comes to paper, the Apica Premium A6 CD Notebook is often cited as the very best on the market.

Imported from Japan, these notebooks retail for $12.75 each and feature baroque styling and acid-free paper that works perfectly well with either ink or pencil.

The three available color choices indicate the type of paper bound inside: Black is plain paper, red is graph paper, and blue is standard ruled paper.

For a more modern look, the LEUCHTTURM1917 – Medium A5 Ruled Hardcover Notebook is another great choice at a slightly higher price point. 

These notebooks feature multiple bookmarks and an elastic closure band.

They are also thread-bound to open flat, which helps make reading and writing much easier.

They are available in a wide array of different colors and can be lined with plain, ruled, squared, or dotted pages.

6.  A Family Tree Chart

Genealogists spend their days mapping out ancestors and filling in pedigree charts, but many of them have never put their skills to work on their own family tree.

Perhaps your favorite genealogist would appreciate a blank slate to showcase their own heritage for once!

Etsy offers all types of customizable, display-worthy pieces.

This one is a particularly handsome specimen and a steal for only $17.05!

7. A Time Capsule Kit

Is there anything more exciting for a history lover than opening up a time capsule?

The next best thing would have to be creating and sealing away a capsule of their own creation.

Just imagine how excited your family historian would be to have the opportunity to fill a time capsule with the family treasures they have collected over the years.

This Stainless Steel Time Capsule will keep your chosen artifacts safe and sound for ages for only $59.99!

And this 100 Piece Time Capsule Preservation Kit is the perfect add-on for ensuring that whatever documents you choose to include will stand up against the test of time.

https://www.futurepkg.com/assets/images/supplies/preservation-kit-large.jpg

8.  DNA Kits

DNA testing is central to a lot of genealogical research and can open up a world of fascinating self-discovery.

This year, why not give the gift of scientific knowledge?

The following test kits are comparatively priced and consistently rank among the best on the market for gaining deeper insight into your origins:

If the historian or genealogist in your life is also a dog owner, they might get a real kick out of discovering more about their furry friend, too!

Embark Dog DNA Tests can reveal a dog’s complete genetic makeup and potential health risks.

It can even connect you with their siblings and relatives via Embark’s extensive social network!

9.  A My Heritage Family Discovery Kit

A My Heritage Family Discovery Kit combines DNA testing, ancestry research, and scrapbooking in an attractive giftset for only $79.99!

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10.  A Mini Museum

Finally, we’ve saved the best for last.

If you’ve been pulling your hair out trying to come up with a gift for the history buff on your list, a Mini Museum is THE THING that you’ve been looking for.

Mini museums might not look like much from a distance but encased within these unassuming little blocks of Lucite are actual, physical pieces of mind-blowing history.

Mini Museum offers editions from many different categories, like the age of dinosaurs, natural history, air and space, and world history. They also offer editions that bring multiple categories together.

How cool would it be to give a history lover a plesiosaur bone, a medieval knight’s sword, a brick from The White House, and a piece of the space shuttle all in one package?

Well, now you can thanks to the offerings at MiniMuseum.com!

While the site sells many gifts for under $20, you can also purchase certified fossils, rare gems, and meteorite jewelry, or, if you’re feeling really generous, you can even pick up a shield window from the Manhattan Project for a cool $3.4 million!

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

Hopefully, this list has given you some ideas for how to surprise the historian or genealogist in your life with a gift that they’ll truly cherish.

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays from all of us at The Writers for Hire!

Give the Gift of Connection This Holiday Season

Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life as we know it on its head, including the holidays.

With rises in Covid cases, for the second year in a row, many of us won’t travel or gather as we traditionally do to see friends and loved ones. And as such, we may be on the hunt for ideas that forge a connection, despite separation and miles during what should be a cherished and memorable time of year.

Here are some ideas that might help you stay close at heart to the ones you love and cherish the most.

Holiday Cards

According to an article in the JSTOR Daily, the first commercially produced holiday card was designed in 1843.

