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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Writing a family history

From time to time I am asked to address genealogical groups about how to preserve their family history. These are my notes, which some of my readers may find useful:
  1. Be truthful, accurate and fair, even if some elements can’t be made public until after the death of a person, or at some other time in the future. Check your facts, as best you can. If you can’t be sure of something, say so. Do not present guesswork as fact.
  2. Avoid sweeping statements that give no details. Don’t say he was an amusing/ill tempered/nice/intelligent person without saying why and giving examples. Avoid making statements like “she went to Smithville and hated it” without revealing why. Also explain what you mean if you say something like “he was good at golf/liked reading books/was keen on art”.
  3. Try to think ahead and ask yourself if following generations will understand what you have written? Make sure that acronyms and initials are spelt out at least once, in case they mean nothing a century or two from now. Be careful of slang that won’t mean anything in the future.
  4. Brackets. Understand the difference. These ( ) are mostly for asides in your own writing, such as “I went to Walpole Park (that’s the park alongside Mattock Lane) and…”  These [ ] are for inserting information in documents prepared by someone else. Example: “Jane worked for Goodwin’s [a shop in Smithtown owned by her brother Frederick] before going on…”
  5. Digitise documents where possible and make sure they are backed up.
  6. Use acid free paper for very important archive documents. More importantly, keep records away from bright light, damp, or hot and humid storage places.
  7. Scan and digitise favourite photographs in high-resolution (at least 300dpi) and always write a caption on them. Use Photoshop or cheaper alternatives for this.  Always back up family history documents and photographs in more than one location.
  8. Photobooks are a good and reasonably cheap way to make a permanent record of a person or family.
  9. You may want to write a book about the person or the family, but if you want it to go into libraries or bookshops, apply for an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) from Nielsen. Here is a link to my book God's Triangle that is the result of my family history research into the life of a missionary great aunt.
  10. If authoring a book seems too daunting, write brief stories or anecdotes as they occur to you. My mother did this and called her wonderful collection Triggers.
  11. Another option: write an obituary/profile/biography and post it on the Internet. I was unhappy about the obituary written about my father at the time of his death because it didn’t really say anything significant about the man. I wrote to a number of the people who knew him and asked for their honest opinions of his character. This is what I wrote about my father, John S. Richardson, as a result of the contributions.  Here are the obituaries published about my mother, Rena M. Wood.
  12. Finally, a warning: Do not post private information about living persons on the Internet if this information could be used by hackers or by people trying to steal identities.
(c) Ian D. Richardson

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