You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack: Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and I have received other books from Genealogical Publishing Company, also for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.

My review of this book came about in a slightly different way than all of the other books I’ve received from Genealogical Publishing Company. Most of the time, books randomly appear, unannounced, in my mailbox.

You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack was offered to me for review after a recent blog post discussed the process of writing a family history.

Another difference is that the majority of books that I receive from a publisher are either newly on the market or are updated editions. Carmack’s book was first published in 2003, but due to her subject matter, this book is not at all out of date, except perhaps aside from newer options for self-publishing online.

Table of Contents At a Glance

Introduction: A Labor of Love?
1 What Type of Family History Will Your Write?
2 Defining the Scope of Your Project
3 How Much Genealogical Research Is Enough?
4 Determining the Plot and Structure
5 Isolating Themes in Your Family History
6 Revisiting Genealogical Sources
7 Researching Social Histories
8 Gathering and Organizing Your Research
9 Making Choices About the Narrative
10 Bringing Your Ancestors to Life as Characters
11 Describing Your Ancestors’ Setting
12 Using Family Stories in Your Narrative
13 Including Suspense, Humor, and Romance
14 Blending Social History with Family History
15 Including Documentation
16 Adding Illustrations
17 The End Matters
18 Getting Ready to Publish
19 Publishing and Marketing

Appendix A the Charles Fearn Family Narrative: Frontier Military Life
Appendix B Example of Reverse Chronology Structure: “A Place Among Nations”
Appendix C Writing Courses, Contests, Organizations, and Conferences

Let’s face it! Writing a family history book is both challenging and overwhelming for most of us. In spite of that, have you thought about writing your own family history? Maybe you’ve even had a go at starting, but weren’t quite sure just how to complete the project.

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack has done a superb job presenting step-by-step directions on how to get started, how to engage our readers by mixing the narrative with social history, documenting sources and how to eventually market and publish a family history book.

I really liked the style of presentation of this book. With information presented in a logical, as-needed order, anyone considering writing their family history should have Carmack’s book on their reference shelf.

The process of decision making is clearly laid out in simple steps with many examples.

Consider, for example, how much of your family history you want to write about and how you might begin. Will you write about a single surname, tell the life stories of your four grandparents and their descendants or jump right in, covering all the families in your pedigree chart?

Exactly how much research should you complete before writing? How should social history be blended into your story? Will you include photos, documents, maps or other illustrations? How should family lore and/or sensitive topics be handled?

All of these questions are answered and the author presents those answers in a way that makes writing a family history seem not so daunting. In summary, everything one needs to know about writing a family history is contained in this book.

As mentioned earlier in this review, the only part of the book that is really outdated is the section that provides URLs (e.g. The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors is now only on Facebook) and contact information for publishing options (e.g. Picton Press closed in 2016 after its owner, Lewis Bunker Rohrbach, passed away.)

However, the outdated items are few in number and there is absolutely nothing outdated in the decision making and writing process so clearly explained by Carmack.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with plans to beginning writing a family history. By following the author’s recommendations, readers will find that the process from an idea to publication is actually very manageable.

You Can Write Your Family History (2003) by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack can be purchased online at in paperback for $26.50 or hard cover for $35.50.

2 thoughts on “You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack: Book Review”

  1. TY for this in-depth book review! Especially important is blending social history with family history, putting ancestors’ stories into context, so I’m glad to see an entire chapter on that topic. Plus finding the drama in ancestors’ lives, a way to catch attention and keep stories intriguing for the next generation and beyond.

  2. I remember borrowing this book from the library when I first moved to the Coast in 2006. It was very helpful… alas, it has long been in “Lost” status. At some point I hope to buy a copy (though at the current exchange rate, now isn’t that time)…

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