It featured an illustration of people toasting the holidays with the message along the bottom that read, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Soon after, the idea of sending holiday cards near and far caught on as a way to celebrate the season and connect with friends and loved ones. Holiday greeting cards became a convenient, cost-effective way to stay in touch.

Over the years, the concept of sending and receiving holiday cards has become somewhat of a lost art, especially with the advent of e-cards and social media. However, this year might be the perfect time to restart this tradition.

You can purchase cards or make them yourself. Regardless, sending a card is an easy, affordable touchpoint and a way to say “hello” and “happy holidays” to a close friend or relative you may not be able to see this year.

Winne Parks, CEO of PaperSource, a popular cardmaking and stationery company, was recently interviewed for an article in Bloomberg News about the spike her business has experienced in greeting card sales since the pandemic began.

“One of the great silver linings out of this is the time for people to slow down and go back to the basics,” she said in the article.

So, if you’re looking to supplement those video chats with a little something extra, consider sending holiday cards to let others know you’re thinking about them.

Handmade Gifts

Taking the time to handcraft a gift is another way to feel connected as we continue to quarantine and socially distance ourselves from others this season.

Homemade gifts aren’t something novel, but they may hold more meaning than something purchased.

CNBC recently reported that online searches on sites like Etsy and Pinterest suggest that people are looking for gift ideas that are more personalized or for gift ideas they can craft themselves.

If you’ve picked up an old hobby or started a new one during the lockdowns, you could put it to good use, making one-of-a-kind treasures for your friends and loved ones.  

Personal History

What about giving a gift that tells a story? Have you ever thought about giving your mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or close friend the gift of their personal history?

It may sound like a daunting task: gathering anecdotes, collecting photos, and capturing quotes. Don’t let this stop you, though. You can enlist a writing service to put together this keepsake your loved one and future generations will cherish for years to come.

They will do all the work for you – interview your loved one, transcribe the notes, and produce a professional, personalized custom book that captures favorite moments, life wisdom, and funny stories.

The end product is sure to make you and your loved one feel more connected.

Impact on Mental Health

Without a doubt, the holidays are going to be strange again this year. We will not be able to partake in many of the holiday traditions we have in years past, and many of us may feel out of sorts.

Engaging in activities like sending holiday cards, making handmade gifts, and giving a loved one a treasured keepsake of a personal biography are all ways you strengthen bonds with family and others you hold dear. 

5 Tips for Conducting Remote Interviews for a Family History Book

“A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better.” — Barbara Walters

A family history book is very much like an onion. There are many layers to uncover. Each layer comes off one at a time. Often, individual family members and close friends hold the essence of each layer. It would be impossible to put together a faithful rendering of the family’s history without that essence.

An effective technique used to peel back those layers is conducting interviews.

Interviews can help collect first-hand accounts and corroborate information. Moreover, interviews can fill in the gaps left by documentary evidence. After all, papers can only reveal so much, and photographs do not tell the entire story.

With family members spread out across the country, or even the world, remote interviews are a viable alternative for face-to-face communication. But what is the best way to conduct those interviews?

Five Tips for Conducting Remote Interviews for a Family History Book

Tip #1: Have a game plan.

Often, family historians intend to cover as much ground as possible. They seek to get as much information as they can. After all, time is precious, particularly with older relatives.

However, trying to cover too many bases may lead to losing focus. Therefore, it is essential to have a clear game plan before conducting the first interview.

A game plan consists of understanding where the book is heading. For instance, a family history book may center on the family’s journey to America.

As a result, the information needs to home in on that specific episode in the family’s history. Any other information, while useful, may digress from the main story. Ultimately, deviating from the book’s focus may defeat its purpose.

With a clear goal in mind, interviews should aim to shed light on the book’s purpose. Forbes Magazine columnist Shel Israel recommends preparing before an interview. In his view, being prepared saves wasting time. Focusing on the conversation allows the interviewer to focus on the relevant information. This approach begins with careful preparation.

