American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • So You’ve Traced Your Family -- Now What?

    Mary Ann Nicholson

    Published Date : May 6, 1990

    You have spent decades ferreting out primary sources and obscure details to fill in the blanks, traipsed through wet graveyards to make gravestone rubbings, collected old photographs, tape-recorded Aunt Minerva’s reminiscences and now you are ready to write what you know about the family.  You are the expert on the family and your relatives are expecting great things from all this effort: Don’t disappoint them by procrastinating any longer.

    Whether you type it on an old manual Royal with a carbon copy or have the latest computer, programs and scanner available, begin at once to write your family history.  It may be the most appreciated legacy you can leave anyone.  And only you can do it.  Yes, you could dictate it or hire a professional writer to make sense of your scribbled notes, but most genealogists prefer to do it themselves.

    If you haven’t mastered Register style, aren’t sure where to put superscripts, can’t decide how to incorporate those precious footnotes of documentation, or don’t know what to do about copyrights, there are books to consult.  Three easily understood manuals are the Society’s latest publication, Guidelines for Genealogical Writing by Margaret F. Costello and Jane Fletcher Fiske (NEHGS, 1990), Cite Your Sources by Richard S. Lackey (New Orleans, 1980), and Write it Right by Donald R. Barnes and Richard S. Lackey (Ocala, Florida, 1983).

    Plan to include a complete name index, because the value of your work to others will depend on it.

    Have others proofread your text.  They can spot typos, data inconsistencies, and ambiguous wording with dispassionate eyes.

    Then decide whether you want to spend a few thousand dollars of your children’s inheritance to have the genealogy published.  With a commercial publisher you sign a contract indicating how many hundred books you want printed and bound, preferably in the standard 6” x 9” size to fit most library shelves.  Keep in mind that you will be responsible for the publicity, promotion and sale of the book and how those huge cartons of slow-selling books will crowd your little apartment.

    If your work is well-documented and well-formatted and concerns a prominent family not heretofore researched, or presents new corrected data, it is remotely possible that a regional historical society will look favorably upon your work and offer to publish it for you.  That society will handle promotion, sales, and copyrighting, and perhaps invite you to an autographing party.

    However, if you want only a few copies to give to friends, relatives and appropriate libraries (such as NEHGS), it may be more realistic to consider other methods of going to press.  This way you can control the publication from start to finish and limit the number of copies.

    Modern computers with laser printers offer such versatility in font, style, superscript, size, ease in setting margins and indexing that the manual typewriter and mimeograph have gone the way of the dinosaurs.  You will be able to produce a page the way you want it to look, even to the caption under a photo or chart.

    Printing firms listed in the Yellow Pages offer a variety of methods which include photocopying, offset printing, photo-typesetting using your camera-ready copy, or typesetting directly from your computer diskettes.  You select the method that suits your needs and purse.  You specify the quality of paper, such as 50 lb. weight acid-free, and quantity of copies.  They cut, collate, and provide covers and certain types of binding at competitive prices.  The best can also produce a decent copy of a good old photograph.  And if Christmas giving depletes your stock of genealogies, it is easy to have the photocopier run a few more, for less money per copy than you can buy a remaindered Book-of-the-Month Club bestseller.

    It is not enough to do years of research unless you just like to solve puzzles for their own sake.  It would be a shame if your family material remained inaccessible to those most interested.  You owe it to posterity to disseminate your life’s work so others will not have to re-invent your genealogical wheel.

    See you in print!

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society