Preparing a Family History
- 1 Sections to Include
- 2 Other Considerations
- 3 SHARING YOUR INFORMATION
Sections to Include
Your family history may include one or more of the following sections:
The title page is generally the first printed page after the cover. It contains the following information:
The title and, if applicable, subtitle. An effective title reflects the content of your family history in as few words as possible.
The edition number, if not the first edition.
Your name and the names of other authors and editors.
The place and date of publication.
Copyright statements generally appear on the back of the title page. They generally include information that tells readers when the family history was published and who to contact for more information. A sample copyright statement is:
© 1998 by Thomas Alan Smith. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
The table of contents lists the chapters and sections of your family history and gives their page numbers. It also serves as an outline of your family history and guides readers to the sections of most interest to them.
Other Preliminary Sections
Your family history may have one or more of the following sections before the main body of the text. If used, a dedication generally appears on a separate page before the table of contents. The other sections generally appear on separate pages after the table of contents.
Dedication. A dedication contains the name of the person to whom you are dedicating your family history and a brief statement explaining why. It is usually written on the page after the copyright page.
List of Illustrations. A list of illustrations contains the name and page number of each picture, map, or illustration in the family history.
Foreword, Preface, and Acknowledgments. A foreword is a statement about the family history which is written by someone other than you or the editor. A preface is a statement written by you. Each of these sections may be written on separate pages and can serve many purposes. They:
- Describe why the author wrote the family history.
- Provide an overview of the family history’s scope, content, and organization.
- Outline the research methods used.
- Provide an address for readers who wish to contact the author.
- Show gratitude to persons or institutions who helped. The acknowledgments may also be listed on a separate page.
List of Abbreviations. A list of abbreviations contains the abbreviations you have used in your family history and their meanings.
Introduction. The introduction contains background or historical information that may be needed to understand the family history.
List of Contributors. A list of contributors names the people who helped write the family history.
Chronology. A chronology provides dates and brief descriptions of key events in a family history. It gives your readers an overview of the events that shaped the family and provide a quick reference to important events. Such a list is especially useful if your family history is not organized chronologically.
The Main Body of the Text
The main body of the text is usually divided into several sections or chapters. Family histories are often divided into chapters according to different family groups. Some histories are divided according to time period.
You may want to use divider pages to separate the chapters. Dividers may be different colors of paper or may contain illustrations or photographs.
In your family history, cite the sources where you found your information. You can use footnotes, endnotes, or other documentation methods. A style guide can give you guidelines and examples of how to cite various types of sources. Thorough source citations give your work credibility and allow others to pursue further research on a topic.
If available, include illustrations; family photographs; maps; and photocopies of original documents such as birth records, census registers, naturalization papers, marriage certificates, and so forth. Such information makes the text come alive and helps the reader visualize the time and place where the people in your family history lived.
You may wish to include some or all of the following sections, after the main body of the text:
Appendices. An appendix contains information that is not essential to the main body of the text but that may be useful to readers who want more specific information about a topic.
Bibliography. A bibliography lists the sources of the information used in your family history. Use a style guide to find guidelines and examples of how to cite various types of sources in a bibliography.
Index. An index should list all of the individuals, place-names, and subjects mentioned in your family history.
Layout and Design
Computers allow you a wide variety of fonts and layout possibilities. Lay out your document in a style that makes the organization of the text clear. Use fonts that are easy to read and that photocopy well.
If you include family group information, choose a format that is simple and well established, such as family group records. Check other family histories for more ideas. Some software programs, such as Personal Ancestral File® Companion, allow you to import information from a computer file into your history.
If you do not have a computer, you can type or legibly handwrite your family history.
Printing and Binding
Copy your manuscript onto archival quality paper. Use double-sided printing to reduce paper costs and the thickness of the final book. Choose a sturdy binding that will wear well.
Writing and Sharing Your Family History
Sharing your own family history is valuable for several reasons.
• It helps you see gaps in your own research and raises opportunities to find new information.
• It helps other researchers progress in researching ancestors you share in common.
• It draws other researchers to you who already have information about your family that you do not yet possess.
• It draws together researchers with common interests, sparking collaboration opportunities. For instance, researchers in various localities might choose to do lookups for each other in remote repositories. Your readers may also share photos of your ancestors that you have never seen before.
Other links to preparing/writing/printing a family history
SHARING YOUR INFORMATION
After you have written your family history, you may want to allow others to use it. You may choose to print only a few copies to distribute to family members. If the cost of creating your family history is high, you may consider selling it. You may also consider donating copies of your family history to libraries or other institutions or posting it on the Internet.
If you decide to make your family history available to others beyond your immediate family, please do not include information in it about people who may still be living. As a general rule, first obtain permission before publishing information about people who were born in the last 100 years for whom you have no death date.
Donating a Copy to the Family History Library
If you wish to donate your family history to the Family History Library, please follow the guidelines available here.
Donating Copies to Other Institutions
Libraries and other institutions, such as historical or genealogical societies in the area where the family lived, may also appreciate having a copy of your family history.
You can find addresses and other information from one of the following reference books, which you can find at the Family History Library or at a public or university library:
American Library Directory. 49th ed. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1996–97 (FHL book 973 J54a 1996–1997). This book is organized alphabetically by state and town. It lists addresses, telephone numbers, and fax numbers and describes each library’s holdings and special interests.
Bentley, Elizabeth Petty. The Genealogist’s Address Book. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1995 (FHL book 973 D24ben 1995; computer number 583091). This book includes addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, supervisors, and repository hours for about seven thousand national, state, ethnic, religious, historical, adoption, and computer interest groups and vendors.
Jaszczak, Sandra, ed. Encyclopedia of Associations. 31st ed. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1997 (FHL book 973 E4gr; computer number 32244). This is a comprehensive list of national organizations. It includes names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
Wheeler, Mary Bray, ed. Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada. 14th ed. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1990 (FHL book 970 H24d 1990; computer number 531083). This is a good book for finding names and addresses of obscure organizations; however, some names and telephone numbers may be outdated.
If contacting an institution by mail, address your manuscript to its gift or donations department.
Paper publication: First edition August 1998. English approval 8/98.