Family historians need to prepare before going into an interview. That preparation begins with understanding who the family member is and what they have to offer. From there, family historians can craft interview questions that will help them peel back one layer, or even multiple layers.

A good rule of thumb is to evaluate what all relatives have to offer. Often, each member has a piece of the puzzle needed to articulate the full picture. Then, conducting interviews just becomes a question of fitting each piece. In the end, the whole puzzle will begin to take shape.

Tip #2: Embrace remote interviews.

Traditional interviews involve a face-to-face sit-down. However, circumstances may not allow an old-fashioned in-person talk. Therefore, family historians must embrace the use of remote interviews.

In the past, remote conversations took place over the phone.

While that approach continues to be valid, technology has afforded family historians new tools.

For instance, video conferencing technology can facilitate a more intimate conversation.

One very important reason video conferencing calls are pivotal is that video calls allow interviewers to create a more comfortable and personal atmosphere.

The following tidbit from a Harvard Business Review publication offers wonderful insight into this topic:

“There’s a great deal of hand-wringing over all that’s lost when screens intermediate our interactions. But there is a certain intimacy that screens can actually facilitate. During a remote interview, the interviewer and interviewee are sitting inches from one another’s faces. The screen creates a sense of psychological safety that may allow people to open up more than they might in person.”

Indeed, a video screen can provide an unparalleled sense of closeness. Moreover, a screen can provide enough proximity to make things more personal, despite the physical distance.

Please bear in mind that the subject matter has a deep connection with each individual. Every life story has a profound significance to everyone connected.

Thus, it makes sense to approach remote interviews with the same warm touch a face-to-face discussion would hold.

The most powerful angle to a remote interview lies in utilizing video to convey facial expressions and physical gestures. A phone call cannot replicate these features. Consequently, using video conferencing to its fullest allows the interviewer to build rapport with the interviewee.

Tip #3: Prepare interview questions in advance.

A successful interview begins with preparing questions in advance. The questions must help the interviewer focus on the information needed to cover the topic at hand. As such, questions should focus on particular points. Painting with a broad brush may lead the conversation astray.

This tip opens the discussion for two specific situations.

The first situation pertains to delivering interview questions before the interview. The rationale behind this approach lies in giving the interviewee advance notice to prepare.

This approach works well, especially with busy people. Additionally, providing interview questions in advance sets the tone for the interviewer’s expectations.

As a result, the interviewee will be aware of what information the interviewer seeks to obtain.

The second situation pertains to allowing freedom throughout the interview. This school of thought allows the interviewee to speak their mind freely. Consequently, the interviewee can take the lead, providing the information they consider relevant to the question and conversation.

When considering both positions, it is best to find a balance between freedom and directing the conversation. The interviewer must be proactive in guiding the conversation to avoid losing precious time on irrelevant or perhaps repetitive items. Ideally, the interviewer should be tactful in bringing the conversation back to its main objective.

Author and photographer Brandon Stanton offers this highly insightful thought: “Interviewing someone is a very proactive process and requires taking a lot of agency into your own hands to get past people’s general self-preservation mode.”

Undoubtedly, some folks may feel defensive when talking about their lives. This “self-preservation mode” might become active, particularly when meeting someone for the first time. Thus, a good interviewer must allow the speaker enough freedom to feel comfortable but become proactive enough to avoid losing focus. Therefore, preparing interview questions in advance can provide the structure needed to avoid losing direction.

Tip #4: Take as many notes as possible.

In-person or remote interviews have the potential to deliver copious amounts of information. However, once the information is out in the open, the interviewer must capture it before it disappears. This phenomenon underscores the need for notes.

When taking notes, it is crucial to let the interviewee know about them beforehand. Otherwise, the interviewee may become defensive and enact their 'self-preservation mode.'

After all, it is one thing to speak one’s mind. Nevertheless, it is a completely different thing to have their words on record.

