Saturday, June 2, 2012

How Many People does it Take to Write a Family History?

It takes a village It literally does take a village to write a good family history book. I have seen very few good family history books. Even some of the good ones have factual errors. Professionals with the best resources at their finger tips can produce an error ridden product. A family history book, American Tapestry, recently put together for Michelle Obama contains some erroneous connections. I've tried my best to provide the most accurate info in my book. As more records are found I may find that I will have to revise my book at a later time.
The problem which arises most often, writing these family histories, is when an author becomes overly ambitious and tries to include too many lines in one book. A book which attempts to provide info about hundreds or thousands of people makes it virtually impossible for a single average writer to do all the necessary research to verify every piece of info, and generally is just a compilation of family trees found on the internet. The one exception would be the genealogist who has personally documented every detail on every person over a number of years doing research. Most of those who write these books rely on others to provide vital statistics on each person.  Lucille Wallace is an example. When she wrote her Forgey family history in the 1950's she wrote to Forgey families asking them to provide the info they had on their own line. She did do some research on each line, but it was very limited. The book was good by Family History book standards. It did contain many wrong connections, because the research wasn't thorough enough. The author's own line was the most accurate, as usually the case.
I have written a more limited family history for a single immigrant family (instead of everyone with the surname) and their descendants to about the 5th generation. In doing this I have included about 600 names. I have basically done the same thing as Lucille Wallace, and used info provided by others on most collateral lines. I just don't have the time to track down info on 600 people. Unlike Lucille I have been able to use records posted online to verify what I can (I have verified nearly every relationship to the point where I am highly confident, but some exact dates could be wrong?). What I can't verify online I have had to rely on others to provide. I have done extensive research on my own line which should hold up to scrutiny by other researchers. Most of the info I have not been able to personally verify has been provided by skilled researchers- unlike Lucille Wallace who relied heavily on the family traditions of those she wrote to. Some of those who provided her with info transmitted stories which were passed down verbally from generation to generation, which is helpful but needs verification using documents.
The technical formatting of my family history has been a challenging learning experience. I am going with Lulu to self publish my book. I noticed I haven't made my page margins equal on the left and right hand sides in portions of my manuscript. I'll have to see how this looks. As I understand the left and right page margin should be set to 0.8 to give enough space for binding. I've ordered a copy to see if my layout is alright. I'll be reviewing this copy for picture print quality too. I might have to adjust to clarity of some of  pictures?
My advice to those interested in writing a family history is only take on as much as you can handle so you can produce the highest quality book. If you want to produce a more comprehensive family history it does take the active participation of several people helping with research and proof reading. A family history is full of facts which need checking. I have been reading a wonderful family history which would have been perfect with more focus on fact checking. This person did not know when  the Civil War started, which  led them to incorrectly date a family letter. I have noticed some family had been left out of this 300 page book. I think scope of the book was just too wide ranging which made editing extremely difficult.
I think it is extremely important to record yourself reading your manuscript to get a feel for how it reads. Use spell check several times and read it over as many times as possible for grammar errors. Order a black and white copy of your book to check to see if the layout is correct and use that copy to edit further. A black and white copy is only $5 to $10. I have noticed several people have ordered $100 in copies, or even more, of their book only to discover it wasn't laid out correctly or they didn't catch all of their typos. You do need to order a proof copy before making the book available to others (Lulu occasionally offers one free to authors) . I will post images of my book when I get  it in a few days.

No comments: