Writing family history made very easy

Writing Family History Made Very Easy: A Beginner's Guide Writing Family History Made Very Easy: A Beginner’s Guide by Noeline Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Many people who are interested in genealogy and family history begin with genealogy — finding their ancestors and then trying to get back as far as they can. Sooner or later they reach a point when they can get back no further, because the information is not available, or cannot be found.

At that point, if not before, one should start to write a readable account of what one has managed to find. And that is where books like this one come in.

Research and writing are two different skills, and many researchers don’t know how to write, and vice versa. This book has lots of useful advice about both. It is aimed at Australian readers, but most of the advice is fairly general, and is just as useful to people living in other countries.

I’ve read several books on writing, and several on genealogical research, and worked as an editor for several years, so a lot of the material in this one was not new to me. I nevertheless found it useful as a reminder of things that I know I should not overlook, but often do. There is the main text, and the book has summaries with reminders, and they are reminders I still need after 30 years — for example, on page 38, unde the heading Developing notekeeping skills:

Whether you copy notes by hand or photocopy your documents, the source of your information should be noted accurately and ideally include the following details:

  • Author names, including initials
  • Book or journal article
  • Year, publisher and place of publication
  • Page numbers (for articles, newspaper reports, bulletin excerpts etc.)
  • Name of the library or archive or any individual contact/s associated with your research of them
  • File or catalogue number (if archive material)
  • Folio number or record series (if archive material)

Elementary stuff? Of course. But yesterday I was in the archives and found I had handed back files after making notes from them, and then realised I had forgotten to record some of these essential details. I’ve found photocopies of archival documents, and years later realised I had not noted where they came from, and had to look them up all over again.

There are a couple of weak points, or at least I think so. In the section on indexing, there is no mention of using the indexing capabilities of word processing programs, and the author seems to assume that an index will be done by hand just before the book is printed. Since many family histories are self-published, and the final typesetting is done on a word processing program, this is a rather strange omission.

Another rather strange piece of advice is to use endnotes rather than footnotes. Endnotes were a cost saver in the days before computerised typesetting, but I find nothing more annoying than having to keep a finger in the endnotes page and another in the text, and to be constantly hopping backwards and forwards between them. This is history we are writing, and even in family history we sometimes want to know how the author knows something. Again, word processing software makes footnotes as easy and no more expensive than endnotes, so there is no excuse for not having footnotes.

What I found most useful about the book was the ideas it sparked off about things I could include in my own family history writing that might be useful to local and social historians later — like cinemas, music and entertainment and so on.

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