Initially, interviewers must communicate their intention to take notes. In doing so, the interviewer can provide forewarning so that the interviewer feels comfortable providing their answers.

Consider this situation:

Therapists always manifest their intention to take notes. The rationale is to provide the patient with a comfortable atmosphere. This atmosphere should be conducive to open discussion. Nevertheless, there are instances in which patients may feel self-conscious. As a result, they may request that their therapist refrain from taking notes.

Based on this scenario, what should an interviewer do?

First, interviewers must communicate their plan to take notes. The interviewer must ask the interviewee if they feel comfortable with notetaking. In some cases, it may be necessary to sign legal paperwork, particularly a non-disclosure agreement, due to the information’s sensitivity.

Next, interviewers need to be honest and transparent.

There is nothing wrong with sharing the notes’ contents. In doing so, the interviewee can feel more comfortable about what they are sharing. It may also be necessary to take a break to share notes. Moving forward, the interviewee can relax and continue with the interview.

While note-taking is a great tool, it can be time-consuming and distracting from the conversation. As such, some interviewers prefer recording interviews. Nevertheless, this approach opens up an entirely new set of considerations.

To begin with, recording an interview requires due authorization from stakeholders. As such, interviewers may need legal paperwork to proceed. Specifically, privacy laws apply.

Consequently, consent on the interviewee’s part is essential. Also, all sides must determine who will hold the rights to the recording. Generally speaking, the rights should belong to the book’s author. In the event of co-authors, then rights may be shared.

Additionally, all parties must agree on the recording format. For in-person interviews, audiotape recordings are the norm. Nevertheless, videotaping may also be an option, particularly if there is a video component to the story. The same rules apply to remote interviews.

Please keep in mind that the worst approach is committing information to memory. Much of it can fall through the cracks when there is a great deal of information swirling around. Thus, leaving vital information up to memorization will essentially lead to lost details. Therefore, the best approach, whenever possible, is to record interviews for later review. Alternatively, taking notes is the best way to go.

Tip #5: Hire a ghostwriter.

Family historians may need a helping hand at some point in the process. This is where hiring a ghostwriter comes into play.

Professional ghostwriters come with varying skill sets.

Some ghostwriters are adept at putting pen to paper. Others may have experience in conducting interviews.

Although the question begs, why hire a ghostwriter in the first place?

Ghostwriters are professional writers that can help family historians bring their projects to fruition.

Particularly, family history projects can become quite extensive. Therefore, bringing on a ghostwriter can help facilitate the process.

A ghostwriter can provide support in two main ways.

First, a ghostwriter can help conduct interviews. Involving a ghostwriter in the interview process is important. After all, the ghostwriter might end up writing the bulk, if not all, of the book. Thus, involving a ghostwriter in the interview process makes sense.

In contrast, some family historians prefer to give their ghostwriter only the material they need. That approach is fine, especially when there are privacy concerns.

Second, a ghostwriter may have experience conducting interviews. For example, ghostwriters with a journalism background may have the sort of expertise necessary to conduct interviews. Then, the ghostwriter can get to work on drafting the manuscript.

Please remember that hiring a ghostwriter is an investment in time and effort. Often, family historians may not have the time or the availability to conduct interviews and then sit down to write. As a result, hiring a ghostwriter can save time and effort, leading to a finished family history project.

CAPTURE THEIR VOICES, TODAY

Preserve your family history

Conclusion

Completing a family history book requires time devoted to research. Research is crucial to peeling back the layers of the family history onion. Without adequate research, it may be nearly impossible to uncover the full details of a family’s true history and identity.

Conducting interviews is an integral part of the research process. Therefore, careful attention is necessary when going about interviews. Given today’s circumstances, embracing remote interviews may prove the best approach, especially when family members are in various locations around the country and the world.

Nevertheless, the scope of a family history project may require the assistance of a professional ghostwriter.

