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
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
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
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
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
See you in print!