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The Daily Genealogist: Writing in Register Style

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Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock

Register style, a specific format for organizing genealogical data, was first introduced in the January 1870 Register. Editor Albert Harrison Hoyt explained “for the benefit of future contributors to the Register, and perhaps of those about to publish family-genealogies, we have arranged the Sherman Genealogy, a portion of which appears in this number of the Register, on a plan easily understood, and convenient for reference.” In the July 1883 Register, John Ward Dean reported on the ‘Register plan for genealogical records.’ “It has now been in use thirteen years and has given satisfaction. The Publishing Committee will continue to require genealogies intended for the Register to be arranged on this plan.”

Modifications have been made to this style over the last 140+ years to account for changing tastes and technologies, but the format remains flexible, effective, and popular. In the Publications Department we regularly receive enquiries from people seeking guidelines for writing their genealogical information in Register style. We refer them to “Writing a Family Sketch in Register Style,” by Helen Schatvet Ullmann, CG, FASG, associate editor of the Register, which appeared in the summer 2007 issue of New England Ancestors and is available online. Here is an excerpt:

“Whether you just want to write about your grandparents or compile a whole book, the basic building block is the family sketch, treating a couple and their children in an organized and interesting way.”

“What is a family sketch? It’s just a story with a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is the first paragraph that contains the vital information about the parents — all of it. So, if the reader later wants to check back to see just when your great-grandmother married her second husband, it’s easy to find.

“The middle is whatever you want, usually a biography in chronological order. It could include funny stories or a serious analysis distinguishing between your grandfather and another fellow who bore the same name.

“At the end is a list of children with their vital data. You may have mentioned each child as he or she joined the family, married, or died, in the biography above, but it’s still important to have a straightforward list of children at the end. Children for whom there is a lot of information may be continued in their own sketches.” also offers “A Template and Suggestions for Writing in Register Style in Microsoft Word”, also by Helen Ullmann, and “A Guide to Basic Register Citation Formats”. In addition, the NEHGS book Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, 2nd Editionis a useful resource.

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