Beyond writing, a professional ghostwriter can help conduct interviews, as well. An experienced ghostwriter may have the skillset needed to conduct interviews, collect information, and put a manuscript together. Ultimately, a ghostwriter’s help can take a family history project and bring it to fruition.

7 Fun and Creative Things To Do With Your Family History Research

Maybe you’ve only just begun researching your family’s history.

Maybe you’ve been on a deep dive into it for some time now and you’ve turned your dining room table into an absolute mess of documents, folders, photo albums, and post-it notes.

Maybe you’ve uncovered a treasure trove of information worthy of the evening news, a book deal, an HBO documentary, and a sizeable museum wing.

Maybe you’ve simply made a few interesting little discoveries and you have no idea what to do with them, but you know you’d like to share them with the rest of your family in a fun way.

Whether your situation falls into either of these camps, or more likely somewhere in between, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in the following ideas for fun and creative things to do with your family history research.

7 Fun and Creative Things To Do With your Family History Research

1. FAMILY TREES AND TIMELINES

Family Trees

Family trees, or pedigree charts, are great starting points for family history research. 

A simple diagram of ancestors, marriages, and the children they produced can act as the foundation of a larger family history project.

If you choose to hire professional genealogists and historians to assist you with your family history research, an established pedigree chart will provide them with material to work with and a great jumping off point.

For many families, however, anything beyond just a few generations back is a complete mystery.

Simply filling in the branches of your family tree could be the whole research project in itself. Incorporating some artistry into your family tree’s final form would be a great way to commemorate the achievement.

Sites like Family Tree For You and Etsy allow you to connect with artists and craftsmen capable of creating elaborate drawings, paintings, and even wood carvings.

You can custom order giant wall hangings to decorate your home or beautiful miniatures to hand out as gifts.

However you may picture your ideal family tree in your mind, there’s a talented individual out there who can make it a reality. Maybe that talented individual is you!

Timelines

Timelines differ from pedigree charts by allowing for visuals and details beyond birth and death dates and simple lineage.

A family history timeline can highlight anything and everything deemed significant by its creator:

  • Migrations
  • Marriages
  • Establishment of family businesses
  • Achievements of notable ancestors
  • Historical events and their impacts

Your timeline can be a permanent, museum quality fixture in your home, akin to the examples provided in this slideshow from the Society for Experiential Graphic Design.

Utilizing framed photos and wall decals, your family’s timeline can also take the form of a temporary, but no less impressive installation at a family gathering or reunion.

If you don’t possess the skills yourself, a professional graphic artist can help you design your family tree or timeline for both physical display and/or publication in a family history book.

2. COFFEE TABLE BOOKS

A common end goal for many family history researchers is a self-published book of some sort. 

Exactly what that book will look like can remain nebulous at best, even well into the research phase.

If you’ve gathered a lot of great family photographs in your pursuit, consider putting out a coffee table style photobook.

A mainly visual record of your family’s history can be a literal page-turner cherished by those who receive a copy of it.

While assembling a collection of classic or rarely seen family photos is a fantastic method of recounting your family’s story, a diversity of content will make it even more comprehensive.

Search for images outside the family collection.

Libraries and town halls are great resources when it comes to searching for historic photographs of hometowns.

Another often overlooked tool for potentially finding photographic treasure is Facebook. 

It seems that almost every small town has its local historian—official or otherwise.  If your family’s hometown has one, he or she will mostly likely be found connected to a Facebook group that is in one way or another associated with the region. 

Even if this community outreach approach doesn’t produce any new images for your collection, you’ll be sure to pick up at least a bit of usable information or local lore, so give it a shot!

Digital scans of old handwritten letters or high quality, interestingly staged photos of family heirlooms can also be visually captivating and meaningful for the reader.

Be sure to include them if you have them!

Lastly, if you don’t personally have the greatest way with words, consider hiring a ghostwriter to create captions for your images to lend an air of credibility and sophistication to your completed project.

3. NOVELIZE IT!

Is there a creative writer in the family?

Do you have an interesting ancestor whose story deserves to be told?

