A FAMILY HISTORY
The thought of writing a book on a family history is quite daunting but author Elizabeth Sleigh gave us some hints on how to perform this task. She suggested starting by studying family history books written by others. You might prefer to write an historical document or perhaps a novel. You might concentrate on one branch of your family, or one aspect of your family. You could cover several generations or just a short period of time. Obviously then sorting your information and making a plan will be important.
As more information about your family probably continues to appear there is no need to wait until you have solved all mysteries. Your research can continue as you write. 'Wild Swans' by Jung Chang, 'Portrait in Sepia' by Isabel Allende and '100 years of Solitude' by Gabriel Marquez, are wonderful examples of family stories written as novels.
It's an odd family that doesn't have a skeleton in the cupboard, but take care that privacy laws are not contravened and consult family members who may be offended by the inclusion of certain details in your story. Although some people lead lives that are so astounding that the rest of us look totally boring, leave out information that you don't think will create much interest and include other details. The era in which your story is set might be of relevance. There may have been a war, a natural disaster, or an epidemic that affected their way of life. Newspapers can provide details of inventions, fashion, shipping, and community activities.
There are interesting letters to be found amongst the early land file records in the Public Records Office of Victoria whilst insolvency lists and inquests might provide some surprises. You might need to seek permission to use some information held by the Public Records Office. As it is essential to include a bibliography, use a notebook whilst writing to record all sources. Inconsistencies in the spelling of names can be noted also. This is vital for the index.
Photographs of course are wonderful but if your story is set before the age of photography, modern day photos of an appropriate church, school, house or landscape can fill in a space. Even the inclusion of an unnamed family member can add interest by creating a puzzle. Lenore Frost's 'Dating Family Photos' is helpful, as is 'The Mechanical Eye in Australia' by Davies & Stanbury. The latter lists the years that photographers worked at different addresses. Maps and genealogical charts if too comprehensive might be best put in an appendix.
It's one thing to have a good story but it must be presented in a format that is practical. The font should be in the serif style. Margins should be of a good size and the use of capitals should be kept to a minimum. Your book should be such that it can survive a reasonable amount of handling. 'The Family History Writing Book' by Noeline Kyle (in the Genealogical Society of Victoria bookshop), and the Public Records Office's 'Fact Sheets' on appropriate topics can provide assistance.
To look professional your book should have a 'Title' page with publisher details, a 'Contents', and 'List of Illustrations' page, a 'Bibliography' and an accurate 'Index'. This can all be done on home computers which are a wonderful aid in book writing, editing and revising, whilst a very reliable person is important for the critical job of proof reading. The 'Preface' or 'Introduction' to your book could include the story of your research because this can often be as interesting as the results it produced.
Lastly, before your book is printed with your choice of papers, ink, and binding, you could apply for an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) which is not difficult. To ensure that your work will survive a copy should be donated by yourself to the National Library of Australia in Canberra and the State Library of Victoria.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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