If so, perhaps your family history, or at least a portion of it, should be presented in the form of historical fiction.

Though sometimes dismissed as just making it up, when carefully executed, historical fiction is an art form that can provide a deeply satisfying read.

Maybe your research has unearthed a few concrete facts, some correspondence, and an intriguing diary entry that tell a fascinating story when they’re linked together:

  • A grandfather who climbed the ladder from war refugee to CEO
  • A great aunt who tracked down a long-lost love after 40 years of separation
  • A cousin, homeless at one point, who eventually achieved a great success

Great untold stories like these are all around us and woven into the fabrics of our families. 

A family member with a talent for writing or a hired ghostwriter could take the known facts, combine them with informed assumptions and conclusions, and craft a dramatization of a favorite family story that would serve as a compelling addition to any family history project.

4. SCRAPBOOKS OF NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS

When our family members make the local paper, we tend to save the clippings.

It’s not uncommon to find them intermingled with the Polaroids in an old photo album: 

  • A humorously worded report, now yellowed and fragile, about a local kindergartner (who grew up to be your burly uncle) winning the local fishing contest
  • A grandmother voted Teacher of the Year by her students
  • A glowing editorial on the family business when it was at its peak

Items like these can serve as colorful additions to your family history project, as they add a great deal of value both visually and for the information they convey.

But don’t stop the search with whatever you happen to find preserved behind the cellophane!

Consult the archives at your local libraries for more mentions of particular family members or for reports of incidents that affected the family as a whole: 

  • The big flood that forced a relocation
  • The worker strike led by your father
  • The factory closure that jeopardized everyone for a time

Including the documentation of events like these will make for a very well-rounded family history presentation in the end.

5. A FAMILY RECIPE BOOK

A family that eats together stays together!

Sometimes the strongest bonds that tie a family together are the dishes that they enjoy the most.

Some families are extraordinarily talented when it comes to the culinary arts. Maybe you are lucky enough to belong to one of these fantastic clans.

Whether or not your family recipes are numerous enough to fill a whole cookbook, they are more than likely enough for you to assemble into at least one delicious chapter.

Gather up the recipes of family members who are no longer with us before they’re lost. 

Collect the favorite recipes of your oldest and youngest living relatives and everyone else in between. 

Preserve the taste of the past and a connection to your shared heritage.

Including your family’s favorite recipes when telling their larger story will help to paint a more vibrant picture of them. And with all of them lending a hand, they’ll be collectively invested in your project.

6. CUSTOM COMICS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

In every extended family there is, at the very least, one of the following:

  1. An artist
  2. A comic book enthusiast
  3. Someone who has been on an adventure

Maybe your family is lucky enough to have all three!

Incorporating hand drawn, visual arts when telling your family’s story will kick up the appeal of your project more than just a notch.

The artist in your family could illustrate stories for which there are no photographs.

You could honor your comic book loving relative by having him or her conceptualize the layout and action of a visual retelling of your family’s greatest tale of adventure.

If you’d like, with the help of a professional ghostwriter in charge of storyline and dialog, you could present your entire family history in the form of a graphic novel!

Did you know that custom comic books are a thing now?

Whether the story you intend to tell is light hearted, highly dramatic, or anything in between, companies like Your Comic Story, Custom Comic Story, and the numerous artists accessible through Etsy are ready and able to bring your comic vision into living color. 

7.  KEEPSAKES

Small, printed keepsakes are a great way to add a further touch of class to your larger family history publication:

  • Bookmarks depicting noteworthy ancestors
  • Patriarch and/or matriarch broadsides worthy of framing
  • Family history trivia games
  • Family member trading cards or even playing cards (Who in your family would you designate as The Joker?)

The Creative Family Historian is just one service that offers items like these in addition to templates with which you can create your own.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!

What will your completed family history project look like?

Let’s say it’s a book.

On the first page there’s an intricate ink drawing of your family’s pedigree chart or there’s a photo of the family tree that hangs in your home.

Along the bottom of each subsequent page lies a timeline outlining significant events and developments that draws closer and closer to the present day.

Flipping further along, the reader finds never-before-seen photographs, handwritten letters from long lost lovers, diary entries from the Great Depression, newspaper headlines from sunnier times, a novelized immigration story, recipes from the old country, and a comic book that graphically recounts a wild vacation.

On the cover is a watercolor painting of a house that your grandfather built with his bare hands.

It comes packaged with a bookmark in the shape of a long defunct company logo that bears your family’s name and a pack of poker cards in which your mom is the Queen of Hearts.

Maybe it sounds like a mess.  Maybe it sounds like perfection!

Your family history project should be as varied and colorful as your family itself.

There’s no right way or wrong way to go about it. In the end. it should be exactly what you want it to be.

How to Combine Historical Research with Family History to Create a Riveting Nonfiction Book

The history of your family is about much more than names, dates, and places.

It can be difficult, however, to compile a family history that’s more than just a dry recounting of bare facts without access to the holy grail of the family historian: things like diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories.

Luckily, there are other ways to fill in between the lines of your family tree.

Combining historical research with more basic genealogical research is an excellent way to add color, depth, and context to the lives of your ancestors and craft a family history that future generations will enjoy for years to come.

Genealogy Versus Family History

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

When you think of family history, your mind probably goes straight to genealogy. And while the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions we are making in this article.

Genealogy is the pursuit of lineage, genetic connections between individuals that span centuries and are most commonly illustrated through a family tree.

Family history goes deeper, incorporating historical research and storytelling to allow future generations to understand their forebears and the formative events of their lives on a more profound level.

A family tree typically includes names, dates, and places of birth and death. A family history will also include your ancestors’ biographies, descriptions of the towns they lived in, personal anecdotes, historical context, and a recounting of the events and experiences that shaped the course of their lives.

Many people conduct genealogical research themselves, while others hire a genealogist to help them navigate the endless resources and rabbit holes that are an inevitable part of genealogical pursuits.

Likewise, some individuals seeking to compile a family history may choose to hire a ghostwriter to help them arrange their genealogical and historical research into a well-organized and compelling narrative.

Why Historical Research Is Important to a Family History

Provides Depth and Context

Your ancestors’ lives, just like our own, were shaped by the events and customs of their place and time.

Doing research into the history of the towns where they lived, the wars or natural disasters that took place during their lifetime, and even the popular fashions and cuisine of the time can tell you a lot about their day-to-day lives.

For instance, let’s say you’re interested in sketching out a biography of your great-grandmother Loretta but living relatives have little knowledge of her life before the age of thirty.

Your genealogical research, using vital records and census data, shows that Loretta was born in Mississippi in 1895 and that her father was a sharecropper.

This is where historical research comes in. Basic research into the area where Loretta was born can give you information, such as the population and demographics of her hometown.

Local newspapers from the turn of the century can provide you with not only major and minor news events but also town gossip, ads for local businesses, editorials and commentary on hot-button issues, and more.

What was the life of a sharecropper and his family like at that place and time?

Undoubtedly, there are books, articles, and personal histories that can tell you everything, from the day-to-day obligations of a sharecropper to the social contexts of racial and class discrimination that made the lifestyle toilsome and ultimately untenable.

Photographs from around the same time and place can even show you what type of clothing Loretta and her family likely wore.

You may never know what subjects Loretta liked in school or what thoughts crossed her mind as she drifted off to sleep at night, but historical research can help you understand Loretta’s early life on a deeper, more personal level than a family tree could ever do.

Provides Structure for Your Narrative

If your goal is to produce a book out of your family’s history, you may struggle to find the best way to structure your story to keep your readers (and yourself) interested and engaged.

Historical research can unearth interesting details that help you zero in on a certain event or person in your family’s history that you want to arrange your story around.

For instance, perhaps your great-great-grandfather was one of the thousands of Chinese-Americans who helped construct the transcontinental railroad.

You may have little knowledge of this topic, but research will quickly reveal a rich, fascinating, and often tragic history.

This experience could provide the central focus for your narrative, from which you can move forward chronologically to show how your great-great-grandfather’s grit and sacrifice shaped the lives of future generations.

If no event or individual jumps out to you during your research, never fear. Hiring a ghostwriter can help you not only compile and organize your research but also highlight the information that future generations are likely to find most compelling.

How to Combine Genealogical Research with Historical Research

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Step 1: Complete your genealogical research.

Before you embark on the historical research phase of writing a family history, you’ll want to complete your genealogical research first.

This can include a wide range of tasks, from interviewing family members to tracking down vital records. At the very least, you’ll want to decide the scope of your research, i.e., how many generations you want to cover, and build a family tree.

Though you may be tempted to dive right in by joining one of the popular online genealogical sites, be warned that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the vast number of resources and information available out there, not all of which is trustworthy.

Thus, consider first consulting a book on genealogical research for beginners, or better yet, hire a genealogist to complete the groundwork for you.

Step 2: Take notes and set research goals.

As you conduct your genealogical research, jot down the names, places, dates, and any random details that intrigue or surprise you. If you hired a genealogist for this initial phase, you could make these notes as you review their research.

Use these notes to set goals for your historical research.

Ask yourself: What information is most interesting to me? What information is missing? What do I want to know more about?

There may be specific events or tragedies that stand out to you, like an ancestor’s death in a war, or a particularly notable person, like a politician or an artist or even a single mother who ran a successful business while raising her children alone.

Step 3: Dive into the historical research.

Once you’ve set your research goals, it’s time to dive in and learn more about the people, places, and events that will collectively make up your family history.

A wide variety of sources exist for the purposes of family and historical research. Here are just a few:

  • Newspaper archives: Local newspapers can turn up valuable information like birth, marriage, and death announcements, but they also provide a glimpse into the character and idiosyncrasies of the places your ancestors called home.
  • Town histories: Published town histories include an abundance of information about buildings, businesses, and inhabitants over decades or even centuries. Even if your ancestors aren’t mentioned by name, these histories can give you a strong sense of the communities from which they hailed.
  • Maps: Historical town and county maps can help orient you to the layout of the localities of interest to your family history, while plat maps and fire insurance maps may help you actually pinpoint where a specific family member lived.
  • Photographs: Even if you are unable to locate photographs of your ancestors, images of others from around the same time and place or in a similar profession can indicate the style of clothes they likely wore.
  • Cookbooks and restaurant menus: Looking through old cookbooks and menus from a particular time and region is not only fun, it also gives you an idea of what your ancestors ate on a day-to-day basis.
  • Local historical societies: Many local historical societies maintain an archive of items—unpublished family histories, oral histories, photographs, letters, travelogues, diaries, and other ephemera—that provide firsthand experiences from the people who have lived there over time.
  • Your local library: Reference librarians are an excellent resource to help you find history books that deal with a particular time, place, and/or social group, providing insight into everything from religious and social customs to popular modes of transportation.  
  • National Archives Research on Ethnic Heritage: The National Archives maintains a section of its website for those researching ancestors from historically oppressed or displaced groups, including Black and indigenous Americans. For the former, the site includes not only resources for locating ancestors but also an array of materials documenting the Black experience throughout U.S. history.

Step 4: Find a focus and start writing.

Based on what your genealogical and historical research turned up, decide on a focus for your book.

Maybe it will be chronological, beginning with an event like your ancestors’ arrival in the U.S., or maybe you’ve run across a fascinating individual in your family line who you want to serve as the focus.

Writing a family history should be fun, but it isn’t always easy.

If at any point you’re stuck, or perhaps need help organizing or finding a focus for your research, hiring a ghostwriter is the perfect way to help transform the disparate anecdotes, characters, and experiences of your ancestors into a rich, fascinating family history.